Australia: Human Rights Watch: Australia's Marriage Vote Is Cruel and Antigay

Human Rights Watch's Kyle Knight weighs the human cost of asking a nation to determine whether a marginalized community is worthy of equality.

The Australian government will let people to “have their say” on same-sex marriage. The Australian High Court ruled Thursday that the government’s postal vote can proceed, so this week ballots will arrive by mail, asking voters, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” This nonbinding vote has been criticized for being a “glorified opinion poll” and a symptom of the country’s parochial and paralyzing politics. Since the elected Parliament could simply pass a marriage equality bill, the postal vote seems little more than a costly and unwieldy bit of political pageantry.

But the postal vote carries a less obvious cost in human dignity. Other countries around the world that have voted on marriage equality in recent years — including those endorsing it — show how this type of spectacle can leave deep wounds against an already marginalized community.

Australia is no longer one of 73 countries that forbid same-sex intimacy. Neither does Australia have laws — as other countries do — that curtail the right to free expression or inhibit freedom of association for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Sydney is host to the world-renowned Mardi Gras LGBT Pride festival. But Australia does not allow same-sex marriage, lagging behind the 22 countries, including New Zealand and the United States, that do.

In Australia, it means gay and lesbian brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and neighbors have to ask their kin, their community, and total strangers, “Are you OK with me getting married?” What that really means is “Do you see me as your equal? Is my love as true as yours? Is my family as valuable?” Read more via the Advocate