It’s a Saturday lunchtime and I am at home minding my own business when a 60 something couple wearing matching purple polo shirts saunter up to my front door. One of them knocks.
“Hello, we are from the Coalition for Marriage”, the man said as he thrust a pamphlet towards me as though it were a weapon.
“G’day,” I said, “what can I do for you?”
“We are worried about civil liberties,” he said.
“Really,” I said, “And why would that be?”
“This legislation will open the door to a vast erosion of civil liberties, just like it has in 24 other countries. It’s all in the brochure.”
“Really,” I said again.
Now I should point out that Australia is in the throes of a postal vote on the question: Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?
Yes, I know we are way behind the times. It is possible that down under is still in the era of big hair and shoulder pads or, at best, still partying in the millennium. Our political dithering has become laughable with same-sex marriage just one of any number of issues where neither major party are able to find a consistent policy. The go-to solution being to punt decisions down the road for another day or at least until all the excuses for dithering are exhausted.
Still unable to find their consciences on equality, some bright spark in Canberra thought a ripper solution would be to have a postal vote on the issue, a plebiscite costing $122 million. The dictionary says that a plebiscite is the direct vote of all the members of an electorate on an important public question such as a change in the constitution. Few will doubt that same-sex marriage is an important issue but all it requires is some common sense, it is not a constitutional crisis.
It is obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense in their noggin why we are having a voluntary postal vote in a country where voting in elections is compulsory and most under 25 would not even know where to post a letter on a topic that should be dealt with in the parliament like all the other issues of the day. It’s the only way the minority ‘no’ has any chance of winning.
But I digress.
Gathering my senses I stepped out onto my front porch and looking the gent in the eye I said, “Can you explain how this matter alters my civil liberties? If two folk want to get married, what could that possibly do to affect me or you?”
“It has happened in 24 countries?”
“What has happened?”
“It’s in the brochure.”
“Forget the brochure”, I said, “Can you explain to me how, if a gay couple across the street gets married, that has any effect at all on you or on me?”
“This will mean, well not this but later legislation will erode our civil liberties.”
“It’s happened in 24 countries, it is in the brochure.”
“Forget the brochure. You are here at my home, you tell me what your argument is?”
“There will be later legislation that erodes our liberty.”
“Again, how does a couple across the street getting married affect your liberty or mine?”
“It will be later laws..” my visitor’s voice tailed off because even if he had read his brochure he could not articulate an argument for his position. His wife, at least I assume it was his wife, just smiled and nodded.
“Hold on,” I said, “the sum of your concerns is that maybe some future legislation may come in to erode civil liberties so you want me to vote no on this current issue?”
“Yes,” he said.
“And that’s all you have?”
“Well, thanks for dropping by”, I said, “both my wife and I voted yes.”
“That’s great,” the wife said, “so glad that you voted.”
The couple left and I reflected on this unusual interaction rather more than I thought I would. Not on the topic of marriage equality for all discrimination should be weeded out from our social systems, bit by bit if necessary. Arcane rules that prevent another person the same liberties to love and marry that I enjoy should be removed and pass into history. Yes is the only morally just answer to the plebiscite question.
What got me was the debate or lack of it.
Here was a topic that two ordinary folk felt strongly enough about to give up their Saturday morning and go door knocking. Yet when pressed for some logic or rationale for their viewpoint they had none. Well, they thought that they did, but imagining some future disaster fails any pub test that I know about.
It also showed that these folk knew little about the political process. The deals in the corridor, the politics over policy, the influencing over persuasion, the burying of the real issues, and the downright bastardry of it all. This seemed lost on them. They came across as naive and I believed that they were.
Foot soldiers are not generals. They supply the delivery grunt at the bidding of the strategists and given this role, I should give them some slack. Perhaps I was expecting too much.
It’s just that we debate so little that when such an opportunity presents itself there is a degree of excitement at the chance. Perhaps I was too excited. Perhaps I let my love of a good argument get the better of me.
Whatever the emotions in the encounter the real reflection was the lack of political argument. There is plenty of polarised opinion but very little to explain why. We are struggling to articulate a position on issues of all kinds. Not able to understand where they come from or any logic that might underpin them, our opinions just appear like blind faith.
So I am very grateful to the Coalition for Marriage. They taught me an important lesson. If you have a strong opinion, make sure you know where it came from and why you have it.
You might need to justify it someday.