Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite Is An Even Worse Idea Now

Last year I wrote a piece called A Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite Is A Terrible Idea.  At the time I wrote it, Tony Abbott was still Prime Minister, albeit not for long, and the proposed plebiscite (or "non-binding referendum" if you prefer) was just a silly rumour being fanned by foolish Liberal-aligned op-eds.

I made the following basic points:

* The plebiscite would not generate new knowledge since it is already clear that Australian voters support same-sex marriage.
* The majority voice is irrelevant because the right of two consenting adults to marry each other should be recognised, since there is no reason to allow the majority to impugn it in a liberal democracy.
* Australia has resolved far more difficult issues without recourse to a referendum, and to subject same-sex marriage to such a vote opens the door for constant demands for unnecessary national votes on other subjects.
* The plebiscite would not be binding.
* A plebiscite, even if passed, stigmatises people in (or seeking) same-sex relationships by implying that their relationships were problematic enough to require the consent of society.
* At a time when Australia is in debt, a plebiscite is an unconscionable waste of public money unless a need for it can be demonstrated.

Unfortunately even though the case against it was crushing and even though conservative governments overseas have passed marriage reform without suffering any loss of voter support, the plebiscite soon became government policy.  Disquiet about the messy party-room meeting that led to it being preferred (without actually being voted on) to a conscience vote in the just-concluded parliament was one of many factors contributing to the downfall of Tony Abbott.

As I have noted here often before, same-sex marriage is not an issue that appears to swing votes in a two-party sense.  Probably since the Coalition moved to supporting a plebiscite it has even less impact on voting intention than it did before.  However its presence in the issue mix is proving a distraction for the Coalition in the final week of the campaign, at a time when they would prefer to spend the whole week talking about economic management.

It's become clear there are a wide range of potential responses to a plebiscite in Coalition ranks - from those who would vote against same-sex marriage no matter what, to those who would vote against if their electorate voted against, those who would abstain if the nation voted against their own views, and so on.  Even Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop has been reported as equivocating on the issue, and while there is little doubt that a comfortable passage of a non-binding referendum would be followed by a successful free vote, there remains room for doubt about what would happen if the popular vote were passed very narrowly, contentiously, or without a double majority.

A couple of recent world events have in my view strengthened the already overwhelming case against this proposed plebiscite.

The dim/dark side of referenda

The first is the Brexit referendum.  At the time of my previous article, Ireland had passed a same-sex marriage vote and we suddenly heard all kinds of idealistic guff from Peter Reith and so on about how the whole exercise showed how greater public involvement in decision-making was a good thing.

I would hope that after the post-Brexit commentary in the UK this week, no-one would be taking that line again for quite a while.  For sure, many of those who voted to Leave did so out of genuine disquiet with the EU's level of control over the domestic affairs of member states, its "democratic deficits" and the cost of membership.

However it is becoming clear also that the Brexit referendum was a shambles that showed poor decision-making by a large number of voters,  Many voters voted Leave for reasons other than actually wanting to leave the EU.  Some voted Leave as a protest over unrelated issues, or because they disliked things said by the Remain campaign.  Some voted Leave in the belief that Remain would win, just wishing to narrow the margin, and are now experiencing regret.    It is all too easy for referendum processes to become about something else than itself, and same-sex marriage (being an issue that does not directly affect the great majority) carries an elevated risk of getting abused as a proxy for goodness knows what.

Even if a plebiscite had strong support from nearly all of Labor and most of the Coalition, suppose that at the time of it being put there was public disquiet about Malcolm Turnbull's handling of an unrelated or tangentially related issue.  Voters might be tempted to game the plebiscite to show dissatisfaction with Turnbull because he was prominently pushing the Yes case, and hence a poor result for Yes would damage him.  Even though this would be unlikely to cause the vote to fail, even the vote passing with an underwhelming majority would be an unsatisfying outcome, "showing" that a near-majority of voters had supported an illiberal and ridiculous view against same-sex marriage and allowing opponents to bleat on for decades about how some imaginary defect of the vote had robbed them of victory.

The second is, of course, Orlando.  The terrible Orlando mass shooting crosses a number of different issues - homophobia, the USA's pathologically lax gun controls and self-radicalising "homegrown terrorism".  Australia does not have the USA's gun control problem, but it does have self-radicalising terrorists, whose actions have caused the deaths of three Australians (besides themselves) in Australia in recent years.   This number would probably have been much higher without security interceptions of various apparent would-be terrorists.  Orlando does not really say anything about the potential for hateful behaviour by so-called Christians, because "Christian" homophobes do not generally engage in such acts of lethal terrorism on behalf of their cause, although they are far more numerous in the West than "Islamist" homophobes.

