In the wake of Australia legalising same-sex marriage, The Print/ Sophie Mitchell interrogates the progress of marriage equality across the world, revealing how far we’ve come — and how far we are yet to go
In many ways, the contemporary world is a kaleidoscope of inequality. Granted, when comparing today’s society to that of past times, it is clear that monumental progression has been made. With the rise of the LGBTQ, BLM (Black Lives Matter) and Feminist movements, society has taken vital steps towards a more egalitarian existence.
Australia’s vote to legalise same-sex marriage has an essential role to play in this wave of societal progression; as on Wednesday 15th November, results published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that 61% of their population voted to allow same-sex marriage. Confetti showered the streets of Melbourne as exalted supporters celebrated together in the wake of the vote reveal. A sea of rainbow flags, glitter, ecstatic smiles and tears — the crowd reflected a vision of positivity and defiance in the face of homophobia and inequality.
The Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, shared his perspective on the vote following the result, claiming there to be an ‘overwhelming’ majority in favour of ‘yes’. He called for the legalisation to be enacted before Christmas. In Turnbull’s words: ‘they voted ‘yes’ for fairness, they voted ‘yes’ for commitment, they voted ‘yes’ for love’.
However, beyond the surface of glee and elation surrounding the vote, lies a more sinister reality: an astounding 38% of participants in the survey actively voted ‘no’. In making this decision, 4,873,987 Australian citizens believed that the basic right for two members of the same sex to marry should not be allowed.
These voters were given a platform on which to demonstrate that they are offended by a stranger’s preference on whom they should love. This, in itself, is problematic. The fact that an issue as clear-cut and fundamental as equal rights was put to a public vote is undeniably worrying for many. The public should not have to vote on whether a certain sector of society are (dis)allowed equal rights — it should be a given.
By a similar token, if there were to be a UK referendum on whether redheads are allowed to marry each other, it would be dismissed as absurd and unwarranted. Whilst this analogy is amusing to consider, the point still stands. The demographic who voted ‘no’ demonstrated a clear act of homophobia, intolerance and ignorance. They are also living proof that although the fight has seemingly been ‘won’, it is far from over.
Commenting on this historically significant vote, Trina Andariel, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and holder of Australian citizenship, expressed that ‘it’s a win on the ground for many folks, but there are a lot of queers who are still expressing dissatisfaction with it. Not least because it seems like conservative by-laws may still come into effect, restricting rights to same-sex couples’.
Trina emphasises an important point here: the legalisation of same-sex marriage does not entail the unrestricted freedom of the Australian gay community. Many still face subjugation in the form of ‘conservative by-laws’ and the prejudice of the 38% ‘vote no’ demographic. Expanding on her perspective, Trina adds that, ‘marriage is not the last bastion for queer folks in Australia. This took too long and had as much fucking around as possible. No one wants to take the credit for fixing an issue that might mess around with swing voters in conservative seats. Many Australians still don’t take this as a civil rights issue’.
The first legal gay marriage in the world took place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on April 1, 2001. Nearly seventeen years later, Australia is only just following suit, whilst the UK only legalised same-sex marriages as late as 2013. Yes, these legislative acts are progressive and undeniably important, but they are all occurring fundamentally too late.
Including Australia, only twenty-three countries in the world have currently legalised same-sex marriage, with few others supporting civil partnerships instead. Some countries hold particular rules, such as Mexico, where same-sex marriage is only legal in particular jurisdictions. When examined from this perspective, it is disheartening to consider the extent to which the world still turns a blind eye to marriage equality.
Thus, whilst the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia undoubtedly warrants celebration and positivity, it also serves a higher purpose: to raise awareness of the prolific inequality and toxic homophobia ever-present in societies across the globe. The legalisation of same-sex marriage is a fundamental step down a long and turbulent trajectory. A base level of human compassion is the only requirement for supporting and believing in a cause as monumentally important as same-sex marriage and the LGBTQIA+ movement.
Figures taken from Australian Bureau of Statistics.