Yes campaign gets support from seemingly unlikely source

Yes campaign sees support come from welcome direction

AUSTRALIA'S gay marriage campaigners have just unleashed their ultimate weapon: Australia's straightest family.

Meet the Bowmans, the quintessentially stereotypical suburban family. Mum runs a small business, Dad's a primary school teacher and they have three lovely kids aged between five and nine.

They're nice-looking, nice-mannered and they're whiter than a picket fence. The sort of people who are usually assembled to sell margarine or tissues with three-ply softness.

Except the Bowmans aren't actors, they're a real family. And they really are banal and beige. And that's what makes them so brilliant.

The Bowmans are the face of the latest Marriage Equality ad campaign, a TV commercial that dropped late this week to counter some of the crazier claims of the No camp and rein in the excesses of the Yes.

At a time when the Yes campaign is at serious risk of being derailed by random text messages and random headbutts - both of which coincided with a plunge in popular support - the pro-equality side is trying to take the debate back to ground they can win it on. And that would be, well, equality.

Claudia and Mathew Bowman with their three children (from left) Clementine (8), Scout (7) and Sunday (5)
Claudia and Mathew Bowman with their three children (from left) Clementine (8), Scout (7) and Sunday (5) Supplied

And the beauty of equality is that it's so simple anyone can understand it and so sensible that anyone can believe in it. Much like the Bowmans, and polyunsaturated margarine, it's boring. Beautifully boring.

Politics, as John Howard once observed, is ruthlessly governed by the laws of arithmetic. At the time he was speaking you had about 40 per cent of people somewhere on the left, 40 per cent somewhere on the right and 20 per cent in the middle. Win those 20 per cent in the middle and you won the campaign.

In the case of the same-sex marriage campaign the numbers are slightly different but even more important.

A major study of more than 20,000 Australians published in 2014 found that 97 per cent of men and 96 per cent of women identified as heterosexual however the same study also found almost 10 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women had some kind of same-sex attraction or experience.

New Yes campaign ad aims to bring the debate back to the main issue of equality.
New Yes campaign ad aims to bring the debate back to the main issue of equality. Supplied

Even assuming that all these same-sex attracted people vote, and vote yes, that still leaves us at less than 15 per cent, certainly not 51 per cent and certainly not the far more overwhelming number this voluntary postal vote will need to carry the necessary political clout to make politicians change their minds.

And so clearly this vote, unlike most political campaigns, cannot rely on self-interest alone. It cannot just rely on people doing what is right for them, it relies upon them doing what is simply right.

This is why the Yes campaign's text message scattergun attack and subsequent response to the outrage was so misguided.

Firstly, it did not appear to even remotely target its obvious audience, namely undecided or apathetic voters who might be reminded to cast their ballot but would be no net loss if they didn't.

Instead it appeared on the phones of active No campaigners who were able to use it as political fodder, people who had already voted Yes and now felt they were being harangued instead of thanked and, worse still, soft voters who may have been about to vote Yes but were turned off voting at all.

Personally, I would not have been outraged in the slightest - indeed, as one of the three Australian life forms who failed to receive said text message, I can't help but feel a little left out - but the campaign should have known better.

When Apple deposited unsolicited U2 songs on iPhones there was such a global outrage the band was forced to release a video apology.

If that's how upset today's petals get about receiving a free album imagine how they feel about receiving a free how-to-vote card.

The Vote Yes text message that was sent out to numerous Australian numbers received major backlash.
The Vote Yes text message that was sent out to numerous Australian numbers received major backlash. Supplied

It was also almost certainly a bad misreading of the so-called "Mediscare" campaign, in which voters received messages on polling day that purported to be from Medicare warning them that the Prime Minister was planning to privatise the agency.

This was in itself a new low in Australian politics but enormously effective precisely because of the misrepresentation that the messages came from Medicare itself, of which every Australian is a member. The privacy violation wasn't so immediately obvious.

Even so, the post-election fury was so great - including a referral to the federal police no less - that you would have to wonder why a feel-good campaign with such widespread mainstream support would employ the same crude tactics.

Moreover you would have to wonder why a campaign based on the noble principle that the government shouldn't interfere with people's private lives would interfere even slightly with people's privacy.

And even further, it was a poor miscalculation to respond to the outrage by lecturing people that they shouldn't be angered by phone spam because gay people have suffered far worse injustices.

This is clearly true but politically insane. Never in history has a voter's mind been changed by the candidate telling them they have no right to be upset about the things they're already upset about, or that their problems don't matter because there are bigger problems out there.

It might be selfish to complain about junk mail when there are starving children in Africa but people still don't like junk mail, and they have the signs on their letterboxes to prove it.

The campaign also cannot afford to be hijacked by extremists like the headbutting thug in Hobart, who alone has already caused it untold damage.

Yes, there are plenty of extremists on the other side as well but frankly that is a good thing. The more extreme the No campaign seems, the more swastikas they scrawl or stones they throw, the more reasonable, gentle and moderate the Yes campaign appears.

That is, as long as they don't fall prey to the same violent impulses. The minute it appears to mainstream voters that both sides are as extreme as each other is the moment the campaign is lost.

Enter the Bowmans. Asked why they were approached to be the new face of the campaign, mum Claudia tells news.com.au: "I guess it's because we are so average. We're a white, English-speaking, heterosexual family from the Eastern suburbs of Sydney."

Indeed, they are the type of family the hard left would instinctively rail against and conservatives would instinctively embrace, which is what makes this straight couple such a perfect match for gay marriage.

Because they're not doing it for themselves, nor any particular family member or friend. It's just because they want to show their kids that "fair is fair".

"This issue doesn't necessarily impact on our daily life or on us personally but imagine if our love was being questioned and we had to validate it?" Claudia says.

"It's just a given for us. It's just the obvious."

And there you have it: Simple. Boring. Beautiful.

News Corp Australia


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