Gay community won't forgive or forget plebiscite pushers
FEW things have united the 'Yes' and 'No' voters in the divisive, drawn-out campaign for same-sex marriage.
Mathias Corman's suggestion back in August that the postal ballot would be a "unifying moment" for the country now seems utterly laughable.
But if one thing unifies, it's surely the relief that this postal ballot plebiscite finally ends today. People in both camps have felt injured or insulted over these six long weeks. Many of the public feel fatigued. They just want it to be over.
Make no mistake: this is what anti-equality MPs wanted. The optional, non-binding, expensive, unnecessary postal vote was a delaying tactic to prohibit or at least postpone marriage equality - and certainly to exhaust existing public appetite for it.
Turnbull's continued insistence that this has been a "respectful debate" isn't just a lie - it's offensively ignorant. Trains were defaced with 'Vote no to fags.' Two lesbians in Redfern woke up in October to discover that dog excrement had been thrown on their doorstep. Graffiti instructed people to 'Bash a gay today'. Respectful? This is incitement to homophobic violence.
A 'No' voter was sacked from her job for being public about how she'd vote. At Sydney University, food was thrown and threats made to "stomp on the face" of 'No' voters, which resulted in the police being called.
This is what happens when you put people's human rights, basic dignity and simple equality up for debate. People get passionate. It gets ugly. And it was always going to.
Of course, passion makes the headlines. Many, myself included, tried to have the polite, respectful debate Turnbull wanted. I volunteered for the 'Yes' campaign, making calls to voters and asking if they'll, pretty please, consider treating me equally. It was a demeaning exercise - but one I did on behalf of the anxious, upcoming generation of LGBTQI people who deserve to share in the happily-ever-after optimism that every young person does.
A typical response to asking a caller if they'd consider voting 'Yes' was offered by one particularly aggravated woman: "I don't actually think that's any of your fucking business, do you?"
What I wanted to say was: "Neither is the validity of my relationship with my boyfriend actually any of your fucking business, but you've still been invited to have your say on its legitimacy, haven't you?"
What I actually said was: "No worries madam, sorry for interrupting your evening!" It's a conversation, through gritted teeth, I had dozens, possibly hundreds of times.
But where did that politeness get me? Even if we win the postal ballot, we lose. A Sky News ReachTEL poll found 64 per cent voted 'Yes'. But if that's the case, I still find it devastating to know that over a third of the country have been encouraged to post a letter saying they don't want to treat me equally. That 36 per cent have been influenced by a 'No' campaign to solidify their gut feeling that I'm inferior to them. They could be my future employers. They could be people whose livelihoods I help fund by buying goods or services from them. And that makes me very uncomfortable.
Something unforgivable has occurred here. MPs were widely warned a plebiscite would unleash a Pandora's box of harm. Gay people warned it'd give licence to homophobia and further ostracism. We pleaded with MPs to think of the suicide risk to vulnerable young LGBTQI people. Rainbow families travelled to Canberra to warn of the harm this'd do to their young kids. Bill Shorten listened, and reversed his initial support for the plebiscite.
Not only did Coalition MPs ignore and dismiss these warnings, they fought them at the High Court - and won. Look what happened. As Tanya Plibersek said on last night's Q & A, gay people were distraught to discover members of their own family would be voting 'No'.
I've seen gay people asking anyone on Facebook voting 'No' to de-friend them: from cousins and acquaintances to those they thought were their friends. Employers have been encouraged to turn against their staff for voting a different way. I've even seen divisions within the gay community itself emerge as a debate rages about how much tolerance or acceptance we should offer those who don't want us to have equality.
With all this grimly predictable polarisation, I can think of one unifying moment for the LGBTQI community. It's a reclaiming of power too often denied us, and one of the greatest powers of all: the withholding of forgiveness.
If gay people are angry that they've been pitted against each other and against their friends, family and colleagues, they have the power to punish at the ballot box - not just at the next election, but for a lifetime.
I'm hoping it galvanises LGBTQI people not just to vote for any other party than the LNP, but to join one, and campaign for one.
Why should we trust or forgive MPs who've ignored us, dismissed our legitimate concerns, made us beg for equality?
The real unifying moment is that the gay community now knows who has our backs. If you're gay, and now consider voting LNP in your lifetime, shame on you.