It is all very well for Malcolm Turnbull to argue that he has faith in the Australian people to avoid divisive and hateful rhetoric at a referendum and the violence that it might incite.  I personally consider that faith to be irrational given that homophobic, transphobic and even interphobic material was used in attempts to sway election outcomes at at least four different elections in my home state in the last ten years, in two cases with covert assistance from the "Liberal" Party.  But let's just suppose that the major opponents of same-sex marriage do indeed play it nice and do their best to avoid inciting hatred on the campaign trail. The problem is that Islamist homophobes are outside the influence of even groups like the Australian Christian Lobby and the various fronts for the Christian anti-same-sex marriage campaign.  And major public rallies in supports of gay rights are obvious potential targets for terror attacks by any deranged self-radicalised Islamist homophobes who may be living here.

Can the Coalition MPs supporting a plebiscite, or those whose actions are causing a plebiscite because they will not support a successful parliamentary free vote, personally guarantee the safety of all Australians who will attend mass public rallies in the leadup to the vote?  Will such Coalition MPs personally guarantee in advance of a plebiscite that should such attacks occur and claim lives, then they will all resign from parliament in contrition?  If not, then I don't believe they are taking the safety of supporters of same-sex marriage seriously.  Most likely, nothing of the sort will happen, but a referendum involving mass rallies nonetheless increases the chances of a terrorist attack (or at least the security costs of preventing one).  The Coalition are supposed to be hard on terror and should not be promoting unnecessary opportunities for it to occur just because a minority of people on the religious right are illiberal and silly.

The other point about Orlando is that such attacks increase "minority stress", especially when they occur in what is normally thought of as a safe space.  Even though the Orlando attack has no real connection to everyday Australian Christian homophobia, it has still increased apprehension about the possible nastiness of a plebiscite campaign.  Whether that apprehension is founded or not, it is grossly reckless for a party that claims to be serious about mental health to be supporting a plebiscite that is contributing to minority stress.  The Coalition's obligation based on its claimed support for mental health issues is to simply pass same-sex marriage by parliamentary vote and stop kicking the can along the road.

But It's What The People Want

Polling has persistently shown that when asked an unqualified question about support for the plebiscite versus support for the politicians deciding the issue, voters support the plebiscite.  This is understandable because voters feel that if politicians decide the issue, they cannot be trusted to vote for same-sex marriage and will just keep voting against.

However, there are many problems with these kinds of polls.  The first is that the voter is probably expecting that the vote would be binding.  None of the polls have asked the voter to choose between politicians making a decision after a non-binding plebiscite and the matter being decided by parliamentary voting without a non-binding plebiscite.  It may be that in such polling, voters would agree that politicians would follow the majority verdict, but it may be they would be mistrustful of this.

The second is that these polls are premised on an artificial scenario in which a parliamentary vote just happens once.  Assuming there is never a plebiscite, then most likely there would be repeated parliamentary votes, sooner or later resulting in the parliament passing same-sex marriage.  Indeed, in the absence of the Coalition's ability to use a plebiscite to muddy the waters, and given Labor's increasing support for same-sex marriage, pressure on wavering Coalition MPs could well lead to a conscience vote being passed in the next term of a re-elected Turnbull government.

A third problem is that few polls have not also polled support for plebiscites on other issues, with voluntary euthanasia being an obvious example, but there are doubtless many others.  If such polls were conducted, it's quite possible they would find that the public actually said yes to popular plebiscites on a very great range of measures, but it is obviously impractical (and in my view dangerous to good government) to keep having public votes on everything.  Thanks to David Barry for reminding me of one such poll by Essential, which also found voters supporting plebiscites on euthanasia, abortion and (weakly) the retirement age - three out of just six issues canvassed!

The cherry-picking of poll results is also amusing.  The Prime Minister is happy to take polls showing support for a plebiscite as demonstrating that the public supports a plebiscite.  But by the same token, there is a far stronger body of polling showing that the public supports same-sex marriage.  On this basis, the parliament could give the public what they want by simply voting for same-sex marriage in a parliamentary vote.  Voters only say they support a plebiscite because the Parliament keeps getting the matter wrong.  If the Parliament listened to what the people are saying on the primary issue then the support for a plebiscite shown in polls would not exist.  So when the PM says that polls show the public support a plebiscite, what that really means is that polls show the public realise that his party ignores the polls when it suits it, and support a plebiscite only as a backstop solution.  We have not seen any poll that asks which the voters would prefer out of politicians passing same-sex marriage and the issue being put to a plebiscite before they vote.

