Price of a plebiscite is too high for LGBTI young people



The same sex marriage plebiscite is a hot button topic. The Greens and Nick Xenophon have decided to vote against a plebiscite. Labor have unofficially officially made the same decision. As a young queer woman, I believe blocking the plebiscite is the right choice for reasons both practical and emotional.

xxxxxThe major arguments are well documented. A plebiscite will be, according to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, 'the nation's most expensive opinion poll' (the estimated cost comes to about $160 million), since the outcome won't be legally binding. And history has shown us that on the rare occasion we've implemented a plebiscite, it can still years to take effect; changing the national anthem after the plebiscite in 1977 took seven years.

Apart from Ireland, in every country where same sex marriage has been legalised, it has been done by parliamentary vote. And importantly, both Australian and Irish LGBTI+ activists have warned of the negative consequences of a public vote to the mental health of LGBTI+ people.

It's that last argument I want to emphasise here, because often when you haven't experienced a certain kind of discrimination, it can remain an abstract concept for you. If you're a cisgender straight person, the Irish vote 'no' poster, like 'Children need a mother and father', may not seem like a big deal. You may even agree with it.

However, if you're a LGBTI+ young person who might be going through a process of denial and self-loathing about your sexual orientation or gender identity, it's just another reminder in your daily life that there are people who think you are wrong for being who you are. It's a sign that says you're not welcome or wanted here.

I remember one time in class when the subject came up of some young girls, several year levels below my classmates and me, who identified as lesbians.

I had spoken to these girls before, and it was a really wonderful and rare experience to see young women with no internalised homophobia, who spoke as openly about their crushes on girls as others would talk about boys. Though I was still in the closet at the time, these young girls inspired me to be comfortable about who I was.

It was an experience that was to be marred by my classmates, who yelled in the classroom how these young girls were 'just experimenting' and 'too young to know' that they were same sex attracted. How it was 'weird' and 'gross'.


"Every time the media gives a platform to bigotry as part of plebiscite-related coverage, it will enter the homes and lives of young LGBTI+ people. The ones who live regionally. The ones who are afraid to come out."


I sat there, frozen, trying to speak — I have been bullied before, but it wasn't until that moment that I had felt truly unsafe at school. These were classmates who I had spent years with and trusted. I was literally surrounded by my peers, and they were mocking these young girls and, by proxy, saying that my experiences weren't valid.

The point is that intended or not, homophobia leaves lasting marks. Whether it's hearing the word 'faggot' in homeroom or the assumption that my partner would be a 'him', when I was unsure and in the closet, the heteronormativity and homophobia hurt all the more when it came from places that were meant to be safe.

Homophobic words don't just travel to the ears of their supporters, they linger in the minds of the people they're about. So every time the media gives a platform to bigotry as part of plebiscite-related coverage, it will enter the homes and lives of young LGBTI+ people. The ones who live regionally. The ones who are afraid to come out. The ones who might have come out, but secretly worry that they're not worthy of love. These debates will take place on television, but also in schools, workplaces and at dinner tables. So if you really care about young people's welfare, then recognise that the majority doesn't need a say on a minority rights issue. Let's stop forcing LGBTI+ people to justify their own existence in the first place.


Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, same sex marriage, marriage equality, plebiscite



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Existing comments

Neve, thanks for this article. I agree with "recognise that the majority doesn't need a say on a minority rights issue". Same-sex marriage is a human rights issue and the Parliament should show some courage and have a conscience vote. A plea to our Prime Minister: ignore politics, and do this right thing, at long last.
Pam | 30 August 2016

Thank you for sharing and I acknowledge your struggles to share your attraction to the same-sex. But on the topic of the State taking on a change in the fabric of the family in this way, requires the people's vote. The same-sex marriage lobby praised Catholic Ireland for holding a referendum? Why can’t Australia, a tolerant country, have a plebiscite? Same-sex marriage was pushed through the Slovenian parliament in March 2015 but it was overturned in a referendum nine months later. A similar scenario would almost certainly arise here if the decision were taken out of the hands of the people. And that would cost money and cause unnecessary distress. Your view is that a public debate will be too contentions and divisive. However, there will be a public debate regardless of whether there is a parliamentary vote or a plebiscite. I hope that Australia can handle the challenges of discussing these topics fairly.
Fi | 30 August 2016

Does God figure anywhere in this article? He seems to be very well hidden.
Roy Chen Yee | 30 August 2016

This letter to the editor from Babette was published August 25th: The editor, The Australian Congratulations to Paul Kelly for his incisive column "Plebiscite Politics Turn Dangerous" (24/8/16). The homosexual lobby have used the argument that a plebiscite would be hurtful because it would unleash homophobic and bigoted comments from opponents of homosexual "marriage", conveniently forgetting that for decades Christians have had to endure mockery at Gay Pride Marches, e.g. effigies of the head of Rev. Fred Nile, MLC, and half-naked "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence". The latter is a particularly nasty demonstration of anti-Catholic bigotry because our nuns are among the citizens most dedicated to empathising with the disadvantaged, educating the poor and helping the sick. Babette Francis, Toorak, Vic.
Marcus L'Estrange | 31 August 2016

