Laurence Barber explores what the postal survey result says about acceptance LGBTI people’s place in Australian society.


Standing in Prince Alfred Park, surrounded by beautiful friends, friendly queers, and queer-friendly allies, I took a deep breath.

As David Kalisch trudged through his preamble to the announcement of the postal survey’s results, my relative calm suddenly turned to panic.

I had said to family, friends, and co-workers in the days prior that I was confident Yes would prevail.

“I feel it in my bones,” I said in the office the day before, citing my bad knee like a superstitious old crone and/or vengeful sea hag.

When our CEO, Rob, mentioned that we’d all forgotten to circulate our guesses as to what the result would be, I told him mine. “61 to 39,” I said.

At the time, the idea that such a result could come to pass thrilled me. As a realist, I anxiously anticipated worse.

When the cheers rippled through the crowd on November 15, starting with those brave enough to trust their mental arithmetic based on the raw figure of 7.8 million Yes responses, I couldn’t bring myself to erupt like so many had.

For a solid minute I stood there, looking around, kneading my forehead in a state of relief – chiefly glad that it seemed like this whole ordeal could finally be over, more so than at the result itself.

I hugged my friends, and I felt their happiness and that of everyone in the park radiating all around me, but that same glow within myself didn’t last more than 15 minutes.

I found it incredibly difficult not to focus on the 38.4 per cent on the other side.

We’ve always been well aware that we face significant opposition in these rights battles, but to have it so rigorously, unnecessarily, hideously formalised by a government desperate to find any way to stop the tide of progress has just left me feeling a very hollow sense of justice.

During the survey period, I kept wondering what we would be left with on the other side.

Unsurprisingly, the people opposed to our relationships, identities, and truthfully our very existences, have spent recent weeks twisting, turning and throwing tantrums.

They have floundered in their frantic attempts to centre the narrative around them now that the campaign is over and they no longer have mainstream media outlets’ assistance in doing so.

The underlying truth of the postal survey campaign is that while the No campaign failed on a quantitative level, they still succeeded in their more insidious, unspoken goal: making us feel unsafe. Making us feel hated. Making us feel unwelcome in our families, streets, suburbs, small towns, communities, and workplaces.

Making us aware that four in every ten people we walk past on the street might accost us for being too visible, or too queer, or too physically close to a partner.

Making us feel like our place in society is provisional and only fractional.

What does it now mean to be an LGBTI citizen of Australia? The assumption, if not the goal, of marriage equality was that once achieved it would raise the standing of LGBTI people in our society.

Kids would feel safe to come out, rainbow families would have their legitimacy cemented, our relationships and identities – and yes, the sex we do or don’t have – might yet be further demystified.

But it seems like those representing that 38.4 per cent will refuse to let this happen.

Legislation will be passed soon enough, certainly, but they have vowed to fight us at every step and beyond. The transphobic attacks on Safe Schools are bleeding into attempts to exclude trans and intersex people from marriage, to turn the attack dogs – better trained and resourced than ever – loose on easier targets.

According to No Pride in Detention, 30 – 40 queer men, who have spent years imprisoned on Manus Island as a result of fleeing homophobic countries and regimes, are now being forced by our uncaring government to live in yet another country where gay sex is criminalised.

What does our citizenship mean if the rights we just won can’t be extended to those people?

Or if the urgent needs of our Indigenous peoples, not least those who identify as LGBTI, continue to be largely ignored?

The trickle-down economics of persecution leave so many vulnerable beyond the soon-to-be wed.

It’s unclear if can we trust the government’s main political opposition to be receptive to the deeper needs of the community given they were dismissive of even our most digestible concerns when they last held office.

What has become clear is that our voices do not matter to those in power. Our right to marry will have been born not of respect for our existences or contributions, but primarily out of political expediency.

Postal survey or not, it didn’t matter enough that we said we wanted the right to marry. It had to be demanded on our behalf.

If that’s what it means to be a citizen of this country, then we can’t ignore that we belong to a system that will continue to consistently fail us.

Those party to said system face a gargantuan task in combating the institutional faithlessness this process has inculcated.

What I do have faith in is collectivism and community. Each and every one of us needs to want each successive change just as much, if not more than this.

If we don’t make use of this momentum, we’ll be forever condemned to the second class.

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