As uncertainties about when (or if) a plebiscite on same-sex marriage will be held, the question of whether the people will be allowed to decide the fundamental social issue for themselves has emerged as the most important point in the 2016 election.
Angela Shanahan, writing for the Australian, explains why the people must be allowed to decide on the issue of same-sex marriage for themselves.
One only has to look at the overwhelming support for the plebiscite, running at about 69-70 per cent, to see having a say about a change that most Australians realise is pretty fundamental is as important as the change itself. And therein lies a seeming contradiction because support for same-sex marriage is also supposed to be high. But it is not a contradiction.
The assumption from Bill Shorten and the same-sex marriage lobby that the plebiscite and any discussion beforehand inevitably will lead to homophobic bigotry, and that supporters of the plebiscite are naturally bigots and homophobes, is simply not true.
It is an obvious ploy to quash the thing. The Opposition Leader needs to be held to account for this mischief, especially in light of his remarks in his concession speech about our democratic values. Apparently we can be trusted to vote for politicians in a civilised way but Shorten’s trust in democratic values doesn’t extend to a vote on a fundamental social issue.
This reveals the marriage equality lobby’s uncertainty about the outcome of a popular vote. The truth is that the supporters don’t trust the outcome enough to trust Australians to vote in accordance with their consciences.
It also reveals the failure of politics as usual. The election has made it clear that lack of trust is a two-way thing. The Australian electorate doesn’t trust politicians to make some decisions for it, as they have in the past, and as they did on this issue in Britain, France and the US.
Polls and research support the fact that the people do not trust politicians to decide social issues for them:
Research has been pointing to this breaking of trust for some time. For example, The Australian reported that a study of 1222 people undertaken by Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy about the future of the federation revealed only 44.8 per cent of people said they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in federal government, while 52.4 per cent said they had no trust or not very much trust.
Seventy per cent believed the people should vote on the issue of same sex-marriage, only 19 per cent believing it should be decided by parliament. The survey also showed 72.7 per cent of Labor supporters backed a people’s vote on same-sex marriage, with only 23.4 per cent favouring Shorten’s position.
This lack of trust in the political elite extends to other issues of conscience, such as euthanasia and abortion. However, research shows that on questions such as economic policy, people want to leave it to the politicians.
When so many people believe that it is essential to their freedom that they be allowed to decide on such an important issue as same-sex marriage, they should be given a voice. Any politician who says otherwise does not have the people’s best interests in mind.