Why Boycott?

CN: SSM plebiscite, politics, homophobia


Unless you’re lucky enough to live under a rock, you have heard -something- about the Australian Government’s “brilliant” idea of getting everyone to vote on whether same-sex marriage should be allowed. You probably also heard a bunch of people saying the vote is rigged, that it’s defeatist, that it’s probably illegal but maybe not, and that it’s homophobic and causing real harm to people.

Antony Green points out that voluntary postal votes have lower participation rates, particularly among groups that might be expected to have more people vote yes. Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court, called it ‘unacceptable‘. It’s been reported that the organisation tasked with managing the vote isn’t up to it, but no alternatives exist. And, of course, now we’re being told that if we don’t vote, it’s our fault if the result is no. But it’s also quite possibly illegal, so.

After my experience with last year’s census, and remembering how my vote wasn’t counted since I couldn’t write neatly enough, being disabled and all, I don’t trust the ABS, even if they’re held to AEC rules, to pull this off. A lot of the damage has been done already, while this issue has been dragged out over years, and people are continually treated as ‘different’ and being ‘othered’ for existing.

While I’m writing this, an interlocutory hearing for an injunction against the vote is being held. I’m hoping PFLAG’s application gets upheld, but Kirby isn’t on the High Court any more, so, I don’t know whether it will.

If it doesn’t, and the vote goes ahead, I intend to boycott.

Firstly, it’s an expensive exercise with no outcome. We already know, based on other polling, that it’s a thing people in Australia want. The only difference between this and those is that those were based on samples and not commissioned by the government specifically for purpose. This vote isn’t binding – a majority Yes vote won’t force the government to do anything, and we’ve been promised that a government vote will be called if it’s a majority No result, and that the Labor party will prioritise it when they get a majority in parliament. (They’ve already said it enough that it can be constructed as a mandate when that happens.) A Yes vote will be ineffectual.

Secondly, the rhetoric around it is damaging. Anyone who’s affected by it knows this. It’s being constructed as a religious issue, a freedom of speech issue, a conservative issue – the consequences of this are that people are being made to feel like their existence isn’t something they have a right to. But the thing with all this is, that the people who vote ‘no’ get to have a reason – everyone else is being encouraged in this rhetoric to be the same.

They will lose if there’s disunity,” says the dude who tried to get Australians to vote for a Republic. I see an issue with that sort of talk – I see it as disregarding the differences amongst people who might vote Yes. In the context of this particular conversation, where people who are in de facto same sex partnerships are being demonised for existing, where people are afraid to come out because they see people like themselves being put down and not having the same rights and protections as others, where people feel it doesn’t apply to them because they adjusted around it and are trying to protect the existence they built – where the very thing that targeting rests on is that one opinion, demanding everyone be the same is damaging. Why? Because it makes for visible targets. The reason unions work so well (despite freefalling membership) is that they have figureheads who take the crap for their members. The media target Sally McManus, they don’t target Joe down the street. There isn’t anyone to be a figurehead that people who agree but are different can hide behind. If you vote Yes, the people who are visible now, the people controlling the rhetoric of the conversation from the position of a No campaign, have already conditioned the people who follow them to construct a particular picture of you, and there’s nothing in place that’s powerful enough to counter that. They’re still trying to put you in a box and label you so that they understand, precisely by asking everyone to be the same.

Ugh, no.


Thirdly, people don’t get to vote on who gets human rights. They’re human rights. They’re meant to be unalienable. Participating only encourages the idea that they’re not.

I’ve seen a lot of ‘well, we don’t want it, but if it happens vote yes’. I don’t understand that. If you don’t want it, why go along with it? It’s not compulsory. If you enrol to vote for this, you then have to vote in all elections or risk being fined, since those are compulsory (for people who have enrolled). Why go and fall in line with the people who have dragged this out and being othering us for so long? Even if there is a majority Yes vote, it doesn’t change anything, because all that’s been ‘promised’ is that then parliament will vote themselves. The public vote is designed to not be inclusive. It’s too quick a turnaround, it only accepts postal votes, and we don’t even know how the question will be framed. It’s run by an organisation which has already managed to fail in being accessible to people who identify outside what the government wants them to. People who say if everyone votes yes it will show the government what people really think can’t actually guarantee that it will because of the structural issues with the vote (and if we can see some now, if it goes ahead, there will be more that appear).

The fact that the government are putting this to a public vote at all, instead of fixing the law to reflect equal rights for all and the already expressed will of the people, indicates to me that they’re trying to displace responsibility on the issue. ‘But it’s democratic,’ some people are saying. It’s democratic that our democratically elected representatives won’t do their job and represent their electorates’ wishes? If the vote results in a ‘no’, they will say ‘but the people said’, and claim it’s not their responsibility. They want it to be no. They’ve stretched it out so long that people are exhausted and stressed and hurt, the vote itself is designed in a way that means people who are more likely to vote yes will be underrepresented, and they’re campaigning for a no vote. But afterwards, they won’t admit to any of that. If the outcome is yes, it’s still not guaranteed that the legislative changes will be made, because the vote is really ‘should parliament vote’, and it’s not binding on them to even do so.


I can’t conscionably participate in a process that is based on the premise that people have to somehow earn their rights by campaigning or being awarded them by a considerate majority of other people, especially when that process embodies discrimination (with no counter against it, they have to actually make a law that says campaign material can’t discriminate…).


And so, I am boycotting. People can tell me its my fault if the result is no, and if that happens, they probably will. After all, when I chose not to report being raped, I was told it was my fault that that person went on to rape someone else. It took me a while to internalise that that wasn’t my fault, and that choosing not to go through the dehumanising and humiliating process of reporting was not only a choice that belonged entirely to me, but recognised that I was able and allowed to choose what was best for me. I’m choosing not to go through a process that hurts people. If people want to blame me for the result, instead of blaming the people who are perpetuating that pain by refusing to allow people their rights and try to displace their responsibility for that with the vote? That’s not on me. The responsibility for the pain and suffering and continual inequality lies on the people who are making this happen and creating an environment where the harassment and continual othering of people is occurring. I won’t encourage them to do it again by participating.


I encourage everyone to decide to do for themselves, if it ends up happening.


Edit: The matter will now be heard by the High Court in September, and an injunction was not given based on an undertaking that papers won’t be distributed before then.