Vote on Marriage Equality

The issue of marriage equality in Australia remains a hot topic. Today, in support of a free vote, I’ve sent the following letter to my local member and each of the Senators for Victoria.

I am writing to you to urge you to support a free vote on marriage equality in Parliament as soon as possible, and to oppose a costly, divisive and unnecessary plebiscite.

In the past week, respected accounting and professional services company, PridewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), issued a report showing a plebiscite will cost Australia’s economy approximately $525 million. Of this, PwC indicated that just over $200 million will be the direct costs of holding the vote.

Even if a plebiscite is held and paid for by the Australian taxpayer, the Australian Parliament will still need to vote on the issue regardless of the outcome. The plebiscite is not binding on any politician, and they can choose to ignore the result of a plebiscite, and several parliamentary leaders have already said the result of the plebiscite will not affect they ultimately will vote.

Ultimately, my reasons for seeking your support to fulfill your Constitutional obligation are personal.

I am Australian citizen residing in the United States of America with my husband (an American citizen). We married on March 5, 2013 on our 14th anniversary of being a couple. This year we celebrated our 17th year together (3 of those as a married couple). We chose to marry in Canada due to their progressive laws relating to same-sex marriage. Since the decision of the United States Supreme Court in June 2013, and the impact that this decision had on same-sex marriage across the USA, I am now a Permanent Resident (“Green Card”) based on my marriage.

Living in the United States, I have not only studied the impact that popular votes on social issues can have on a state and country, but I have been impacted by these since moving here. In November 2005, voters in the the State of Texas approved a Constitutional Amendment to write discrimination into their governing document, by defining marriage as between a man and a woman (similar to the legislative actions of the Australian Parliament under the Howard Government). This impacted me directly as this precluded my husband from providing support for health insurance, it limited my access to my husband if he were to be in hospital and penalized us in the areas of taxation and superannuation. Even though the United States Supreme Court has made its rulings in relation to same-sex marriage (or marriage equality), this discriminating language remains in the Texas Constitution.

The Australian Constitution does not hold any such language, and section 51 (xxi) of the Constitution of Australia prescribes that marriage is a legislative power given to the Commonwealth Parliament. The federal parliament enacted legislation under this authority to regulate marriage (Marriage Act 1961), and subsequently amended that legislation to limit marriage to between one man and one woman. I’ll remind you that no plebiscite or referendum was conducted to limit the definition of marriage under the Howard Government.

While some attempts to circumvent this Constitutionally mandated power, the High Court of Australia reiterated the federal parliament’s authority in December 2013, when it ruled:

“The status of marriage, the social institution which that status reflects, and the rights and obligations which attach to that status never have been, and are not now, immutable. Section 51(xxi) is not to be construed as conferring legislative power on the federal Parliament with respect only to the status of marriage, the institution reflected in that status, or the rights and obligations attached to it, as they stood at federation.”

As mentioned above, no plebiscite was conducted when the Howard Government amended the Marriage Act in 2004 to define marriage as “exclusive union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.” Given that the Commonwealth has already acknowledged that they have the authority to enact legislation relating to marriage, it can only be seen as a tactic to delay efforts to amend the Marriage Act to recognize same-sex marriages.

I would argue that putting a social justice issue to a popular vote can (and will) have a very negative effect and impact on a society (as can be seen by actions of other countries around the globe). The Australian Psychology Society is opposed to the plebiscite due to the negative impact it will have on same-sex attracted individuals, including youth. Many others, including faith leaders, are also opposed to holding a plebiscite for similar reasons. Even many elected members of the Australian Parliament are opposed to the plebiscite. It is an archaic method to publicly diminish the value of individuals in Australia, as the rhetoric that will evolve during any debate will have a lasting impact regardless of the result.

If a plebiscite is to be held, then it should be held at the same time as the next federal election. This way voters can express their views not only on this divisive issue, but reward (or punish) the members of the Australian Parliament that have resulted in this wasteful action.

As an Australian I am ashamed that my country has fallen behind so dramatically on this one issue. Australia remains one of a small number of developed nations that still does not offer this basic human right to all its citizens. Where Australia has been very progressive in the past with laws that include same-sex couples, I now have the dilemma that when my husband and I travelled home for holidays this would change. My fear is real given the recent reports of David Bulmer-Rizzi’s recent death while on his honeymoon with his husband, Marco in South Australia. What an embarrassment for my country!

Finally, and more importantly, I do not accept that as a married Australian I should be considered a second-class citizen by my government. That is simply not Australian, and it is most definitely not something that I, or any other Australian, deserve. We deserve better from our elected representatives.

Please, put an end to this wasteful plebiscite. I urge you to support a free vote on marriage equality in Parliament as soon as possible, and to oppose a costly, divisive and unnecessary plebiscite. Pass marriage equality now!

James Nunn

P.S. For the purposes of Australian documents, I use my mother’s residence in Seymour, Victoria.