In closing, I will restate one of the points from my previous article.  In a liberal democracy - which Australia is meant to be - there are some issues that are matters of personal freedom; people can do what they want no matter what the majority thinks.  This general principle, embodied in countless aspects of our law despite a Constitution that does not have a Bill of Rights, is necessary to prevent majority tyranny and state-sanctioned discrimination.  The role of democratic decision making is to resolve matters not resolved by such liberal principles.  Allowing same-sex marriage is, however, a no-brainer from a liberal and equal rights perspective.

It is simply wrong for the parliament to consider same-sex marriage as a matter that it has any legitimate right to obstruct, or as a matter that is a legitimate subject of a public vote or "conscience-based" (read "religion-based") opposition on the floor of parliament.  To give millions of Australians the right to say "no" at the ballot box to something they have no right to prohibit no matter what their numbers, simply shows a misunderstanding of the sort of political society Australia is meant to be.

I have generally been sceptical of the need for a Bill of Rights in Australia, mainly because the specific content of Bill of Rights proposals very often goes too far, with risks of governments being adversely hamstrung or unreasonable impacts on free speech.  But if governments will not realise that opposition to same-sex marriage is just plainly illiberal and discriminatory, then maybe we really do need an instruction manual to tell them how to do their jobs.

I doubt the emergence of same-sex marriage as an issue in the final days of the campaign will cause the Coalition any harm at the ballot box to speak of, and suspect Bill Shorten's pushing of the issue will have little impact beyond shoring up Labor votes in Melbourne Ports and Batman and causing mainstream voters to question his priorities.  But if there is damage it will be richly deserved.


  1. Kevin - well said. It may effect votes, not because of the SSM component (people have already made up their minds about that) but because it emphasises that Turnbull is pissweak with no control over his party. You wait and see what a kicking Turnbull gets in Wentworth, probably the most highly educated electorate in Australia.

    1. If Turnbull does get a well deserved kicking in Wentworth, it will be because he is an extreme left winger who has no business being in the Liberal party.
      If he did manage to lose it, the elation from Liberals would exceed that from the ALP/Greens.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    Having been born a country where fundamental human rights are enshrined in the Constitution, I've always struggled to understand how Australia puts up with not having them thus.
    The main argument against it that I've come across, which says that direct legislation by Parliament is more open to public judgement at the next poll, sounds good in theory and doesn't work in practice. We have shown time and again that our governments easily get re-elected after trampling the rights of minorities. It can even be beneficial to conservative governments to play that card.
    My own personal opinion is that, once we agree in a society that certain rights should be free from any interference by Government, then the only way to enforce that is through a Bill of Rights and a higher court.
    Not to say it's the perfect solution: Americans have a major problem with their constitutionally-granted right to bear arms, but also a body of constitutionally-guaranteed human and civil rights that we can only dream of, beginning with actual freedom of speech.

    1. Yes, the free speech issue is one where I sometimes wish we had a rights-based approach too. The previous Tasmanian government put forward some anti-discrimination legislation that was actually very restrictive of free speech in some areas and I put a lot of effort into lobbying to have it toned down. I was aghast that because it was put forward by a left-wing government, almost no-one in the Tasmanian left would stand against it.

      On the other hand when I see things like, for instance, hate groups staging protests outside the funerals of gay and lesbian people and then claiming First Amendment protection for conduct that is just pointlessly repulsive, I think that any embedded free speech right in Australia would need to be very carefully worded. At the least, I would want it to specify that the right to free speech applies to what you say, but does not automatically mean you can say it wherever you like.

    2. The whole point about free speech is that it allows people to say unfashionable or unpopular things that the establishment and their minions don't want to hear.
      There is no such thing as partial free speech; it exists or it doesn't.
      Allowing "free speech" for anything except for speech-that-Kevin-Bonham-doesn't-like, is not free speech.

    3. Actually the whole point is that it allows people to say things that anyone (not just the establishment) might not want to hear. But since you say that the whole point is that it allows people to say things, you should agree with me that it does not entail that you can say those things ***wherever you like***.

