Australia Says YES to Marriage Equality

Note: The original version of this article published the wrong numbers for state votes. This has now been rectified. Also, one of the interviewees requested a change in name.

Amidst clouds of confetti, colored powder and cheering, Australians have overwhelmingly voted Yes to marriage equality.

The results of the marriage equality plebiscite, announced live by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on 15 November, showed that over 7.8 million Australians, or 61.6% of those who sent in their ballot, voted Yes. Every state and territory, including 133 of 150 Federal Electoral Divisions, held a majority Yes vote; the Australian Capital Territory recorded the highest, with 74% voting Yes (Victoria came a close second, with 64.9%). Around 79.5% of eligible Australians voted in the plebiscite. Women were more likely to vote than men, and those between 70 to 74 years old were the most likely to vote across age groups. The 18 to 19 age group, the youngest group of eligible Australian voters, were the most participatory amongst those under 45.

Australians by and large have been extremely celebratory of the result. “Today is an enormous relief, a great achievement for all Australians,” says Julie Tsinaris, a gay woman who works in security in Melbourne. Tsinaris was sad that the “love of [her] life”, who passed on 12 years ago, was not able to witness the result, “but I can feel her spirit. She would have loved this.”

Caketin Fairy, a Melbourne queer femme who “works in love”, shared similar sentiments. “I feel like the queers that come before us can hear this right now,” she said. “We do this for them, for us, for the queers that come after us.”

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AUSTRALIA VOTED YES TO SAME SEX MARRIAGE! MELBOURNE, Australia — A solid majority of Australians voted in favor of same-sex marriage in a historic survey that, while not binding, paves the way for Parliament to legally recognize the unions of gay and lesbian couples. Of 12.7 million Australians who took part in the survey, 61.6 percent voted yes and 38.4 percent voted no, officials announced on Wednesday morning. Participation was high, with 79.5 percent of voting-age Australians taking part. “The Australian people have spoken, and they have voted overwhelmingly ‘yes’ for marriage equality,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who had called the national survey as a way to put pressure on conservative lawmakers, many from his own party. “They voted ‘yes’ for fairness, they voted ‘yes’ for commitment, they voted ‘yes’ for love.” #australiavoteyes #australia #loveislove #loveislove🌈 #lovewins #lovewins🌈 #LGBT #lgbtq #lgbtqia #marriageequality #equality #equalityforall

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Ali Hogg, the convener of the Equal Love campaign that has fought for marriage equality since then-Prime Minister John Howard changed the Marriage Act in 2004 to only allow marriages between a man and a woman, is elated by the result. “It was so overwhelmingly a majority that it’s going to warn the Government that they cannot get away with discrimination,” she said.

Lesbian and student Hien Nguyen, while excited about the result, doesn’t feel like it was enough of a majority. “Only 61% voted Yes – that’s nowhere near enough,” she said. “It should have been 80%!”.

The voluntary non-binding vote, held via the Australian postal service from 12 September to 7 November 2017, has been the source of much controversy since before the July 2016 Federal Election, when the right-wing Coalition Government headed by Australian Liberal Party head Malcolm Turnbull promised a compulsory plebiscite on the legalization of same-sex marriage. Even members of Turnbull’s party were getting tired with the whole debacle, with senior frontbencher Christopher Pyne and senator Dean Smith publicly stating support for marriage equality. Legislation for the plebiscite bounced between the House and the Senate a few times until 9 August 2017, when the motion to discuss the plebiscite in the Senate was tied 31-31, resulting in defeat.

This defeat spurred the Government to go through the Australian Bureau of Statistics to survey every Australian on the electoral roll, arguing that there was no special legislation needed for this as it was already covered under laws governing ABS. This too was controversial, particularly due to its AU$122 million (over US$93.35 million) cost to Australian taxpayers (the issue had previously been allocated AU$160 million in the Budget). The Australian High Court heard two challenges against the postal plebiscite on the 7th of September, which gave some hope to LGBTQIA activists across Australia; unfortunately for us, the High Court ruled that the plebiscite was valid.

