Jack Whitney is a social and community worker, LGBT activist and Convenor of Young Labor Left
Victorian Premier, Joan Kirner, once said:
“There is no such thing as being non-political. Just by making a decision to stay out of politics you are making the decision to allow others to shape politics and exert power over you. And if you are alienated from the current political system, then just by staying out of it you do nothing to change it, you simply entrench it.”
These words were delivered at a 1994 ‘Women into Power’ conference in South Australia. Kirner had just retired from the political scene and was speaking about her time in politics. Much like former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Kirner reflected that, throughout her time in politics, many women found it intensely difficult to participate and lead in the public sphere. Her speech was a plea to women to not give up and to not abstain from participation. Undoubtedly, these struggles faced by women are shared by other groups who experience disempowerment and exclusion through certain forms of inequality.
Kirner’s statement mirrors many thoughts of the LGBTIQ community and their allies today as the High Court's decision ruled in favour of the postal vote for marriage equality. Some individuals may feel that this decision is unfair and may choose to disengage with the kind of politics that led to its existence. I argue that by not seizing this moment and taking the opportunity of sticking it to the Coalition, you are making a political decision – and a wrong one at that.
By vacating the field, you are allowing others to exercise power: not only over you but also your loved ones. We in the ‘Yes’ campaign know that the postal vote is a strategic move by the right faction of the Liberal Party to delay marriage equality and make the process of achieving it as difficult for LGBTIQ people as possible. However, by vacating the field after the High Court's decision, we would be playing right into their hands, and that is what they want.
There are a number of reasons why people feel the High Court's decision isn’t right. Many know and have seen how the ‘No’ campaign is toxic and unconstructive. They know the Government is shirking its duty to make a decision by having a free vote. They know it’s a waste of money. They have concerns that the vote will be unreliable. They have a lack of trust in the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australia Post, with their history of controversies.
But I can give you two million reasons why this postal vote is important to be a part of, in spite of the High Court's decision. Every one of those reasons represents a LGBTIQ person living in Australia, who deserves equality, choice, and recognition of their relationship and their identity (Australian Department of Health, ‘National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex’, Ageing and Aged Care Strategy, 2012: 4). I can give you another six thousand reasons why this vote is important to be a part of in spite of the High Court decision. Those reasons represent the roughly six thousand children living in same-sex parent homes (Australian Social Trends, ‘Same-Sex Couples’, 2013). By having marriage equality, these children can have certainty that their parents’ relationship is equal to those of their friends’ parents. Marriage equality sends a message to these children that says “your parents are wonderful and, most importantly, they are the same as any other parent”.
This article is not meant to make people feel guilty if they choose to reject the High Court’s decision, or pressure people into the ‘Yes’ campaign. Instead, I want to stress the importance of this vote and address the false belief that by rejecting government decision making, and the postal vote itself, means you are not participating in the politics of it. This vote will be difficult, and for many young LGBTIQ people, it represents what we already knew about the Coalition: they are trying to set up LGBTIQ rights to fail. Every challenge we face presents a barrier to our recognition. Every failure is draining. But, despite those barriers, we are having this vote as the ruling today was made by the High Court. Marriage equality is in the public dialogue. And the Australian Labor Party has declared that they will legislate for marriage equality within the first 100 days of a Shorten Labor government. We. Are. So. Close. It’s time for marriage equality. Let’s do this.