      So ... free speech includes the right to say abortion should be illegal, but not the right to say it by harassing people outside an abortion clinic. On the other side, free speech includes the right to say logging should be illegal, but not the right to say it by chaining yourself to a tree and obstructing it. Grasp the principle? Once you have you'll see your objections to "partial free speech" are rubbish.

    4. You're wrong again Kevin. Powerless people can't do much to prevent free speech in any meaningful way, so only the establishment with access to political, media or financial power have the ability to suppress it.
      I also do not agree that free speech remains free if it is location dependent. That is just ridiculous, and just invites suppression by extending prohibited speech zones.
      The ability to express an opinion that abortions should be illegal is an example of free speech, and that includes saying so outside an abortion clinic. Expressing free speech is not harassing people. Obstructing people from entering a clinic is not a freedom of speech issue. It really isn't that difficult to understand, unless you try really hard not to.
      Partial free speech is a contradiction in terms. Grasp the principle?

    5. I grasp that you're a lightweight troll or some other species of clueless individual, who is way overconfident about simplistic notions you lack the ability to think through, but persists in spouting dismissive rubbish anyway. Now stop trying to cluelessly belittle your superiors and argue reasonably or I'll just ban you, because my right of free speech as site owner entails my right to stop you commenting here (and if you even try to argue with that or contradict this directive I will ban you also.)

      Of course I am not suggesting that prohibited speech zones be extended beyond what is reasonable - the zone around a funeral at which mourners could be needlessly upset, the zone around a clinic at which clients could be needlessly harassed and distressed (note I did not say "obstructed", although that happens too), the zone around a business where protests could disrupt legitimate trading or worker safety, and so on. Courts and laws can set reasonable limits here and largely do. The point of free speech is that people can say what they like, not that they can pointlessly distress, harass or obstruct by saying it in a confrontational place without a valid reason to say it there.

      The start of your post was a typical non sequitur where you say I'm wrong then provide a claim irrelevant to the comment which you disagree with. Who (supposedly) has the ability to suppress speech is not the same thing as the reasons for which people support it. And "the establishment" is a very monodimensional category to be employing these days anyway.

  3. Kevin, re your comment that "....the right of two consenting adults to marry each other should be recognised, since there is no reason to allow the majority to impugn it in a liberal democracy". On the basis of this logic then we should also remove all restrictions on incest; after all if two adults, who happen to be related by blood, decide they want to marry why should the State stand in their way? Come to think about it what's so special about just TWO people being free to marry. If multiple adults decide they want to come come together in a single relationship, again, why should the State being making laws to prevent that form of marriage. I'm not actually claiming that same sex marriage will automatically lead to demands for the legalisation of incest and polygamy (the slippery slope argument) -- merely pointing out you need to consider the broader implications of your principle justification for SSM. If there are reasons why SSM should be legal, but incest and polygamy should not, what are they?

    1. Look at what John Stuart Mill had to say about freedoms in a modern liberal society and how freedoms should only be limited where the exercise of those freedoms would harm others. There are self-evident social harms that arise from incest (disability to children born as a result of inbreeding). No such harm exists for two people in a same sex relationship. Therefore, the State has no business preventing same sex couples from getting married.

    2. In the case of proposed recognition of multi-person marriages, there is a relevant difference between the debates. Both mixed-sex marriage and same-sex marriage involve two people each committing to the other, ostensibly but often not in practice "til death do us part". This gives rise to a number of legal institutions in areas like inheritance, divorce and power of attorney (even Centrelink income assessment!) that can be trivially adapted from mixed-sex couples to same-sex couples (and indeed in many cases already exist for unmarried couples of either kind who have cohabited for long enough - so-called "de facto marriage", though I despise that term.)

      However adapting such institutions to multiple-person marriages involves complex legal redrafting to cover cases in which (for instance) a person is unable to express their will and their two partners disagree about how that person should be treated. These bridges would need to be crossed before we took state recognition of multi-person "marriages" seriously, and I'm not aware that they have been. It is not a simple extension of state recognition of an existing principle as same-sex marriage is. It is important here to note that we are not just dealing with polygamy here, but also polygyny, multiple-person same-sex relationships, four-person relationships and more complex arrangements.

      There is probably more I could add here but that will do for starters.