The marriage equality plebiscite has had both positive and negative outcomes. A record 98,000 people added their names to the Australian electoral roll primarily due to the plebiscite, most of whom are young people, women, and inner-city residents – tending to be friendly towards marriage equality. However, the LGBTQIA community has also had to deal with a significant wave of homophobic and transphobic messaging from the anti-marriage equality side, much of which didn’t actually target marriage equality specifically but went after the Safe Schools program, which provides LGBTQIA-related education and resources in Australian schools, as well as trans people, with charming comments such as political commentator Mark Latham’s claim that he “supports gay marriage but not state-approved gender fluidity”. (It’s worth noting that under current law in most Australian states, married trans people need to be divorced before they can have their sex recorded on their birth certificate.)

People on the YES side have worked furiously to counteract the NO side’s messaging, through regular events and rallies as well as grassroots marketing campaigns of their own. Melbourne-based jazz singer, cabaret artist, and community activist Mama Alto, a non-binary trans femme of colour who was recently recognised as Artist of the Year at the GLOBE Community Awards, has been documenting YES-side campaign art and posters around Melbourne, sharing it with her thousands of followers and friends on social media.

YES Campaign support ad by Mama Alto

YES Campaign support ad – photo by Mama Alto

“I wanted to both capture the beautiful expressions of love, support and community, and also post these images online to spread hope and positivity,” she says, aiming to provide “a little beacon of hope” to those feeling overwhelmed and isolated by the extra focus by mainstream and social media on the NO campaign. She’s received positive feedback from people who say that after dealing with rough days of negativity and invalidation, “randomly coming across these quiet but powerful supportive statements that are out in the community can help them keep their head above water”.

Mama Alto notes that she’s primarily “amplify[ing] the hope and love that’s already out there”, but every little bit can help. “I know personally, as someone who experiences terrible mental health issues, sometimes you need things to cling to. Little lights in the darkness. They can turn your day around, or they can help you keep your head above water and survive for one more moment. And when your community is under siege, sometimes that’s all you can do: take it moment by moment.”

Even with the fervent YES campaigning and increased enrollment, there were still concerns leading up to the announcement about the results. An early November study by Griffith University in Brisbane, using similar data analysis methods that led to the prediction of Donald Trump as winner of the 2016 US Election, showed a narrow win for the No vote. Early reports of dumped voting envelopes and privacy concerns have also cast doubt on the validity of the survey results.

Even a Yes vote is not a guarantee. While Turnbull (who publicly urged Australians to vote Yes, much to the consternation of LGBTQIA Australians who don’t understand why he still wanted to push a plebiscite through instead of just legalising marriage equality already) has stated that a Yes vote will lead to marriage equality by Christmas, the non-binding voluntary nature of the vote means that the results would still be subject to much criticism, especially since there hasn’t been enough information on what percentage would count as ‘legitimate’. Indeed, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has suggested that the anti-marriage equality campaign should keep going even after the vote is over, suggesting more traumatic times for Australia’s LGBTQIA community.

A couple of draft same-sex marriage bills have already been proposed by Liberal members Dean Smith and James Patterson. While both bills include provisions for “religious exemptions”, Patterson’s bill has come under immense scrutiny for provisions that would severely roll back anti-discrimination protections, including those unrelated to marriage, such as parents being given the right to pull their children out of Safe Schools programs in schools. In response to these bills, Hogg said that Equal Love will push the Greens, Labor, and independent Members of Parliament to call for amendments to Smith’s bill, calling any form of discrimination in the guise of religious freedom “despicable”.

While Australia celebrates a long-awaited victory, many are aware that this is not the end. “We can’t assume this is the end,” said one queer student I spoke with, to the agreement of many others.

“Marriage is one thing – it’s just the tip of the iceberg of true equality,” says Fairy, bringing up trans people, intersex people, Indigenous people, and people of color. “It isn’t over yet.”

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Creatrix Tiara

Creatrix Tiara's philosophy is to sign up for anything that look interesting, which gets her into some fun adventures. She's passionate about liminality, inclusivity, and intersectionality, especially in arts, media, tech, games, fandom, education, and activism.

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  1. Thank you for the in depth article. I’m feeling slightly relieved by the result, but mostly infuriated by the entire process. And indeed, this is not even close to being the end.

  2. This is great news! The more countries the better! I just hope that they don’t have the situation that some of the states in America have were an LGBTQ person gets married and gets fired, or denied housing.

    • That is a possible outcome if the Amendments to the actual bill that still has to be passed by parliament, goes through.

