As the world reacts to the ongoing issues with North Korea, the US public either celebrate or heavily commiserate a year since Donald Trump took office and Zimbabwe deal with Schrodinger’s Coup (1) Australian’s eagerly awaited the results of the SSM survey. The final results were fairly comprehensive with a 62-38% vote in favour of changing the definition of Marriage with an impressive 80% participation rate (2). Now this does not mean that Same Sex Marriage is legal yet as the Parliament now needs to introduce and pass legislation to amend the marriage act however that seems a near formality as the numbers in favour across the Senate and the Lower House are clearly in favour of change. This post will analyse some of the more interesting results and then talk about the legislation that will be introduced into the senate and then will move through the lower house.
I think the first thing to note is the participation rate being close to 80 percent and that is has been rightly viewed as an impressive thing. It has also been compared favourably to other optional votes such as Brexit which had a turnout of 72 percent (3), the US Election with a turnout of 58% (4) and even the recent New Zealand election at 79% (5). The one thing to note about this turnout compared to an election or referendum is that the survey had a longer return time for people to take part whereas an election or referendum is a one off vote that is tougher to motivate people to vote for, i.e in the Brexit vote it was quite wet in a lot of areas on the voting day and that was thought to have depressed the vote. The other key voter participation rate takeaway is that while voters did tend to engage more as they were older, indeed close to 90 percent of those aged 70-74 took part in the survey the younger people still turned out in good numbers with 72-74 percent of young adults in the 18-35 range taking part in the survey (6). This hopefully puts to rest some of the crap that was spruiked by some media outlets going into the survey that oh this survey wouldn’t be representative because young people don’t know how to use a mailbox anymore. I would comment that lazy stereotyping of age groups has become popular in the recent political discourse with young people being called lazy and not willing to play a part in the political process as a reason for low voter turnout in some elections by young people while old people were labelled as racist bigots who don’t have a heart when analysing why older people were more inclined to vote for Brexit.
I think the other interesting part of the results came from the state by state and territory by territory breakdown and the electorate breakdown. All States and Territories achieved a majority yes vote which may have surprised some, ACT being the highest yes vote was not a surprise as they have long been labelled as the progressive territory. Northern Territory had the lowest participation (not surprising as they also tend to have the lowest participation rate in the Census too) but it was NSW with the lowest Yes vote. This came as a surprise too many with Sydney being the home of Mardi Gras but what it does ignore is that some of the most migrant dwelling electorates are located in Western Sydney. Of the 17 seats that voted no 11 of those seats were in NSW and those results would have skewed the total vote. The other interesting thing from those no vote seats are that the highest no voting seats are safe Labor seats, again this reflects the high level migrants in the seat where they are economically not as well off but socially come from countries where in some case gay marriage isn’t even a question, being gay in some countries is still a death sentence. That may seem horrible to many Australian’s but it is the reality for these people and so some of the labelling of just calling no voters white homophobic bigots ignores the cultural reasoning some people are voting no for. Looking at the seats with the highest yes vote they tended to fall closer to the capital cities however they crossed party lines with seats like Melbourne held by the Greens, Sydney held by the ALP and Wentworth held by the Liberal PM Malcolm Turnbull all amongst the top yes votes(7). It proves to me that trying to allocate one party as being the party that is more in favour of gay marriage is somewhat flawed as even Tony Abbott who was a prominent No campaigner ended up having his electorate vote strongly in favour of SSM. Some people might of been surprised at WA having such a strong yes vote (8) but the majority of people live in metropolitan areas and the migration that is strong in WA tends to be from the UK or more Caucasian strong areas and those cultural backgrounds tend to have a stronger view of SSM compared to some other cultures where SSM has yet to be embraced or passed into law.
On the policy front in terms of the legislation that will be introduced to enshrine SSM into law the path appears clearer now that Dean Smith’s Bill is the only bill on the table to be discussed. Senator James Paterson had flagged introducing a seperate bill to legislate SSM (9) however he revealed later this afternoon that he would not proceed with said legislation due to a lack of support from the wider senate. Paterson’s bill seemed to introduced extra protections to protect religious and non religious people from taking part in Same Sex Marriages and also protected organisations who wished to teach traditional views on marriage and also introduce opt out clauses for parents who didn’t want to have their children take part in Safe Schools Programs. Now my read of the situation is that Safe Schools programs were going to proceed regardless of the SSM survey outcome and that any concerns or opt outs for parents should be addressed in another outlet but on the other points I think it’s important that although the Yes vote clearly prevailed it’s important to at least consider the views of those who voted No in the final legislation to ensure that everyone can be satisfied with. I think the best way to do that is to consider Senator Dean Smith’s bill and then make amendments where possible that are not at risk of offending other discrimination laws while also ensuring freedom of religion is still maintained. On the Dean Smith bill it has it’s infancy in a Parliamentary Committee so I the bill appears to have good founding in it and Attorney General’s George Brandis late deal with the Conservatives (10) appears to be the reason that the Conservatives in the Senate have backed down somewhat from their opposition to the bill. The timeline for this bill now is that it is introduced today, because it is a private members bill there then needs to be a motion to alter the Senates timeline to prioritise the bill tomorrow. Tomorrow will be spent with the second reading of the bill and that will allow some debate on the merits of the bill. The senate then rises for a week before the following week the bill moves into committee stage. This is where the bill is closely inspected and possible amendments can then be moved, once this is done it would then be voted on by the Senate. Should that pass the House would then vote on the bill and assuming that is passed the Bill would then come into law. Some people are worried about the numbers but a number of members who would be inclined to vote no have already come out and said because their electorate voted Yes at worst they would abstain if not vote yes so I think there are enough of those cases to suppress the no vote enough that it should pass both houses. For full details of the bill introduced by Senator Dean Smith see (11).