Within a few hours of writing about the #DebateWithoutHate campaign our post introducing the campaign had received over 100 likes and 29 shares. More importantly though, it created a space for conversation. That conversation on our own page gives an initial insight into the public debate and where it can start going off the rails… here are some of comments we saw.

Is political advocacy bullying politicians?

One poster (red) writes: “i think if the government doesn’t act on a yes majority, they will be so defeated at the next election. When the opposition takes over, they will not want the same fate, so they will pass it”.

Another poster (yellow) replies that the threat of people voting against a political party that opposes same-sex marriage is a form of bullying and regardless of the result of the vote won’t solve anything.

None of the posts here are in our opinion bullying. The idea that people should not campaign, advocate or apply political pressure for social change (on any issue) runs counter to the purpose of freedom of political communication in Australia. The only basis for any form of freedom of speech in this country is to explicitly protect people’s right to engaging in such discussion and advocacy. As for politicians who go against public sentiment being punished at an election… that is how the system is supposed to work. It the check on power that ensures those elected to public office remain cautious about acting against the will of the people.

The fact politicians who take unpopular action can be voted out of office is essential to our system of government. Reminding politicians that they will only continue in their elected positions so long as they have public support is also an essential part of our political system. Holding politicians accountable at the ballot box, and communicating what actions might sway your vote, is not bullying but effective democratic participation.

Generalizations can vilify opposing views

Another supporter (green) writes: “It is an absolute farce! I worry about the damage being done to young people who have not yet come out. How vulnerable they are to the misinformation and the hate and ignorance of the no voters. It’s heartbreaking.”

This is a powerful message but could be improved by adding one important word. “Some”. Not all of those who vote “no” will be doing so out of hate and ignorance. While homophobia and ignorance likely will the attitudes of some “no” voters, generalizing this to say all “no” voters are both hateful and ignorant vilified one side of this debate. Some people voting “no” will be doing so for religious or cultural reasons. Others feel challenged by changes in social values and particularly by the idea modern family life might differ from what they grew up with. Even if you believe hate (i.e. homophobia) or ignorance (i.e. exposure to misinformation or a lack of exposure to happy same-sex couples / families) is to blame, attacking all those who hold opposing views and lumping them in with the extreme haters will not help to change their mind.

Having said everything above, this is otherwise a well written and well considered post and there clearly is a risk of harm to young people (and indeed people of all ages) as a result of the hate and misinformation which some in the “no” camp are intentionally spreading. Let’s work together to address that misinformation and oppose that hate. If we can bring people on both sides of the debate together to oppose the hate and lies, hopefully we can reduce the spread of such content and the harm it causes.

Civil rights and the “tyranny of the majority”

This powerful exchange starts with Blue writing “I hope if it is a No Vote the Yes vote people will accept it as we live in a democracy and should accept whatever the majority vote is.”

Red replies “Lmao, you think I’m going to give up fighting for equality because you decided I’m not entitled to it? I’m not sure you understand how fighting for civil rights work, they exist because we fight for them, not because we take no for an answer. Fuck your “democracy”, we actually live in a representative democracy, but those who demanded a right to vote now don’t seem to understand how our system of government works.”

Green responds, “Of course it’s ok to vote no. But marriage equality isn’t going away. Just like slavery was abolished after a war; and just like women got the vote after a long struggle; so will marriage equality be achieved one day. I hope it will happen this time around, but if not, we will keep on fighting until we succeed. Love is love. “

James Madison one of the founding fathers of the United States, warned of the “tyranny of the majority” under a democracy. He wrote, “It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure” (Federalist Paper 51). The US sought to address this problem with a bill of rights that limits the power of lawmakers. Australia took a different approach, trusting in the wisdom of parliament and explicitly rejecting the idea of a Bill of Rights when the constitution was framed. We rely on our politicians to act wisely and given them long enough terms of office that they can take some risks, acting against the majority opinion, before they will eventually be held to account at the next election. At the same time, if their position on an issue is sufficiently distasteful to a large enough segment of the electorate, or their conduct is poor enough, the public can and will force not only a change of government but in many cases a change of representatives. Our system of representative government (where we don’t make decision but rather elect people to make decisions for us) is designed not only for efficiency but also to protect us from some of the dangers that come with direct democracy. Whatever the outcome of the survey, the result is entirely non-binding. Parliament will still need to vote on any changes to the marriage laws and the electorate will still need to re-elect or replace members of parliament when Australia next has elections.