      Proposed recognition of incestuous marriage is complicated by the fact that incest is illegal. There are good reasons for incest to be illegal in cases where it creates a major risk of inbreeding, or in cases where the "marriage" is premised on a severe inequality of financial or other power within a family such that one partner is likely to be being coerced into it.

      There are also however other non-reproductive incest cases, typically involving long-separated siblings, that are victimless crimes and where the state prosecution of those involved leads to tragic outcomes and is a complete waste of state resources. Before we can even think about allowing marriages involving people who are related to each other we would need to sort out the complex issues of which such relationships should be legal in the first place.

      I will also mention human-animal marriages for the benefit of any Cory Bernardi fans who may be reading. We cannot extend the principles involved in same-sex marriage to inter-species marriage because we have no way of establishing reliably whether the other species is giving informed consent.

    3. (Of course I am aware that relationships involving people who are only distant relatives are already allowed to varying degrees in various places.)

    4. You have avoided the question Kevin. The point is that society already has placed restrictions on marriage eligibility even between heterosexual partners, which is why bigamy and polygamy are illegal. They are not illegal because of potential issues with "complex legal redrafting", which is precisely what lawyers are paid to resolve.
      They are illegal because of the damage such relationships cause to society.
      As far as the bestiality issue is concerned, Cory Bernardi has been proven correct, with the Canadian Supreme Court just recently ruling that sex acts with a pet are legal as long as the animal is not penetrated. Human-animal marriage suddenly does not seem so ridiculous since this decision.

    5. Based on the bestiality comment I suspect that this could be a troll, but readers may be interested to learn that the Canadian Supreme Court's decision had absolutely nothing to do with any precedent created by same-sex marriage, and everything to do with the limited way the original law written over 100 years ago was worded. The court is not making any finding that bestiality *should* be legal; it is simply finding that in certain circumstances it isn't illegal at present.

      As for the rest, your claim that I avoided the question is false. The question was about whether my views logically entailed that I supported allowing state recognition of incestuous or polygamous marriages and I explained why this was not necessarily the case.

      I wasn't asked why polygamy is currently illegal, and the use of the term "bigamy" is a distraction since bigamy frequently involves entering multiple marriages without the knowledge or consent of all involved (which should clearly be illegal.) Accusing me of avoiding the question just because I didn't answer some other question that wasn't asked is silly.

    6. Poster Gweilo has picked a bad night to continue arguing badly (in another comment which I have rejected) and is banned. All further comments by Gweilo will be rejected, pending an especially lovely apology for wasting my time on election night, and a donation of $200 to an appropriate LGBTI rights cause. I can troll too, sunshine :)

      To guard against sockpuppetry, new posters may not question this decision.

    7. And just to clarify the specific words that have got Gweilo banned in the rejected post were:
      "In any case, you raised the topic of bestiality and I referred to factual decision made by the Canadian Supreme Court that disproves your claim about the need for informed consent. That precedent has been set in a Supreme Court, and given the level of judicial activism on supreme court benches it is not far fetched that they could one day "discover" a human right for inter species "marriages". It is much less far fetched than the US Supreme Court "discovering" that the drafters of the US constitution intended to include a right for gay marriage."

      Quite obviously my claim about informed consent was a philosophical one and not a legal one. Also obviously the court case was not about marriage, it was about sexual contact, and it was not about consent - it was about limitations of the law. The comments above were therefore just too dumb for Gweilo's continual wasting of my time to be allowed.

  4. Gwello, that has less to do with legalising bestiality and more a commentary by the Canadian Supreme Court that a law drafted over 100 years ago does not cover certain form of sex acts and it is deeply deceitful or ignorant to suggest otherwise. Such anachronisms exist throughout legal systems. For example, under the Commonwealth Crimes Act it is possible for a judge to sentence a convicted person to hard labour.

