It’s been a year since Australians voted overwhelmingly in favor of same-sex marriage.
But the decision came about through a costly and divisive voluntary public vote – a non-binding postal survey that Aussie Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull forced the country into, despite personally supporting same-sex marriage.
Turnbull spent $122 million on the glorified public opinion poll. This was so every Australian could have a say on whether or not to give LGBTI people the basic human right of equality.
But why did he do it? The short answer: to appease the far-right of his party and retain his leadership.
Toll on mental health
As a result of the postal survey, the fate of LGBTI Australians was put into the hands of everyone in the country. This included homophobes, far-right commentators and conservative Christians.
They were vocal and open about their opposition – not just to same-sex marriage, but to the very existence of LGBTI people.
They physically attacked campaigners of same-sex marriage, vandalized LGBTI spaces and sent letters demonizing LGBTI people.
A priest even campaigned against marriage equality during a lesbian woman’s memorial service.
Sure, LGBTI Australians had their say, but at what cost? The financial cost is obvious, but the emotional cost was much more damaging.
During the three months of postal voting, counselors recorded a spike in people reaching out to mental health services.
Sydney-based LGBTI youth service Twenty10 reported a 20% increase in the amount of contact they received.
Counsellor Amy Harper told Gay Star News at the time: ‘I don’t think I’ve had a single interaction with a young person who hasn’t mentioned the plebiscite.’
Client Services Officer Jacob McDonald agreed: ‘The young people we work with often have experiences of trauma, abuse, rejection and discrimination.
‘They are at a particularly high risk of anxiety, depression and suicide and there is a very real concern that this debate will increase that risk,’ he said.
Macdonald says anecdotally, there’s a clear link between the negative effects of the plebiscite on youth mental health.
He said: ‘Half the conversations I have had in our youth drop-in program have been about the postal vote.
‘[They] are about their anger and frustration over the process as a whole and their concern that it is just going to get worse.’
Malcolm Turnbull claims credit for marriage equality
So when Malcolm Turnbull tried to claim victory for the win at the end of last year, LGBTI people were not having any of it.
And when he tweeted yesterday (14 November) claiming responsibility for the win again, LGBTI people were still just as angry.
He wrote: ‘A year has passed and nearly 5,000 same sex couples have been married. A Yes vote of more than 60% and nearly 80% of Australians voted – in a voluntary postal ballot. It said a lot about our commitment to democracy, equality and a fair go. Congratulations Australia!’
LGBTI people took to Twitter to tell him exactly how they felt about his method of achieving same-sex marriage.
Writer Clementine Ford responded: ‘Thanks for putting the LGBTQI community through hell, dickhead.’
Ayden Dawkins tweeted: ‘Unfortunately, because of the process you chose, many family relationships and friendships were fractured. The good response was in spite of, not because of your inability to just allow a free vote.’
— mat whitehead (@matwhi) November 14, 2018
Another Twitter user wrote: ‘You do appear to have overlooked how angry we all were with you for making us go through the postal ballot to get what it was already clear we wanted.’
One tweeted: ‘Should’ve just made it law without the postal vote. You had the numbers.’
Then another wrote: ‘I lead doorknocking groups of young people, some still in high school, through the humiliating task of begging strangers to allow them equal access to the law. Don’t expect a thank you unless you’re offering them an apology.’
So to LGBTI Australians – celebrate this anniversary today – but never forget how hard we fought Malcolm Turnbull for it.