Marriage Equality Postal Survey and Online Hate

The #DebateWithoutHate campaign is a campaign to counter the bullying, harassment, vilification, bigotry and hate speech which is being expressed online as a result of the public debate around the same sex marriage postal survey. This is not a campaign for “yes” or “no” on the postal survey itself and we hope people on both sides of the debate will support this campaign and take a stand against the spread of hate which is leading to a fracturing of families and communities and a significant rise in mental health issues and suicide risk within the community. We invite you to join us in our stand for free speech and public debate, but against bullying, vilification and harm against individuals and groups within the community. We invite you to report content from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which crosses the line. 



  1. The postal survey
  2. The challenge of civil debate: reducing harm while protecting freedom of speech
  3. The #DebateWithoutHate campaign
  4. Signup to be involved or to be kept informed
  5. The reporting tool and the data we are gathering

Other Articles

Press release:

Articles with examples of content:

Please check back as this page will be repeatedly updated throughout the campaign.

The Postal Survey

The Australian Government is conducting a postal survey on the public’s view on same sex marriage. Between September 12th and September 25th the Australian Bureau of Statistics will sending survey papers to all Australians registered to vote. The public will be asked mail back their papers by October 27th. All papers received on or before November 7th will be counted towards the results.

The Marriage Act 1961 (Cth), in section 5 (interpretation) defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” This definition was only added to the law in 2004. Previously the definition of marriage was something the courts would interpret. The words in the act do come from a decision of the courts, but it was an English court hearing the case of Hyde v Hyde and Woodmansee way back in 1866. By writing the definition into the Act, the Parliament prevented removed the possibility for the courts to change the definition.

The postal survey will not chance the law. What it will do is decide if the Government will allow the question of changing the law to be discussed by our elected representatives. Ultimately any change to the law will be worded by the government and voted upon not by the people, but by the parliament.  If the postal survey gives a majority opinion of “no” then the Government have said they will not seek to introduce any legislation on this topic. If the vote is “yes”, then legislation will be introduced for discussion, but there is no guarantee on how the politicians will vote.

In the mean time there is a wide ranging public discussion about the issue of marriage equality. A wide range of organisations and individuals have expressed a view on the issue. The issue is being widely discussion face to face, in the media and in social media. Unfortunately not all of the discussion have been well meaning or healthy. Some of it has been quite harmful to individuals and the social cohesion of our community.

The challenge of civil debate: reducing harm while protecting free speech

There has been a significant level of abuse as a result of the public debate on marriage equality.  This is reflected both online and in everyday life offline. Without recapping the many incidents that have already come to light, and are well reported in the media, it’s clear there is a significant problem and this debate has the potential to harm both individuals and cohesion in the community. This is no surprise as the same spikes of hate were seen in referenda overseas on this issue.

This harmful content is leading to a significant rise in demand for support from front line mental health workers. Some organisations have noted a rise in demand as high as 20%. Incidents involving such content, whether through intentional hate or just unfortunate wording,  are directly contributing to increased risk of suicides and self harm for some in the community. They are also causing a breakdown of community cohesion which affects everyone in society. Expert advice is that the harm will not dissipate once the surveys are returned, but that the conversations and harm will continue for many months to come. This campaign aims to reducing the increased risk of harm.

At the same time, it is essential that people’s right to express their views and participate in the national discussion is facilitated and protected. This applies equally to people advocating on both sides.  Our belief in democracy makes this essential. As our CEO, Dr Andre Oboler, explained, “We don’t have the same concept of freedom of speech as the US, we do have a constitutionally implied right to freedom of political communication which is designed to protect the expression of political ideas to ensure we have an informed electorate.” Even freedom of political communication is, however, limited. As Dr Oboler added, “the right to engage in debate does not give people a right to abuse others or incite hate against them. It does not make homophobia, religious vilification, incitement to violence or bullying of others acceptable. It does not give a license to spread lies or vilify segments of the community”.

While we must have a full public debate, with many views expressed, this must occur in a civil manner, one in which people feel safe to express their views. If not, then the fundamental reason for allowing freedom of political communication is undermined.