In this context, green’s post is particularly meaningful. Those campaigning for marriage equality will continue to push for change until the law changes. Such political activism is their right. A “no” majority in the survey would not mean marriage equality is off the table, it would simply mean the time is not yet ripe for a public majority. Politicians could still vote yes in Parliament and even if it went back to the public, the public could in time change their mind. The majority do not have the right to stop minorities advocating for better treatment – though they may have the political power to prevent or delay change.

Let’s stick to facts and the topic at hand

Gold asks, “What about childrens rights? They need protecting from the consequences of homosexual marriage.”

Silver replies, “what garbage. Uneducated rot. Now you’re just trolling.”

The post by gold implies that placing children in a family with a same sex couple is akin to child abuse. This post will be hurtful to the many families out there with same-sex partners. These are the “rainbow families” you have have heard about during this debate. In addition to being offensive and homophobic, the post makes vague allegations without even an attempt at providing facts to back this idea up. It’s no different to those making racist remarks saying “you know what THOSE people are like!”

Silver’s post calls this out as trolling, garbage and uneducated rot. The response while showing opposition to what was said isn’t likely to convince anyone who supports what Gold is saying. A better response appeared in various people’s posts later on, challenging Gold to provide evidence to back up the claims which were made. Other pointed out that children and marriage equality are two different things and in most parts of Australia it is already possible for gay couples to adopt or undergo fertility treatment. Rainbow families already exist and a change of law won’t have any impact on this, so the entire premise of what is being argued is irrelevant.

Homophobia and the LGBTIQ Agenda

Purple writes, “No excuse. All facts. The LGBTQ have an n ongoing agenda with The safe school programme and look at what is being campaigned for in Canada. It will not end with homosexual marriage. We dont want Gender Neutral New Born Babies untill they turn 18. Vote No to protect the innocent. It is the ongoing consequences that are my concern.”

This post highlights a broad homophobic agenda that accuses the LGBTIQ community of having a nefarious international agenda. This sort of homophobia is commonly found in the far right where it fits with a range of conspiracy theories about the political left and a range of minority groups. This is hate speech and not a contribution to any form of civil debate.

The person continues with a post attacking transgender people and what the medical profession considers best practice. They ended by saying “I’m wasting my time talking to gays. Goodbye.” Despite this they continued to post.

Another poster replied in part, “I get that you feel you have a right to an opinion but you also have an obligation to ensure that your opinion is educated, not hateful and is factually correct.” Well said!

I’m not homophobic but…

There is already a significant amount of misinformation and intentionally false and homophobic content online. This posts, which again claims to have facts without providing any, goes on to say “There is no bigotry no hate from me just a genuine concern for the future of our children.” The Simpsons clip with Helen Lovejoy shouting emotively “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” springs to mind. It satirises exactly this sort of response. One should be worried about posts by anyone seeing the need to explicitly state they aren’t a bigot. It’s the homophobic version of “I’m not racist but…” and nothing good ever follows that “but”.

Don’t get personal

A response to the above post saying, “children need to be protected from narrow minded one eyed people like you” moves into the reals of cyber-bullying.  Don;t get personal in your replies, regardless of what the other person says.

Thank you

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If you haven’t already done so, please also take a look at the #DebateWithoutHate campaign and if you support our three principles, regardless of your view on the postal survey, please join us. The principles are:

  1. In Australia there is no place for speech that incites hate against individuals or groups in our community
  2. All Australians have the right to respectfully express their opinions in a national debate
  3. All information presented as fact, not opinion, should be accurate and verifiable