The Importance of the Australian Marriage Equality Vote

The Australian Gay Marriage vote is a sole bright spot in an otherwise dark horizon.

When the Australian Gay Marriage decision was announced, I wished I was Australian. This might seem odd, because of course we already have gay marriage here in the UK. We have done since 2013. You can already legally marry whomever you choose. But I found myself wishing I lived in Australia for a more complicated reason than simply ‘it’s nice same-sex couples can wed’. I wished I was Australian after the referendum because I wished we could, as a nation, make a choice to become more inclusive, making a progressive change, out of love. The feeling that young Australians must have had, of hope and pride in their country would be a welcome for many British youth.

In the last year and a half, it’s felt like a constant cycle of bad news. I’m biased – if I had been able to vote it would have been to remain in the EU, for Hillary Clinton, and I did vote Labour in June. These results were bitterly disappointing for many young people. The solution should be political. As a society, we should place more value in the power of politics. We are failing to do all we can to encourage everyone to be informed, and to vote in order to achieve legitimate government and an empowered people. We should reject antiquated (or now not so antiquated?) ideas of isolationism. Our nation should be of a people who know that becoming more protectionist will weaken us, and is weakening us, right now. Many young people feel as though our future has been trashed by older voters who have already had it good, who have lived in a time when it was the rule that your life was going to be better than your parents, and their life was better than their parents. And now, for the first time this is no longer true. Our generation is having to give up on the stability and reward of later owning a home. In the UK from 2016-2017, there was a shocking 29% rise in hate crimes upon the previous year (BBC News). Ordinary household grocery prices are set to rise (The Independent). These statistics show the UK has, in my belief, made a perhaps fatal error in voting to leave. Trying to conjure up flawed empire-esque ideas that our tiny country is relevant in a global context by severing trade deals and rejecting hardworking and talented migrants means that in effect, ‘we’ve fucked it’.

This week’s circus show featured Donald Trump retweeting – effectively endorsing – anti-Muslim videos shared by the far-right group Britain First. A man who was elected by millions of Americans is one who endorses an openly racist group, which speaks about Muslims in the same way Jews were spoken about in 1930s and 40s Germany. He is also one who was swept to power on the same wave of protectionist policies, with voters disillusioned with current possibilities and attracted to rhetoric such as, ‘We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country… It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world’ (ABC News). That many Americans, in a country like our own in many respects, endorse a right-wing movement that advocates ignoring history, losing all empathy for anyone different to us, and ignoring facts daily, beggar belief and is frankly terrifying. Whilst the US government churns out a never-ending cycle of ugly words and blunders, young people in the Western world are faced with what looks like a sure decline in their nation’s productivity, living standards and job chances.

Considering that economic prospects look more and more gloomy every coming week, an estimated one in four students suffer with mental health issues (YouGov) and the uncertainty and pessimism about what direction our country is going, it can feel like we are going backwards. My girlfriend thought that the Equal Marriage vote was little but the illusion of equality, that it wouldn’t change much. Although I disagree – I believe that change starts with legislation – instinctively the vote represented something else. To me, the vote felt like a bud of hope in an infertile wasteland. It was welcome to finally hear political news which shows that a majority of ordinary citizens have chosen to accept love and vote for acceptance and change. Whilst politics seems to be becoming more insular and anxious, it is comforting to see that people in a society like ours can still choose progressive change.

It’s clear that Australia as a nation is not some welcoming and liberal utopia. They have committed themselves to a quite frankly unforgivable policy of treatment of refugees, in some cases literally turning back boats (The Guardian), coupled with a harsh – also protectionist – immigration system. In many ways, their system was idolised by the right in this country, a model of how a post-Brexit Britain would be. There is no excusing this, especially as Brexit increasingly seems to me to be a vote that was rigged by liars playing on the fears of very real and warranted economic concerns from working people. But in this climate of anxiety and uncertainty we must take optimism and hope from whatever source. It’s important to switch off, to take time for yourself and your mental health. Remember the good that is always present, that society is not in ruins, whilst still fighting against hatred and discrimination. Of course, the vote is significant for LGBT+ people, and a welcome decision in and of itself, but its message is more than that. The Australian referendum result is not a perfect cure, but it is a vote of hope.

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