Marriage Act reform? Let the people decide


On the question of whether the Marriage Act should be changed to allow gay couples to marry, both proponents and opponents think that they represent the silent, moral majority of Australians.  Since both sides think their position has the backing of the Australian public, neither side should be worried about putting the question to the people.  This seems like the most natural question for a plebiscite at the next general election.  Both sides seem to agree that representative democracy is the problem rather than the solution here.  Supporters of gay marriage believe that a minority of ALP parliamentarians, beholden to religious interests, is preventing the will of the majority of Australians being expressed in law.  Opponents believe that Marriage Act reform is only an issue because a minority of activists members of parliament are trying to bully the rest into supporting changes to the Act that are not supported in the general population.

Nobody can argue that members of the House of Representatives are better informed than the general public on this issue.  There is nothing technical here.  This a purely a question about whether social mores are being expressed in the current law.  Ordinary Australians are every bit as qualified as the members of parliament to decide the question.  To say otherwise, is either elitist  or fundamentalist non-sense.  Elitists will say that ordinary people cannot be trusted to make the right decision and will be too easily swayed by conservative tabloids and radio hosts.  Elitists (by definition) have throughout history argued that  democracy is dangerous.  Religious fundamentalists believe that God has spoken, and hence asking the people can only lead us away from the true path.

Some people will worry that in the lead up to a plebiscite the public debate will descend into demagoguery or worse.  I think that very unlikely.  Extremists, with shrill and strident voices will be damage their cause.  We are a mature, moderate, well-educated and civil society that is facing an important question on how our social mores should be expressed in law.  The parliament is failing us in this, because no vote can be taken.  A pox on Parliament for its divisiveness and ownership by minorities.  Let the people decide.

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