  5. Wow, it's amazing how much illogical nonsense you have managed to fit into a single article.
    First of all, the Brexit referendum is the perfect example to demonstrate how greater public involvement in decision-making is a good thing. It is also a perfect example to demonstrate how unreliable small scale polling is and how unrepresentative parliamentary democracy can be.
    The fact is that the Brexit referendum was not "a shambles that showed poor decision-making by a large number of voters", on the contrary, it enabled the people to reclaim their independence and sovereignty despite the opposition from the establishment. It was a major success. The fact that you don't like the outcome doesn't change that, and no doubt you would be declaring it as a triumph of democracy if the Remainiacs had prevailed using the identical process.
    The same principles also apply here in Australia, and show that polls commissioned by vested interests to indicate widespread public support of gay marriage are not reliable, and also that the political classes cannot be relied upon to properly represent the people on fundamental, non-partisan issues that affect society.
    The gay marriage debate isn't just an issue for the gay and religious lobbies to debate, it affects all people, because it radically redefines the nature and structure of society's fundamental building block - the family.
    As already mentioned elsewhere, society already places restrictions on marriage eligibility on consenting heterosexual adults, with limitations to prevent bigamy and polygamy, but according to your argument these restrictions would have to be removed to be consistent with a liberal democracy.
    As far as the non binding nature of a plebiscite is concerned, why is it that no criticisms are being made about ALP & Greens MPs who have stated that they will ignore a majority "no" vote?
    Anyway, the next government as well as subsequent governments can be bound by having a referendum rather than a plebiscite. Problem solved, and the cost will be the same.
    So then we come to the whole "hate speech" accusation. "Preventing hate speech" is a euphemism for muzzling any opposition to the demands of gay marriage activists. It's just what they do. When they can't make a strong argument for their opinions, and when they have no rebuttal for opposing opinions, then they just try to prevent and criminalise other people's free speech.
    Nor should the Coalition be required to guarantee the safety of all Australians who will attend mass public rallies in the leadup to the vote, when political violence in this country is almost always initiated by the left. Let's just hope that they don't have another Muslim homosexual within their ranks, as was the situation in Orlando, where the murderer was a registered Democrat.
    I could go on, but I'll be merciful and finish on a rare item of agreement, in that I concur that common sense does not live on this blog.

  6. Sorry Kevin, but to argue that incestuous marriages and polygamy cannot be compared to SSM because they raise "complex legal issues" is very weak. Imagine trying to justify against the principle of Native Title on the grounds that it would raise "complex legal issues", as it undoubtedly has. In any case many complex legal issues will certainly arise from SSM as it inevitably takes you into the messy issues like surrogacy and SS inter-country adoption. You have to try harder with your rationalisations. PS I never mentioned bestiality and ain't no troll.

    1. I think if you're going to say I have to try harder with my so-called rationalisations then I get to say you have to try a great deal harder with your examples. So firstly, issues surrounding same-sex parenting exist anyway irrespective of the same-sex marriage debate; rather than arising from it they have already arisen. Non-commercial surrogacy for instance is already legal in most states.

      Native Title was not something created by parliament but something discovered to exist in law by the courts, and parliaments then set about resolving the complex legal issues that arose from the court's decision. Marriage however is a power of the parliament. Had Native Title had to be created from scratch then advocates of Native Title would have been working through the legal issues and presenting their case for exactly what laws should be made.

      There might be polygamous people seeking that there relationships be recognised as "marriage" in Australia, but generally whenever I see someone arguing the case for polygamous marriage it is actually an opponent of same-sex marriage trying to wedge or distract the SSM debate. If there is a poly-marriage movement here then it is up to them to explain what exactly they are seeking - because in the SSM case it is completely obvious, but in the poly-marriage case it isn't (because of the complications I mentioned).

      I mentioned there might be more, and the more is this. Allowing mixed-sex marriages but not same-sex marriages is simply senseless discrimination because of the diversity of mixed-sex marriages we already recognise. When we consider the types of mixed-sex marriages we already allow, the only thing that they have in common that no same-sex marriage would share is that they all involve couples of the opposite sex. On this basis it is simply unjust for the state to recognise one and not the other; either we allow same-sex marriages or we disallow many existing mixed-sex marriages.

      For the same thing to fly with respect of poly-marriages we would have to establish that there is no relevant property distinguishing all two-person marriages from all poly-"marriages", save the number of people involved. But I don't think it is at all circular to maintain that the number of people involved directly creates a range of relevant properties (including clarity of agency as already outlined, and possibly concepts of exclusivity).

    2. Kevin, courts only interpret laws made by Parliaments (in the case of Native Title that law was the Constitution itself) so trying to argue a distinction between "complex legal issues" created by Parliament directly or through the Court's interpretation of what Parliament has done is entirely specious. Dance as much as you like, logically if you argue for SSM in a liberal democracy you must also support in principle the removal of ALL legal restrictions against ANY form of marriage between consenting adults. That certainly includes both incestuous relationships freely entered into by consenting adults and all forms of polygamous marriage.

