Yes side gains edge in Australia’s marriage equality battleground

Early results from postal survey suggest Yes side would win in vote on same-sex marriage

Australia is more than halfway through an eight-week postal survey to gauge public support for legalising same-sex marriage, and all polling suggests the Yes side will prevail.

Though the survey is not binding on the government, if the Yes campaign succeeds, marriage equality will probably be legal by Christmas.

Donegal man Tiernan Brady, who played a major role in Ireland's referendum on same-sex marriage, is the director of Australians for Equality. He says this debate is different because of changing times.

"This campaign is taking place after the Trump and Brexit votes. One of the sad things that has happened in the wake of those votes is this concept that you can be more aggressive and more vicious to your fellow person and that truth isn't really important, what's important is that you just get to say what you want," Brady told The Irish Times.


“The vociferous tone from the No side is certainly taking a lead from the Trump/Brexit approach, that you can say whatever you want about other people’s lives, no matter how denigrating that is.”

Voting in Australia is compulsory, but, because this is a postal survey rather than a vote, having a say on same-sex marriage is voluntary. “The focus is totally on getting the vote out. That’s normal in Ireland, but isn’t in Australia. The No side put out an incredibly misleading TV ad, the leaflets that are going around are straight out of the American right book, but the polling hasn’t been dented. But that doesn’t mean it has been won – our real opponent now is complacency,” said Brady.

Anglican diocese

As was the case in Ireland, churches in Australia are heavily involved in the campaign. Sydney's Anglican diocese made a $1 million (€665,000) donation to the No campaign. Archbishop Glenn Davies said he made "no apology" for encouraging Anglicans and other Australians to vote No.

“I believe marriage, traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman, is a positive good for our society, where marriage and the procreation of children are bound together as the foundational fabric of our society,” he said.

Humour website the Betoota Advocate was amused by the Anglican position: "The leader of a church that was only created so King Henry VIII could marry another woman without having to cut his wife's head off, has declared they are not in support of changing the legal definition of marriage in Australia."

The Sydney Anglicans' donation is the largest publicly declared by the No campaign, but the Qantas airline chief executive, Dublin man Alan Joyce, personally donated $1 million to the Yes campaign in September.

The Catholic Church, representing 22.6 per cent of the population (Catholicism is Australia's most popular religion), has also made its views known.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, supported the No vote during his homily at Mass in St Mary's Cathedral on Sunday, telling worshippers the government should "keep out of the friendship business and out of the bedroom".

“The state has no business telling us who we should love and how, sexually or otherwise,” he said. “The only kind of friendship the state has a proper interest in recognising and regulating is heterosexual marriage, because that’s what leads to children – new citizens – and gives them the best start in life.”

Political conflict

Many conservative politicians have come out strongly against same-sex marriage. Former prime minister Tony Abbott’s instinct for simplifying a message to create political conflict is unparalleled. “If you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote No. If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote No, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote No, because voting No will help to stop political correctness in its tracks,” he said.

Abbott may have taken a step too far, though, when he said American rapper Macklemore should not be allowed to perform his hit song Same Love, which is about same-sex marriage, before the recent rugby league final.

He tweeted that sports fans “shouldn’t be subjected to a politicised grand final. Sport is sport!” (Abbott may have momentarily forgotten that he shows up at his local rugby league club, Manly Sea Eagles, just before every election to make a promise on funding.)

Brady is a firm believer that politely getting your point across is the way to win hearts and minds in the debate on same-sex marriage, but a person who posted an online ad offering to sell a vote to the highest bidder tested his resolve.

“I think it’s the only time I’ve been rude about a person since I came here,” he said. “This guy’s an idiot. He thinks it’s fun, but this is a very serious question about real people’s lives. You should not trivialise this.”

On November 7th we are likely to find that most Australians take marriage equality just as seriously as Brady does.