Great work Neve!
Mark Weegberg | 31 August 2016

I don't understand the fuss.In reality,the main argument is that the LGBTI+ community will be publicly attacked by negative arguments.This minority will have the same voice (probably louder) after a vote in Parliament,as that which is "feared" in a plebiscite.If the majority want this legislation..let them have a say.Why deny this rare opportunity for a real chance at democracy?
Peter Cafarella | 31 August 2016

A commenter asked 'Does God figure anywhere in this article?' Whatever you might think the correct Christian response is to this issue, if you don't hear God speaking through Neve's words I feel sorry for you. Pope Francis recently said that the Church should seek forgiveness for the way they have treated gay people, pointing out that pointed out that same sex attracted people should be 'respected' and 'accompanied pastorally'. Little in what Neve describes could be called 'pastoral'.
Joseph Vine | 31 August 2016

John Warhurst, - Neve Mahoney has this right in ES today., I hope Labor goes that way. Too many risks and too much hurt to decent people in the plebiscite option. . It will bring out the nasties, in the churches and in the wider community, and it could quite possibly fail.. This is a job for Parliament. Bill Shorten, please give leadership in this. It matters.
tony kevin | 31 August 2016

Thanks for offering your personal perspective on this issue, Neve. It is important to hear voices like yours, to remind us of the human dimensions of public policy. More power to you.
FM | 31 August 2016

I hope this article is sent to all of our parliamentarians. The message should be heard and understood.
Rosemary Grundy | 31 August 2016

Well said Neve! I can understand some religious leaders wanting to defend their doctrinal view of marriage and their practice of it. But allowing same-sex marriage will in no way inhibit their exercise of their marriage rights. The fact that same sex attracted couples want to marry is a sign of how much they appreciate what a profound public manifestation of mutual love and respect marriage.
Uncle Pat | 31 August 2016

Thanks for this powerful piece Neve and for the reminder that our schools need to be safe places for all students. In sharing your story and truth our God of light, life and love shines through. May your strong voice continue to challenge and shake us.
Anne Muirhead | 31 August 2016

Marcus L'Estrange, are you serious? We've had centuries of murders, bashings, imprisonments, sackings etc of gay people, and you think making fun of nuns is somehow equivalent? People like Neve deserve an acknowledgment that they are now accepted fully in the community. I would like it done as it was in New Zealand with cheers, songs, kisses and flowers - in Parliament. I don't want a public trial of whether gay people should be accepted, which as an official process, will give legitimacy to judgmental, excluding people to trot out all the hateful things we have heard of for so long. Have a look at how it should be done:
Russell | 31 August 2016

Palriamentarians claim that they represent their constituents. If you represent them, save $160 million and do your job. Your colleagues in other countries had the courage, what about you? No Roy it is not your God's business, we elect people to care for us.
Peter Lee | 31 August 2016

Neve, this is indeed an issue of rights - not human rights, but certainly civil rights. Citizens have the right in this country to have their partnerships recognized and registered by the state. I can't see any reason why some citizens don't have this right. And no, since it is a civil right, the majority need no opportunity to enter the debate. However, there are related issues that do need to be debated at some stage, and opportunity given to hear the various shades of opinion. I mean the issues around 'family formation' - and this does appear in the Marriage Act as it stands. Perhaps it's too confusing to have this discussion as part of the plebiscite process - but it needs to happen somewhere. Personally, I believe that gay people have the right to have their marriages recognized, and that children ideally have a mother and a father. This isn't a suggestion that gay people aren't equal persons and citizens.
Joan Seymour | 31 August 2016

The Coalition claim their one-seat majority in the reps demonstrates a 'mandate' for a plebiscite. A better measure woulld be the result in the Senate where an overwhelming majority of voters rejected the Coalition and it's 'mandate'. The state of the Senate is not the result of an accident. We, the electors, fashioned it. Now its the time for Labor to step up to the mark just as the Greens and NXT senators have. It's not a time for jelly-backs.
Ginger Meggs | 01 September 2016

" No Roy it is not your God's business, we elect people to care for us." Sterling answer, Peter Lee, if Eureka Street were a secular magazine. The convention in secular discussion fora is to base your arguments on evidence that the material senses can assess as this creates a level field for all. But Eureka Street is a Christian journal exploring the grounds on which Christianity (or Catholicism) should respond to public issues. This means that contributors and commenters should be showing directly or inferentially how they see God would respond to public issues. That should be the difference between how one debates a topic here and how one does in the Guardian or in Quadrant. So, where is God in Neve's article?
Roy Chen Yee | 01 September 2016

