Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Plebiscite Ponderings

In around 10 hours Australia will have the result of the postal plebiscite concerning same sex marriage which, seemingly, as been going on... Forever.

When this massive, and incredablly expensive, undertaking was announced there were fears that the debate would be ugly. And, while the exercise has been drawn out, generally, the whole exercise hasn't left the nation in a smouldering heap.

But the plebiscite has brought a few things to my attention.

First, like with any issue, there have been idiots, nut-jobs and crazies on both sides. As per usual, they have been the loudest voices at the table and the ones who have garnered the most attention. 

Second, I've been concerned with the personalisation of industry. QANTAS, Coke, ANZ, the Australian Medical Association, universities, the AFL and the NRL all took very public 'yes' stances. They were not alone. Nearly every industry and sporting organisation was touched by rainbow support.

This concerned me since, seemingly, their stance insinuated that their entire corporation was in support of 'yes.' Frankly, this could not go the case and I wonder how this affected those against SSM, for whatever reason, within these brands. Could they speak out? Were they annoyed that they, potentially, were misrepresented? Is it proper for a business to back a political or social agenda? If so, they why don't the same companies publicly announce their positions on abortion or euthanasia? Will they back a candidate or political party at the next election? I think not.

Furthermore, this support for the 'yes' vote reached into politics, with both leaders of the political divide encouraging people to cast affirmative ballots and the Lord Mayor of Sydney using thousands of dollars of public funds to decorate the city centre rainbow. Once more, did this ostracise those on the no side of the ledger? Was this appropriate use of taxpayer funds or time of public officials?

And this raises my third concern, where was the public 'no' support? From the start of the plebiscite, it was announced that no advertising companies would produce or run ads for the 'no' campaign. No company came out against the idea. Outside of politicians, very few public figures said they were against SSM. While TV stars, entire programs, radio stations and hosts were quite vocally affirmative, I wonder how many were forced to remain closeted in their alternate view?

Why would they speak up? Look what happened to Israel Falou and Margaret Court. They, for religious reasons, publicly (and fairly respectfully) said they would vote no and they were slammed, shamed, ridiculed and ostracised. 

This didn't seem like open, fair debate.

Beyond this, it seemed that everyone just retreated into their conclaves in order to hear the echo chamber of their position. Very few genuine public debates were had, if any.

As often happens, those on the opposite side of the argument were labelled bigots and intolerant or anarchists and liberals. 

Far too many people were prepared to 'play the man, not the ball.' They were open to criticise the character of a person, not their arguments.

And, from either side, I didn't hear many positive arguments. I heard lots of scare campaigns. A bit of progressive witch hunting. Some warnings of a slippery slope. A dash of eye-rolling at conservatives.

I didn't see or hear much engagement.

If anything, I think the 'yes' campaign lost more votes, in some ways, than it gained. Via the more militant, aggressive arms of their argument, I believe they nudged a sizeable chunk away from their cause. The Australian tendency to push back, or even do the opposite to the desired outcome of a bully - just to 'stick it up them' may have swollen the numbers in the 'no' camp.

From this standpoint, advocating for prompt return of ballot papers, was a step in the right direction for the affirmative case since it restricted the chance of people changing their minds to, I suspect, a 'no.'

With, reportedly, the response rate being just shy of 80%, it has been shown that, as a nation, we do care about a political question that we find interesting and, again, as a nation, we could move towards either non-compulsory voting or postal elections.

Now, no I won't tell you which box I put an X in.

But, I do have a two predictions

First, I suspect that the vote will come back 'yes,' but it will not be a landslide... I'm guessing around 60-40. If anything, this plebiscite will be a reminder, on SSM, exactly how divided we are.

Second, this issues won't be resolved soon. 

If the answer is 'yes' then the ramifications for religious and conscientious objectors must be secured (an increasing point of conjecture and motivator for some 'no' devotees) and laws ammended. 

If the result is 'no,' while it might kill the issue politically for a generation, I can't imagine the 'yes' supporters will accept the decision. They will question and challenge everything about the plebiscite and its outcome.

I'm not convinced, either way it plans out, that the 'losers' will drift quietly into the night.

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