Why Ireland thinks Australia's plebiscite is a bad idea
While our politicians continue to argue over whether a plebiscite on marriage equality is right or wrong, an important voice to hear on this issue is from someone who has actually been through a public vote on same-sex marriage.
Ireland’s Dr Grainne Healy, co-director of Yes Equality and chairwoman of Marriage Equality, was a key activist in Ireland’s push for marriage equality, which passed via a referendum in May 2015. Upon hearing of Australia’s proposed plebiscite, Healy felt moved to pen a letter to our politicians on why a public vote is a bad idea.
Dear Sir or Madam:
I write as the co-director of the Yes Equality campaign in Ireland, mindful of the 62% Yes vote of the binding referendum in May 2015 which gave constitutional protection to same-sex couples. As chairwoman of Marriage Equality Ireland for over a decade, we were delighted that we were able to see our goal achieved.
However, a referendum campaign, even one as positive and successful as Yes Equality’s, was a brutal affair at times – for LGBT people, our families and even for our mobilized straight allies.
The No side posters, which declared that ‘every child deserves a mother and a father’ were deeply hurtful and upsetting for LGBT-headed families as they passed the posters on lamp posts and billboards across the country. Explaining to our children that they were ok and trying to hide the posters from them was awful for LGBT parenting families. The nature of plebiscites is that they allow negative hurtful images and comments to be published in the name of 'fair canvassing'. Likewise, listening to the untruths and ill-informed hate speech on radio or TV during the campaign was damaging and unforgettable for some. Dr Glenda Russell (2000) has studied the damaging psychological impact that anti-LGBT actions have on the LGBT community.
For those canvassing for a Yes, knocking on doors and asking for a Yes vote was not always a positive experience. In fact, during the campaign canvass we at Yes Equality HQ made the decision to offer counselling supports to canvas teams. Some of those most upset by the negative comments made to them about LGBT people were straight allies. They were appalled at the awful comments made and required psychological counselling. Likewise, some LGBT canvassers who were out asking for rights for themselves suffered greatly from the hateful comments they heard on doorsteps and in train or bus stations while canvassing.
For our friends in Australia, I would ask that you do not underestimate how horrible and damaging an experience canvassing in such a campaign can be. Even in a campaign like ours, which was predicated on positive messaging and upbeat imagery and a hugely successful social media campaign with national champions for marriage equality coming out, it was a gruelling experience.
At least we knew that at the end of it, if we won, we would have full constitutional equality for LGBT marriage rights. To hold a non-binding plebiscite seems to be at the least insensitive to the LGBT community who will bear the brunt of the negative campaigning, and at best will lead to an experience of divisive, hurtful campaigning with no guarantee of progressing marriage equality.
As a civil and human rights issue of equality, as a matter of family equality and as a matter of equality for our sons and daughters and our friends and workmates, legislation to introduce marriage equality is what is needed in Australia. Those who support marriage equality rights must move to see that legislation introduced as quickly as possible and the proposed divisive plebiscite should not take place.
Dr Grainne Healy Co-director of Yes Equality Chairwoman Marriage Equality
(Image - A mural which appeared when Ireland’s referendum on marriage equality was taking place.)