      Despite the weakness of your "complex legal issues" defence you'd better hold on to it tight as you'll certainly need it the years ahead. The gay community first splintered into LGB, then LGBT, then LGBTI and most recently LGBTIQ. Each has their own agenda regarding "equality" and responding to their respective priorities is going to raise complex social, cultural, economic and legal issues that leave SSM in the shade. It's already obvious that gender identity is emerging as the next battleground.

      Finally let me express my disappointment that to bolster your argument you feel the need to malign the motives of others. First there was the bestiality / troll link, now the put-down that drawing attention to the logical connection between SSM and other restrictions on marriage is just a "wedge" or "distraction". Your arguments for SSM do not make you morally or ethically superior to anyone else. Ad hominem attacks don't help civil debate. Please respect people who have a sincere and well founded view on this issue that's just different to yours and who are simply challenging you to reflect on the implications of what you are saying.

    3. Actually the Australian constitution was approved by the Australian people by referendum and is amended by them by referendum. It is true that the consent of a parliament was involved in this process but that was the UK Parliament rubber-stamping it over 100 years ago when "native title" was not even under consideration. Your claim that my distinction (with the consideration of a freshly proposed State recognition of a newly-discovered "right") is "entirely specious" is therefore entirely wrong, and also one of entirely clueless and entirely disingenuous.

      That's the only new argument you've added there so your hollow restatement of your claim that my position is weak, and your hollow reassertment of your original question as suddenly fact can both be ignored.

      The troll comment was not aimed at you but aimed at another poster who was obviously arguing in a particularly silly way (including a bogus accusation that I wasn't answering the question) and I feel it is reasonable to flag that such a person may be doing so deliberately; it is my long experience on the internet that they usually are. The alternative to insulting their motives is insulting their intelligence and it is hard to know which is the better response to such rubbish.

      You're also being a bit of a mimophant here (go look it up) by whinging about me referring to wedges and distractions when you were happy to dish out dismissive rubbish like "You have to try harder with your rationalisations" and the passive-aggressive "Sorry Kevin". So try debating "civilly" yourself in the first place or else take your sooking to someone who cares.

      I will respect the arguments against same-sex marriage when respectable arguments against it are advanced. So far in many years of this stonewalling there have been none, just an endless stream of pointless discrimination, religious nonsense and illogic. I do not claim to be any kind of moral or ethical saint or even that being either of those things is important, but at least I do not succumb to a belief that is utterly unwarranted in response to simplistic wedge arguments.

      It is staggering that people whose position is that the law should disrespect same-sex couples by refusing to grant them equal rights, expect their view to be respected. It is fundamentally hypocritical. If you have a sincere view that respect is important then put it into practice by respecting the right of others to equal treatment. If you don't then don't expect it back.

      I do not respect views that are clearly not well-founded just because the person holding them claims to have a well-founded view.

  7. Brexit: I actually didn't have strong views on whether the UK should Leave or Remain and I sympathise with certain of the Leave arguments as alluded to in the article. But the post-vote reaction has made the scale of clueless and stupid voting, and unpreparedness for the actual outcome even among many ardent Leave supporters clear.

    The problem with your claim about polls is that polls have shown much the same result no matter who has commissioned them. I do agree that politicians have failed to properly represent the people on this issue however; had they done so we would not still be having the debate.

    The "fundamental building block" stuff is rubbish firstly because only a small number of families are same-sex families and secondly because same-sex parenting rights exist irrespective of the marriage debate anyway.

    I have already explained why my argument does not commit me to suppoorting polygamy or bigamy. To ignore my counter-argument and plow on re-asserting something I've dealt with without addressing my reply is stupid and further posts that argue in this manner will be rejected in full.

    I do not see why a person whose party does not support a plebiscite should be criticised for not wishing to accept the result of a plebiscite they don't support. The option of a binding referendum is irrelevant at this time as it is not on the table.

    To claim that all opposition to gay marriage constitutes "hate speech" is false as can be seen from jurisdictions where same-sex marriage has been legalised but people continue to express some views against it. I have expressed views against excessive restrictions on so-called "hate speech" on this site before, but whether such speech should be legal or not wasn't the point in this article.

    I think we should wait for the facts to be clearer concerning whether the Orlando killer himself had sex with men. Claims have been made but some have also been investigated and debunked. Anyway he wouldn't be the first homophobe to have had issues with his own sexuality even if these claims are true.

    If your very weak arguments are what passes for "common sense" then that is exactly why it does not live on this site.