The #DebateWithoutHate Campaign

Let’s stand together, regardless of our positions on the postal survey, and agree to debate without hate. Let’s take a stand for responsible freedom of speech. For freedom of expression that avoids bullying individuals or attacking segments of the community.

The principles of our campaign are simple:

  1. In Australia there is no place for speech that incites hatred against individuals or groups in our community;
  2. All Australians have the right to respectfully express their opinions in a national debate;
  3. Good faith discourse requires that information presented as fact be accurate and verifiable

We welcome support from those who agree to the campaign principles – individuals, campaign groups in the debate, charities / not-for-profits, companies, universities, schools, councils, political parties, politicians, media organisations and public figures.

So what will the campaign do?

1. Enabling individuals to report harmful content

By providing a powering reporting tool for online hate specifically tailored to this postal survey we empower individuals and make it easier for them to take positive action when they see harmful content. This helps people cope with what is being seen, while also gathering the data for educational, research and public policy purposes.

2. Education on why content crosses the line

Articles based on the reported content, after all information identifying private individuals is removed, will help more people understand what was wrong with the comments being discussed and why they cause harm. We also highlight where some of these comments are from the fringes of society, such as people who openly support hate groups, and are not representative of mainstream view. This is not about punishing or exposing people, but about public education.

3. Empowering others to make a difference

We invite individuals, other organisations, public figures, politicians, etc regardless of their position on the postal survey, to join us in taking a stand against this rise in hate. Let’s bring everyone together with a message that bullying and hate speech is not acceptable in our community.

In mid-October we will list the supporters (except private individuals) on this page. We can also offer organisations a reporting form to place on their own website or people are welcome to direct people to this page and the reporting form above.

4. Contribute to long term research and public policy

The evidence of hate people report will be used for academic research and in support of public policy work. We hope the evidence of what has occurred will prevent further problems in the future on this and other issues.

Joining the campaign

You can sign up to the campaign as an individual wanting information, a public person / spokesperson wanting to help with our commentary on the hate, or an organisation or public figure wanting to endorse the campaign. Go to the signup form.

This campaign is supported by tax deductible public donations to the Online Hate Prevention Institute. If you can help, please donate here. Offers of corporate sponsorship for this campaign are also welcome as is media interest – please contact us.

Comments on the campaign can be left at this Facebook thread. You can also help spread the word by sharing this article if you didn’t do so above:  


Reporting bullying and hate speech

By providing a powering reporting tool for online hate specifically tailored to this postal survey we empower individuals and make it easier for them to take positive action when they see harmful content. This helps people cope with what is being seen, while also gathering the data for educational, research and public policy purposes. Access the reporting tool here.

Please note that reporting content with this tool is not a replacement for reporting it to the platform provider. If you believe the content breaches the platforms terms of service, please report it to them as well.

Reporting to the tool will, however, add the content to an archive demonstrating the hate this debate brought into the community. It will also give us examples to use in articles highlighting where discussion is going off the rails and what people should avoid doing and why. We hope to have public figures from both sides of the debate commenting on the same examples and agreeing where the line between civil debate and the spread of hate should be drawn. We hope this data will help inform future public policy so we can avoid or better manage national discussions in the future and prevent some of the harm this debate is causing. 

The tool takes a wide range of reports, the full list is:

  1. Attacking a group
    1. Homophobia / Transphobia
    2. Religious vilification
    3. Attacking one side of the debate
      1. Attacking people voting / campaigning for no
      2. Attacking an organisation campaigning for no
      3. Attacking people voting / campaigning for yes
      4. Attacking an organisation campaigning for yes
    4. Attacking a political party
    5. Racism against a specific group
    6. Attacking people in a certain age group
    7. Attacking people of a particular gender
    8. Attack another identifiable group in society
  2. Attacking an individual
    1. Attacking me
    2. Attacking someone I know
    3. Attacking a public figure / campaign activist
    4. Attacking someone else
  3. Spreading false information
    1. Content contains a link to misleading or deceptive information
    2. Content repeats information which is factually wrong
  4. Other – you can describe a category yourself if none of the above seem appropriate