      That’s why this isn’t done yet. Just because a govt sponsored, tax payer funded survey comes out,Yes.This still has to be drawn into law and passed through both Houses of Parliament.

    • Well, we have had anti-discrimination laws locked down for a good while and it is definitely against the law to fire someone or refuse them housing on the grounds of sexuality (religous exemptions apply, bleh).

      More likely to be at risk if gender diverse or trans, though that is also against the law.

      • That’s good to know, about the anti-discrimination laws, but sad to hear that trans and gnc people are still more likely to be at risk.

    • Living in AUS, I was amazed at the rights for LGBTQ folk. Nonbinary gender option for state docs (California got to that last week). Domestic partnerships (we never got around to that pre- Obergefell). Natl. non-discrimination clauses for housing/ employment (we’re still waiting on that one).

      The effect that free healthcare (inc. gender realignment surgery, and the totally different way y’all understand and treat mental health) is v impressive, and tbh a bit of a shock coming from the States. I can’t emphasize how meaningful that was to me when I was there.

      Everywhere’s got it’s problems, but overall GOOD JOB SO HAPPY FOR YOU ALL.

      • Thanks. We did use to get some things right before the Liberal Coalition govt was elected in 2013. Hopefully we can get back to where progress and real human rights can be forwarded once the next Labour government comes in following the next elections. The Libs/National parties are really on the nose with the general public and they’re fighting with each other within the party too, so roll on the next election.
        Mind you a Greens government would be better but that’s not going to happen yet.

  3. Thanks for posting about us. I’m so relieved,and pumped for the work ahead to actually get this through.

    It’s not a plebiscite though – we didn’t have one because parliament voted that down. What we just had was a postal survey, which didn’t require parliamentary approval.

    • Huh! I’ve heard it referred to the plebiscite a lot, I wasn’t aware it was quite different since it went through ABS.

      • It was for a while but eventually the postal survey wording caught on during the campaign. I’d change the wording in the article. A postal survey manages to be even more pointless than a plebiscite.

      • If it had still been a proper Plebiscite,it would have had to be conducted through the Electoral Commission. It would still have been non binding however. Which was why Tony Abbott wanted it that way so that he could get out of having to implement the people’s will if the result was Yes. For the result to be binding, we would have had to have had a full Referendum. But that was too much of a political risk, given the results of many statistically managed Opinion Polls. When Abbott became an obvious political liability to the Liberal Party and the party machine went into overdrive to put the knife in and replace him with Turnbull, the powerbrokers (Corman, Dutton and Morrison) made Turnbull Prime Minister on the proviso that he agree to still toe the line on the Pelbiscite or similar, as well as several other of the main platform items.
        Basically all of the rotten, low and lousy policies that the Opposition and the Greens have mostly managed to block. Here endeth the ramblings of a political tragic. Thanks for tolerating it all.

  4. Full info on the results can be found here

    My Electorate (Wentworth) was over 80% vote for yes, despite being a conservative held electorate, but the overall state vote for NSW was the lowest in Australia at 57% yes.

    The 5 worst electorates (between 20-40% yes vote) were all western suburbs Labor seats, so working class left-wing voters.

    • Thank you for this string of comments because it made me realise that I had been looking at the wrong section of the ABS site – I remembered the TV saying something about NT being at 57% and thought that meant the Yes vote, not overall participation ><

    • You’re right about those seats being primarily working class and held by Left Wing politicians but the reason that these seats voted NO has more to do with the religious mix, cultural values and the fluency of spoken English.Also there were many very pointed No pamphlets delivered throughout these areas in languages, most specifically Mandarin, Tamel,Farsi and Uhurdu that promoted frightening ideas about what would happen in Sex Education in schools if Yes, got up.

        • I moved from Blaxland (the countries highest no vote) to Grayndler (around 80% yes) last December and I am so incredibly grateful to have been spared that campaign but am absolutely heartbroken for all the queer kids and adults who had no option but to struggle through it.

