Love won. Now for the war

It’s not often that history comes to Belconnen. Even by the standards of Canberra’s suburbs, it is generally an uneventful place, where sprinklers twitch and dog walkers nod to each other in passing.

It is fitting, then, that history was brought to Belconnen by a statistician, the ABS’s David Kalisch, who this morning told Australia that 61.6 per cent of us had had voted in favour of same-sex marriage. 

Same-sex marriage: Melbourne celebrates

Thousands erupt with joy at The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne as the ABS announces a 61.6 per cent ‘yes’ vote for same-sex marriage.

Of the nation’s 150 electorates, 133 voted yes.

It was a far more resounding result than any political party achieves to govern, and represents a strong mandate.

But this is not a gavel coming down. It’s not a ruling, and it is not yet a definitive win. The result is a moral victory, but until it’s legislated it amounts to a hill of beans.

The “no” campaign, of course, began their rearguard action months ago.

Over recent weeks it has become more frenzied: Liberal senator Eric Abetz saying we mustn’t rush to legislate. Tony Abbott telling an American Christian group that “given the starting point, just to get 40 per cent would be a moral victory for marriage”. The “no” vote was 38.4 per cent – here’s betting Abbott will round up. His own electorate of Warringah voted 75 per cent “yes”. In a Facebook post following the result, Abbott said the forthcoming parliamentary process should protect “freedom of conscience for all, not just the churches”. 

Australian Christian Lobby director Lyle Shelton wrote yesterday that “because of the misleading message of the same-sex marriage lobby”, the issue “may not be resolved” by the postal survey.

Referring to the “yes” lobby, he told his supporters that “the ACL has warned of this for many years but now the brutality of their winner-takes-all approach is laid bare for all to see”. He makes it sound as though the gay hordes are about to sack temples and rape women. They just want to marry for love.

Some of today’s glee rests in the fact that the “no” campaign decided the way the game would be played, and wrote the rules to suit themselves, but the “yes” campaign still won.

But it’s impossible to argue the postal survey hasn’t been divisive. It has exposed LGBTI people to suffering they didn’t deserve, suffering from which a decent political system should have protected them. It has been a time of high anxiety and dark nights for many gay friends and the people who love them.

The electorate-by-electorate breakdown of voting patterns also shows a divide along socially conservative but traditionally blue collar electorates, and electorates, like Warringah, that are Liberal heartlands but socially progressive. This split – between middle class progressives and working class social conservatives – is a global fault-line that will ripple through Australian politics in years to come.

Politically, the postal survey was always an odd choice for the Prime Minister.

In going through with the postal survey, he kept his election promise, and the promise he made to his party’s right-wing when he took power from Abbott. Turnbull’s policy will end up delivering marriage equality, for which he has personally advocated for a lot longer than many of his colleagues on both sides of parliament.

But it has served as an enormous distraction for his government, and created near-blanket media coverage which has overwhelmed other messages it wanted to put out. The postal survey provided a platform and a Trojan-horse issue for the hard-line conservatives in his party who loathe his leadership. Those conservatives will continue to issue veiled threats against Turnbull’s leadership right up until the last vote is cast on the floor of parliament. But that’s a problem for another day. It is not done yet, but love won in a landslide today. We did the right thing. We can look our children in the eye.

Twitter: @JacquelineMaley

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