Melbourne, October 12: Anxiety within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community will be a record high today, set to continue for some more time as arguments and debate rage through for three more years.

Labor MPs yesterday voted unanimously to oppose the plebiscite, effectively blocking the opportunity for Australians to have a conscientious say on a decision that affect our homes, society and essentially our future – our children.

Malcolm Turnbull came to power with the plebiscite proposal and little wonder that the Liberals would choose the plebiscite way to bring reform, if ,any, on the proposed change to marriage laws.

Opposition leader, Bill Shorten reiterated Labor’s view that it was unnecessary, expensive and had the potential to cause mental ill health among LGBTI people – a rather political move, considering that Mr Shorten had originally raised ‘plebiscite’ in a 2013 public forum.

He would rather have “the people of Australia could make their view clear on this than leaving this issue to 150 people”, Mr Shorten had said then.

Later the plebiscite was engineered by Tony Abbott in 2015 and Mr Turnbull adopted it when he came into office.

Mr Turnbull termed the blocking of plebiscite as “highly political (road) of trying to subvert a straightforward, democratic process.”

As Mr Shorten, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus and marriage equality spokeswoman Terri Butler spoke in Parliament; it was clear that Australia would now face a long period of uncertainty – on the question of marriage laws.

Blocking the plebiscite on same-sex marriage was no victory!

It was a fundamental right and now a missed opportunity for the LGBTI community to argue, debate and demand for rights, they perceive as being equal.

History tells us that any evolutionary change in society has always gone through robust debates, especially in successful western democratic countries and I believe the LGBTI community with its high-profile campaigners in Australia, is stronger than we are led to believe.

Mentally, financially and physically!

It is a terrible message to send to the entire community that the LGBTI community’s demand for equal marriage laws is not worth fighting for.

Labor’s vote against a plebiscite has left the LGBTI community in a precarious position, especially when support for ending that perceived discrimination against gay and transgender adults over the right to civil marriage is growing in Australia.

As Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, talking about Labor’s position, said on ABC TV: “…If they are serious about allowing gay people to get married … then they should support the plebiscite because polls show that it will be successful.”

A University of Melbourne study suggested that just one electorate in rural Queensland seat of Maranoa, had a majority of voters opposed to same-sex marriage.

The study found that opposition to changing the Marriage Act was less than 10 per cent in inner-city electorates in Sydney and Melbourne.

Monash University political scientist Shaun Ratcliff, who was one of the researchers, said that a vast majority of electorates wanted change.

“Based on our data and other polling, it appears a plebiscite would pass easily,” he said.

A Newspoll in The Australian found that a whopping 62 per cent of Australians would endorse “equal marriage laws”.

The underlying principle of blocking the plebiscite is that it would be emotionally and mentally draining and would basically permit the society to question the legitimacy of such relationships.

Yet, carrying the mantle of victimhood is not the righteous way to repeal “unjust” laws.

Labor’s vote has been costly for the LGBTI community; ones who are largest impacted by the injustice of “unequal” marriage laws.

If all of Australia can see the momentum in favour of marriage equality, why cannot Bill Shorten?

I agree, that the fear of marginalisation during the debate process could have been mentally exhausting. But it also could have been a time for supporters of “equal marriage law” – parents, friends, colleagues and the largely supporting Australian society to stand up.

That process could have paved the way to grind down that fear of marginalisation.

Ireland had a plebiscite and their robust democratic process brought in “equal marriage law”. It is more than likely that Australia would have followed suit and those against the change would naturally resign to the voice of the majority.

A Fairfax-Ipsos poll in July found 69 per cent of voters backed the idea of having their say, rather than a parliamentary vote.

What is a Democracy without Debate and what is Evolution without a Fight!

Many in LGBTQI community, including health experts believe that a plebiscite would bring about significant negative health impact on the already marginalised; but to lengthen that negative impact without a plebiscite, would have to be an immeasurable health cost to LGBTI community.

The LGBTI community needed a resolution rather than stagnation and the vote against plebiscite is doing just that – prolonging their misery.

Australians for Marriage Equality had earlier argued in favour of plebiscite:

“In the current circumstances it (plebiscite) promises the least delayed, least painful and least uncertain path” to change the law.

Tim Wilson during Q&A program on ABC TV @ABC
Tim Wilson during Q&A program on ABC TV @ABC

That statement was right then. And it is right now,” says Tim Wilson, federal Liberal Member for Goldstein and former Human Rights Commissioner.

Writing in favour of the plebiscite he wrote:

“We are in this position because earlier Parliaments didn’t deliver.

“Rudd was opposed to it on cultural grounds. Then Gillard opposed it on feminist grounds. Later Rudd supported it and did nothing.

“Shorten’s current positioning is all politics, and no principle”.

One of thousands of same-sex couples, Mr Wilson has been engaged to marry and is waiting for the law to change.

“Their engagements, mine included, represent a hope in our country and an expression of their faith in their fellow Australians.

“…That is a future worth fighting for,” he wrote.

Although the government had budgeted $170 million to run the plebiscite, same-sex marriage is now effectively delayed until 2020s.

Nidhi Mehta

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