          My own experiences of the area where I grew up do not match the picture painted by the results. I’ve never previously felt a moments concern about walking around holding my partners hand and I’ve never experienced any type of homophobic abuse there (unlike the progressive inner-west where I live now or 75% yes-voting North Sydney where my girlfriend lived when we first started dating)

          Thanks to this bullshit survey and those results I’m now worried about what has been stirred up in the community and if I should take my girlfriend when I go to visit mum on the weekend… I am so angry and heartbroken that these are things I have to consider now while our Prime Minister breezily states that this was all worth it…

          Yesterday felt weird, while everyone was celebrating around me I just kept crying – I just can’t find anything to celebrate in this. My celebration will come next election.

  5. I needed some good news and happy tears – but boy, does this sound convoluted! So basically the postal survey reads as an attempt to stall marriage equality? Instead of just passing the law, let’s have a protracted spectacle which doesn’t even have a binding effect on the Parliament? Wow that’s messed up. More and more it seems like the right – and this is world over – is in the business of slowing down progress, that’s literally all they do anymore.

    • Both sides of politics were to blame for slowing down progress here. The Labor party for insisting on a free vote in 2012 when they were in power and had the numbers to vote in gay marriage, the Liberal/National Party for not allowing a free vote when Tony Abbott was PM in 2014-2015. The Liberal Party for pushing the issue to a public vote and making that their 2016 election policy. The LNP under Malcolm Turnbull for sticking with the plebiscite policy after the election when everyone was demanding a free vote. Labor and the Greens for voting against the plebiscite in Feb 2017 which delayed this vote by another 8 months. Finally Malcolm Turnbull for insisting on this postal vote when a group of gay MPs in his own party finally forced him to do something. Everyone has been playing politics with this issue for years and still are with their talk of religious exemptions.

      • Labor and the Greens did the right thing voting down the plebiscite. They were listening to our community and we didn’t want it to be a vote. If not for the loophole of the survey, a bill could have already passed through parliament.

        • They certainly did. It should have gone to a free parliamentary vote then but no, the Right demanded our blood so the Survey was born and we were put through more unnecessary misery.

          Sorry, in spite of the Yes vote by our compatriots today. I’m still fuming about the contempt and hatred that our government is willing to subject us to. And it goes on.

        • There would never have been a free vote under a LNP government without a plebiscite/survey. It was part of the coalition agreement between the Liberal and National parties and Malcolm is too weak a leader to override that.

          However, I do acknowledge that I was definitely in the minority among my friends when I supported the plebiscite going ahead.

          • You’re right, but waiting for the next election would have had less damage to do many people’s mental health than going through this, not to mention not have legitimised homophobia so much.

          • Many of us would have preferred to wait until after the next election, anticipating a change of government. However, it’s all moot now.
            There is still healing to be done as many of us come to terms with the degree to which we continue to be seen as a dangerous “other” by a significant number in the community.
            Hopefully the rest of this nastiness can sink without trace once the actual Law is passed and the novelty wears off for the rest of the straight community.

  6. Yesss!! It was so great being out there this morning with so many people!! I wish it was a higher Yes vote but I’ll take what I can get. Super keen for the street party tonight. Thanks for writing this up so quickly!! :)

  7. My apologies! I was looking at the wrong section of the ABS site and had the wrong numbers for % of state votes. This has now been fixed!

  8. congrats australians on making it through the plebbyshite. glad it went yes, and i hope the next few months go very quickly so everyone can start forgetting how stupidly long this took.

  9. I’m pissed that our community was put through the wringer with this farcical postal survey, and I’m well aware that the result is non-binding and leaves us with a heap more work to do. Still, it felt amazing to stand shoulder to shoulder with queers and allies, all supporting each other when the result was announced. There was so much love on the State Library lawn this morning. Random strangers have been congratulating us all day. There are massive parties happening all over the country tonight. Today it feels really good to be queer Australian.

    Today we celebrate, tomorrow we legislate!

  10. I couldn’t go out and celebrate tonight because I had an appointment with my doctor, so I wore my rainbow equality shirt to the appointment. Better than nothing at least.

    While extremely excited that we won, I’m still disgusted with the number of people who voted no. The damage that this ‘survey’ caused is not going to go away for a long time.

  11. We made it through! So many mixed emotions but, above all, relief. There were too many No respondents but I can at least trust that most other Aussies don’t see me as less worthy. And there is hope for the future.

    The silver lining was becoming familiar with the necessary, grueling work of our activists. They were, and remain, inspirational.

    My love to you all. There’s a way to go yet but we made it through that tortuous process and deserve to celebrate.

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