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Thoughts on the plebiscite

By Michael Thompson - posted Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Michael Kirby has voiced concerns about the proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage. He wants the elected representatives of parliament to make the decision.

His arguments are several but none of them very compelling.

He says that Australians do not vote yes in referenda and believes this will be the case for the plebiscite. Each case has to be treated on its merits. We have voted no because we wanted no on each occasion. It does not automatically follow that we will vote no on this particular issue. Is he suggesting that any other issue which may come up for consideration in the future not go to the vote of the people because they have always voted no on past issues? All you have to do is look at past results to determine what any future result will be? From now on we will never have a people's vote because we already know what the result will be?


He is concerned that a plebiscite will set a dangerous precedent with politicians always going to the public when things get too awkward. There have been many awkward issues in the past 116 years but rarely have they been taken to the people to vote on directly. There is no evidence to claim that the flood gates will open and politicians will no longer do their job. This is being over dramatic. It is about trying to exaggerate an outcome when there is no evidence to support that outcome in order to emotionally manipulate people into rejecting a plebiscite. The choice for a plebiscite should be made because it is reasonable and not because of some dramatised fear mongering.

He points to the Brexit outcome which produced an 'unexpected' result. What does it matter if it produces an 'unexpected' result? We accept that as part of the democratic process. Should we only go along with the process of democracy when we get the result we expect? This too is a way of trying to manipulate the debate over whether or not to hold a plebiscite. Not everyone is afraid of the 'unexpected'.

He says that we have not had plebiscites in the past on important issues and that this is just a case of singling out those who want same-sex marriage. They are being 'picked on'. This is victim mentality writ large. The object for same-sex couples is to have the law changed so what does it matter how their result comes about? If the government votes for a change in legislation in the parliament or if the change comes about by plebiscite then they will get the outcome they are entitled to. It is ultimately the government's decision about how they choose to come to a consensus and it is the government which must take responsibility for that decision. How can this in any way be construed as 'picking on' on those who want same-sex marriage? It is simply following the process of democracy in the same way it would be followed in any other issue that might be the subject of a future referendum or plebiscite.

He also mentions the effects upon on "young gay people, saying many were already extremely stressed and suicidal." The debate that would occur because of the plebiscite would cause pain for homosexual people. Others such as Penny Wong have also raised this as an issue. If it is a concern then such concern can be easily placated by not pursuing the question of same-sex marriage. Those urging for same-sex marriage have to decide what is more important to them. Do they want same-sex marriage so badly that they are willing to expose young homosexual people to such stress that they may act on their suicidal tendencies or do they care enough about those outcomes to drop their claims. It is really up to them to decide. Reality is not always how you would like it to be and there will certainly be abuse and aggression by some opponents of same-sex marriage. Given that this is likely what is their decision? Do they push ahead and endanger the lives of young homosexuals or do they decide that being married is not worth the damage it would cause.

They have to decide and to act in accord with their decision. Either they retreat from their calls for same-sex marriage or they stop telling us that they are concerned. Their integrity is on the line. Unless they retreat then their concern is not genuine and is only an attempt to influence others by emotional manipulation.

Finally there is the question of the 160 million dollars which Kirby and others lament as a waste. When the lobbying began for a change to the Marriage Act it was common knowledge that the end result could be a plebiscite which would be very costly. It was not the result that they wanted but they were quite prepared to push the issue that far if necessary. Ultimately they decided that their right to marry was worth this amount of expense for the taxpayer.


Now we have many of these same advocates saying that we should have a parliamentary decision because of the outrageous cost. The responsibility for this cost falls on the same-sex marriage lobby and not on the government. If they had not agitated for a change in legislation then a plebiscite would never have had to be considered. There is a valid argument to hold a plebiscite and that is what the government could well adopt. The same-sex marriage lobby knew that there was a reasonable argument for a plebiscite and that is why they declared it to be not the best outcome for them. They also knew that a plebiscite may well be the best outcome for the government and that the government's decision on how to resolve the issue of changes to the legislation would be final. They always knew that it could end up this way and still they pushed ahead.

How seriously concerned about the money are they? Well it is not too late to withdraw the demands for a change in legislation and thereby render the plebiscite unnecessary. By their actions do we judge them. We are not judging them on their sexuality but on their values. How important is marriage that they are prepared to spend 160 million dollars to have it?

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About the Author

Michael Thompson is a freelance writer and blogger interested in social issues. His particular focus is on exposing the emotional manipulation that passes for reasonable and logical debate in many social issues. He believes civilised society changes for the better when it does so for good reasons and not because the loudest, most aggressive or most manipulative of its citizens get their way. His blog can be found at Social Justice Issues.

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