If Australian conservatives thought young people would ignore a nonbinding postal survey on marriage equality, they were wrong. Under pressure from his party’s vocal right wing, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Aug. 8 that a nonbinding plebiscite (or vote) of the nation’s citizens will be held by mail to determine whether Australians support legalizing same-sex marriage. Notwithstanding that we already know the stance of most Australians on marriage equality — they support it, according to a number of recent polls — the option of a plebiscite had been strongly opposed by LGBT communities and marriage equality advocates. They’d pushed for a vote in Parliament that would have changed the marriage law. In early September, Australia’s High Court will consider whether the planned plebiscite is unconstitutional. Critics say the postal survey is little more than an opinion poll — one designed to defer action on marriage equality and perhaps skew results in favor of older, more conservative respondents.
Opponents of LGBT rights do seem emboldened by Turnbull’s announcement. Laws against malicious and misleading campaign material that apply during elections and referenda do not apply in the case of a plebiscite, and some campaigners against same-sex marriage (largely members of hard-right and religious-fundamentalist groups) are virulent in their opposition, using imagery ranging from child theft to bestiality in their appeal to the public to vote “no.”
Many LGBT people have reported an uptick in homophobic and transphobic abuse and are expecting it only to get worse as campaigning grows in advance of the survey scheduled for counting after Nov. 7.
“We’re definitely a target for abuse in a way that we’ve not had problems with before,” said South Australian Sarah K. Reece, who has two children with her same-sex partner. “Strangers have yelled obscenities at us in car parks when they see our car with our rainbow ‘all families matter’ sticker. People have told us we’re abusing our kid and should be reported. One of the big online parenting groups we were part of had a member post about queer parents and families being unnatural and harming kids, and admins allowed the conversations to happen.”