When I saw Jesuit,I assumed it was a Catholic organisation.However,it seems to be more of a mutual self-admiration society for LGBTI etc people.
John | 02 September 2016

Dear Roy, you are entitled to your opinion about God's opinion of the rights of gays. But God made them gay, in most cases at least, so God can't be too displeased with them. God does not speak directly on such 21C matters, except thru Scripture and thru you and I. So we go back to: WWJD? Jesus accepted people for what they are, not what some perceived (or misperceived) dogma demands. He calls us to be the best AS God made us. And not condemn others.
Pat Mahony | 02 September 2016

Assuming that we know what God thinks about anything is risky business. Judging from the life and teachings of his son Jesus it had more to do with Love than judgement. Perhaps we could follow that example on this issue as with others.
James Depiazzi | 02 September 2016

Dear Neve, this is obviously an extremely sensitive topic, but it seems as though it's really too sensitive to discuss. The GLBTIQ community have elements in common with other oppressed minority groups, indigenous people, asylum seekers and Muslim migrants for example. How can we address minority group issues if we can't discuss them, and if addressed without discussion how can we be confident the action we take will last? Paul Burt
Paul Burt | 02 September 2016

"Dear Roy, you are entitled to your opinion about God's opinion of the rights of gays" (Pat). No, not entitled to 'my' opinion. A conscience can be ill-formed. "Assuming that we know what God thinks about anything is risky business" (James). Yes. That's why the Church binds its members on some issues but lets them disagree on others. If the logic of Church teachings collectively do not combine to oppose same-sex marriage, which is doubtful, the otherwise very 'pastorally accompanying' Pope Francis does.
Roy Chen Yee | 02 September 2016

Paul, discussion might be fine and useful in many situations involving minorities, but the pre-plebiscite discourse won't be a discussion, it will be a contest, aimed at winning rather than losing. In that environment, 'anything goes' and for those opposed a win will be worth it whatever the cost to vulnerable individuals. Frank Brennan's wish in another thread that this will be a polite, civil and rational debate is at best wishful thinking.
Ginger Meggs | 02 September 2016

Roy, maybe the God you are seeking is invisible to you because it can't he defined as "He" and doesn't always seek to be defined - but rather experienced and lived through justice.
AURELIUS | 02 September 2016

Marcus Le Estrange, do you realise imitation is the strongest form of flattery, and you can blame the SBS for televising the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras. But it's obvious the message is not meant to attack nuns on a personal level. They've probably been subjected to the same Roman imperialism as other Catholics.
AURELIUS | 02 September 2016

"Roy, maybe the God you are seeking is invisible to you because it can't he defined as "He" and doesn't always seek to be defined - but rather experienced and lived through justice." Aurelius, you know because you've met him and he's told you? I've never met him. I don't have supernatural experiences. I just read stuff on a page to know, no differently from trying to program a video recorder. That's why I expect the intelligible voice of the Church to tell me what he's like. The Church is the corporate memory of two thousand years of effort to know him, sometimes through supernatural experiences outside the laws of physics but mostly through rigorous intellectual work by logicians anxious to bequeath a step-by-step system of knowledge that isn't self-contradictory, which is always a hazard. It's not that different from how scientists quality-control their theories. Same-sex marriage and the raising of children therein on the face of it contradicts the 2000 year old system, hence the question about where God is in Neve's article. Christian proponents of same-sex marriage want to believe SSM doesn't contradict Scripture and Tradition. They're obviously warm-hearted people but they might be a bit wishful.
Roy Chen Yee | 08 September 2016

Roy, I imagine not all proponent of SSM have the same views on how far their rights to raise children should be extended - in the same way heterosexual couples who are unable to produce children naturally are not automatically given the right to adopt, foster or go through a surrogacy process. We've already seen some outrageously unjust outcomes in Thailand from Australian heterosexual couples pushing the boundaries of surrogacy without moral consideration for the children involved. The same would apply for same sex couples, and should apply. No one has an automatic right to have children.
AURELIUS | 20 September 2016

As a gay man I do not celebrate the repeated.obstruction of Marriage Equality by Labor and the Greens. I am suspicious of their motives. The historic moment for equality has passed. There is no guarantee that marriage equality will ever be achieved. The popular tide of support is not a given. Social attitudes change. The excesses of the left are turning reasonable people off in droves, to gay peoples disadvantage. The appetite for reform will fade. As Labor chases votes it may throw gays under the bus, just as Gillard did when she wanted to get a it of cheap conservative cred. The "hurtful commentary" argument is false. Young people encounter every shade of opinion on social media already. The left opposes a plebiscite because it would expose homophobia in protected groups such as Muslims and ethnic communities, both in their lobbying and their voting. I respect alternative views on the matter, and the validity and sincerity of some of them. I trust the judgement of respect my fellow Australians. Labor and the Greens think they now have the gay vote in the bag. They don't. Larger social forces will influence gay voting choices. This entire episode has been mismanaged.
Stuart Buss | 08 January 2017

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