Along with thousands of others across the world I want to share my thoughts and feelings on the referendum for marriage equality in Ireland over the weekend and what it means to Australia. I am ecstatic with such an amazingly positive outcome in favour of marriage equality and so very happy for the people of Ireland. Particularly those who are now able to have their relationships recognised equally in the eyes of the law. I consider it a basic human right.
It’s the notion of marriage equality being a human right that in part explains, while I am extremely pleased to see the first ever successful referendum for marriage equality has taken place, why I oppose the idea of marriage equality being put to the public vote.
Before I explain my thoughts on the human right element it would be remiss of me not to talk about referendums in Australia. Typically a referendum in Australia is used to determine a change to the federal constitution, state or territory not a change in statute law. A vote for a change in statute law is a plebiscite (advisory referendum) and while a positive outcome of a referendum is binding and the outcome mandatory, with a plebiscite it is not binding and therefore the government is not bound to make the change. A referendum in Australia requires a double majority to succeed or for a state change a triple majority. More information here.
The purpose of a referendum and the non-binding nature of a plebiscite are only a small part of why I don’t believe a plebiscite is appropriate for Australia (yes it appears I am agreeing with Tony Abbott today on this single topic, mark that in your calendar), of course if one were to occur I would be out there campaigning tirelessly for a ‘yes’ outcome.
Importantly though I believe there is a bigger question with an extremely simple response. Should marriage equality be put to the public vote? No. What is the available alternative? The government of the day amend the Australian Marriage Act 1961 just as was done in 2004 by John Howard.
A decision which provides equality and removes discrimination in the eyes of the law should not be up to the sentiment of the voting public regardless of there being majority support for marriage equality. Why not? A vote of this sort risks the outcome being influenced by the side which can mount the most powerful campaign, often the campaign that can raise the highest profile and generally this is through the greatest access to funding. Voting on the provision or exclusion of equal rights to a minority therefore would remain open to the morals, values, fears and countless other influential factors. Rights should remain free from influences such as these and be based solely on legal entitlement.
Why does this matter? Personally it comes down to this for me. My right to marry my partner is not for you to decide. I am not asking for any religious institution to change its stance on marriage however I am asking for my government to address the legal aspect of marriage; that being the Marriage Act.
I have the right to rely on my government to remove discrimination and provide equal rights; as do you.
Copyright Adele Fisher 2015