Fiercely contested social questions, like same-sex marriage, are rarely the basis of voters’ decision-making during an election, but they can be.
Why a Plebiscite?
A plebiscite was chosen by the Liberal and National party room as a way of giving the NO vote a chance of winning.
However, from a theoretical point of view, a plebiscite is not without merit. Parliaments are mostly elected on economics, foreign affairs, and very importantly, on competence. Same-sex marriage does not fit in this set of criteria.
In addition, the advantage of a “people’s vote” on this matter is that such things are uncomfortable for many politicians to discuss. This is because most politicians want to be preselected and elected on economics and competence. Mostly, they do not want to stand or fall on social questions.
The cost of plebiscite is trivial – about $10 per working person. The significance is great – changing norms that have existed for over 2000 years in the western world.
Who will win the same-sex marriage plebiscite?
The advocates for same-sex marriage believe that, with the ALP virtually purged of those who oppose that change, and the minor parties in favour of that change, they reckon they will win if it comes down to a conscience vote of Liberals. So the ALP, Greens and Nick Xenophon Team are against a plebiscite and for a parliamentary vote.
The opponents of same-sex marriage hope that a plebiscite will see the measure defeated.
Neither the proposers, or the opponents of same-sex marriage have made their case clear. Both parties discuss the matter in the ether. For proposers it is all about love, but in a non-sexual context; for opponents it is all about preserving the ideal of a heterosexual couple bringing up a family.
One suspects that the underpinning proposition for male proponents of same-sex marriage is to achieve community acceptance of sodomy / anal sex. I believe that they do not talk about this in public or private because they do not think that the community will look favourably upon that proposition. So it could be argued that many male proponents hide their real agenda behind the mantra, “Our love should be acknowledged!” For most female proponents of same-sex marriage it would appear to a genuine case of arguing for acceptance of their relationship, combined with a certain defiant militancy.
For male and female opponents of same-sex marriage it is definitely about sex. Having lost the argument that sodomy should be a criminal offense, they are not prepared to use this as an argument, on the grounds that they will be labelled as “out of touch bigots.” However, an objection to sodomy lies at the root of the case against same-sex marriage, combined with a real attachment to the heterosexual relationship as the basis for nurturing families.
For Christians, this is a particularly difficult question, since same-sex relationships, without sex, have been an important part of the Christian experience since earliest times. This idea even goes back into the Old Testament, with the relationship between David and Jonathan being a particularly important example (even though some have, without any evidence, claimed this to have been homosexual). So there should not be any question for Christians of acknowledging love between people of the same sex.
For Christians, sex outside of marriage is not allowed. It is considered to be a moral failure. In addition, each person is expected to only have one sexual partner during their whole life (except in the case of the partner dying), just as Jesus taught. Taking this a step further, there is no place in the Christian life for heterosexual promiscuity or for sodomy. However, there is a place for loving and committed relationships between people of the same sex. However, the debate over same-sex marriage has left no place for this Christian standpoint: it is consigned to dust bin of “elite thinking.”
Therefore, if the same-sex plebiscite goes ahead, it is likely that it will be lost.
However, a parliament vote formalizing same-sex relationships, yet without appearing to endorse sodomy as a normal part of life, is likely to receive bi-partisan support.
In a democracy, it is a question of the achievable, and of achieving a reasonable consensus. On this question, we are far from that point.