IT’S time to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative on marriage.
The 16 million postal ballots on same-sex marriage have now mostly been delivered. That means the country has come to crunch time in a 13-year journey which began when parliament under John Howard changed the law, without consulting the people, to specify marriage could only be between a man and a woman.
In the Yes corner the team is asking for the right to marry to be extended to each and every one of us. In the No corner they are maintaining that marriage is exclusively for heterosexual couples.
And as we reach the point where all of us have to choose whether to vote yes or no, it is the opponents of change who are focusing not on what is good about marriage but what is bad about the political process they themselves unleashed when they brought on a plebiscite.
There is no denying that there has been some very bad behaviour at the extremes on both sides of the discussion. The activists who held anti-religion signs at a Coalition for Marriage rally, and the attack on a house adorned with Yes banners in Brisbane being some of the worst examples.
But it’s the response of the respective campaigns to such incidents that is telling.
On the No side you have columnists such as Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine claiming the Yes campaign is a “licence to hate” and publishing (thankfully short) lists of acts by the “militant wing” which they say prove the “intolerant zeal of gay activists”.
On the Yes side leading advocate Tiernan Brady is determinedly staying positive, reminding us this week that we all have to wake up in the same country after this is over. According to him, “aiming to divide society with a negative campaign is not the journey we want for LGBTI people or Australia. Real victory comes from persuading people, not trying to beat them”.
My brother Tony Abbott is talking about “left-wing activists who are waging war on our way of life”. He argues that same-sex marriage is a “frontal attack on traditional values that can only take place because of the infiltration and erosion that’s been going on for years.”
My niece Frances Abbott says with heartfelt conviction that marriage equality would make Australia a much better place, with “less fear of discrimination or fear of isolation or loneliness.” For her, this is more than politics, “what this comes down to, is love”.
The No side jumped with zeal on the story of Tony being assaulted by a man wearing a Yes badge in Hobart. The report about Kevin Rudd’s godson Sean being punched by a No voter in Brisbane has sunk without a trace.
The Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton claims cake makers and florists should be able to breach existing anti-discrimination laws by refusing services to gay couples who want to marry.
Senator Dean Smith confirms religious views about marriage will be protected under law “because that’s the Australian way”.
The No camp reacted with vocal outrage over random text messages being sent to mobile phones asking people to “help make history and vote Yes for a fairer Australia”.
Virtually nothing has been made of the No campaign’s robocalls to one million households in which Cory Bernardi says change will “limit the rights of parents to object to radical gay sex education.”
Bernardi says he’s “deeply concerned” that same-sex marriage will impact parents’ rights. Brady says marriage equality is about standing up for each other: family and friends.
The Coalition for Marriage website says nothing of the wonderful personal and social benefits of marriage, but seeks support to “defend freedom of speech and religion”, and claims same-sex marriage will lead to “more gender-bending.”
The Equality Campaign website tells us that “fairness and equality are at the heart of Australian society” and asks for volunteers to take action if they “believe our laws should reflect these values of which we are most proud”.
In short, the No campaign is seeking to play on our fears and uncertainties, the Yes side to show us that allowing same-sex marriage will mean stability and a stronger society.
But now is decision time for all of us and it comes down to just a few simple ideas.
If you think we should all be equal before the law, vote yes. If you believe marriage is about people not politics, vote yes. If you want to see every Australian family get the same fair go, vote yes.
But whatever you do, vote. Please post your Yes.