OPINION: Why the Yes vote will lose

I HAVE two predictions for the same sex marriage postal survey. 

One is that the 'No' vote will win and the second is that it will be remembered as one of the worst public debates in the history of Australia and something that will set back the gay community by 20 years.

Both will be an incredible shame.

And it's because we've become very bad at proper debate. We like to think of ourselves as passionate - yet kind and intelligent - debaters, but it's just not the current reality.

From the start of this whole process we've lacked leadership, and the hole that was left from this has been filled up with tricks, politics, and circus performers.

The biggest mistake was the postal survey itself. It's an expensive, and very blunt, form of democracy.

And from the second it was announced, it ensured only two outcomes.

Either the 'No' campaign would win and the gay community would receive final confirmation that they are simply not equal to their straight family members and workmates, or the 'Yes' vote would win and the Australians who voted 'No' would feel like they were being pulled into progress like Fred Nile being lifted on to a Mardi Gras float, painted pink and forced to wear a tutu.


Both sides need the guidance and support of leadership.

If we're going to put all big decisions to postal surveys we'll all start wondering why it is we bother having elections right before the whole country goes to hell.

Just imagine if we had postal surveys on speed limits, capital punishment, and religious freedoms.

We'd be driving at 150km an hour down Punt Road, executing African teenagers, and banning all religions that don't feature a crucifix.

If we'd left the formation of federation and the metric system to a mail vote, we'd still be separate colonies and driving at 93 miles an hour down Punt Road.

Progress doesn't come in envelopes. Especially when it's a YES/NO decision with no proper debate or explanation offered alongside it.

Did we learn nothing from the republican referendum of 1999? There were genuine supporters who wanted to stay with the monarchy, but many voted 'No' just from fear or confusion. And it set the Republican movement back decades. It still hasn't recovered.

When people don't understand the future, or they fear it, they will seek the comfort of the present. Or even the past. And progress fails.

It's why leadership has always been the driver of change.

After the survey count is done on same sex marriage one side is going to be supremely aggrieved. And not from the growing pains of the progressive and evolving world, but because the months of debate leading up to that moment was rubbish.


A little revolution now and then is good for a country, but this is a half-arsed discussion that led to a quarter-arsed postal survey.

Look at what we've had in the last few months.

Sam Newman being taken seriously as a social affairs commentator when he called the AFL "political whores", the 'Yes' campaign gaining access to our mobile phones and instructing us on how to vote, a former Prime Minister headbutted, Margaret Court using her tennis and her bible to boycott Qantas and the presence of dreadful slogans like "Vote NO to HOMOFACISM!"

I've personally seen a level of nastiness from the 'Yes' side that I wasn't expecting.

The 'No' side will win this but they shouldn't be hooting with a delight. They will have won nothing but a game of fear and confusion.

I'm going to be on the losing side. I voted 'Yes' and I want to win simply because it's what I've always believed in. But if by some miracle they win, the 'Yes' campaigners shouldn't be cheering either, they played a very poor game.

But sadder than anything is the damage that will be done to the gay community. It will be enormous; they will lose again, like they have done many times before and inequality will be burnt into their skins with a nationally supported branding iron.

The result is coming. And it will one of Australia's greatest shames.

Justin Smith is a 3AW presenter.


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