  8. G'day Kevin,
    I've got say that I really disagree with the sentence "But the post-vote reaction has made the scale of clueless and stupid voting, and unpreparedness for the actual outcome even among many ardent Leave supporters clear." because the vast majority of commentary I've seen about this has come from "Remain" supporters generally confusing what they want to be the truth with what is actually the truth. Have another read of those articles and see how many are written by prominent members of the "Leave" campaign and how many of them directly quote "Leave" supporters. Very few is the answer and there is a hell of a lot of verbally going on. The really scary thing that Brexit has shown is how unwilling some sections of the community are to accept democratic outcomes that are not to their liking, the pure vitriol of some of the runners up is alarming.
    The other thing that confuses me about Brexit is the surprise at the result, didn't anyone else look at all the polls? They were neck and neck for months and some of the polls that showed "Remain" ahead only did so because of changes in methodology rather than a change in poll responses, all of this should have led any reasonable person to accept that a "Leave" result was very possible (I couldn't believe when I saw the bookies had "Leave" at $5, I wish I had put more than a tenner on it).
    Sometimes I wonder if our society is still mature enough to handle democracy.

  9. The sentence was badly worded on my part. I only intended to attribute unpreparedness for the outcome to ardent Leave supporters, and not "the scale of clueless and stupid voting" as well. There is abundant anecdotal evidence of remorse among a portion of Leave voters, such that there is no way it is all fabricated by Remainers. At some stage in the future there is bound to be polling that tries to dig down into how people voted and whether they wish they'd voted differently (which may eventually be the case on both sides). Yes, now that the vote has happened people have to accept the outcome and deal with it; calls for a revote or retrospective threshhold are just silly. Some people might think there should not have been such a vote in the first place but the fact is that a government with a mandate committed to hold one.

    As for the betting odds, I believe there was a widespread belief that voters would react conservatively at the end even if the polls had been close during the campaign. However the belief that voters behave this way is actually empirically incorrect - the most unusual aspect of the vote was that voters voted against the will of their national leader. The final polls did generally point to a Remain lead but not unanimously and it was foolish for anyone to place too much trust in them after their failure at the general election.

  10. I guess peoples' initial reactions to the vote are largely irrelevant because they are so emotionally driven and we'll have to wait months and years to get an accurate idea of what people really think.
    The most interesting aspect of the vote for me was that it is another data point in the debate about the "shy conservative". There appears to be some evidence for this in European results in the last couple of years but not so much here in Australia. I wonder if compulsory voting removes the turn out issues seen in other countries.

  11. 1. There is no reason to believe that clueless voting was more prevalent on the Leave side than on the Remain side of the Brexit referendum. Nor is there any reason to believe that MPs are less clueless than ordinary voters when it comes to soothsaying as to whether Brexit is going to be to the UK's economic advantage or not. After all, all the Brexit = Doom merchants were the very same fellows from the previous fixture from a few years back- Keeping the Pound = Doom. By their fruit ye shall know them. Economic soothsaying aside, the question of who has the final say in deciding on the UK's laws is not a complicated one, requiring input from "experts." Ordinary voters are perfectly competent to work that out. And while we're on cluelessness, its now obvious that the "experts" - ie the people actually running the UK government, made precisely zero contingency plans for dealing with Brexit should the voters choose it, as they did. They're just starting to think about it now. So what price "experts" eh ?

    2. I agree with Dr Kevin that it's inappropriate and insulting to have referenda about what consenting adults choose to get up to - it's nobody's business but their own. However, since nine tenths of government is devoted precisely to telling consenting adults what they may and may not do, it's not obvious why the same sex marriage thing should be specially singled out for protection from the admitted horrors of democracy. Indeed since laws forbidding same sex marriage don't affect what you are actually allowed to do, and are merely the denial of a government rubber stamp conferring official recognition of what you're doing, such laws are actually less of a stomp on liberty than most laws.

  12. Yes, I agree that there were probably just as many people voting Remain for bad reasons as voting Leave. You just don't hear about them because they have nothing to express remorse over since they don't have to live with the consequences of their vote. And even if Remain had won, in the absence of change there probably wouldn't have been such an outpouring. The comments re "experts" are interesting because anti-expert sentiment was exploited and fuelled by the Leave camp.

    I also agree that the liberty angle in the same-sex marriage debate is fairly slight (previously I described it as "a breach of the freedom to be "married" in a certain way - and also a senseless restriction on the business rights of the celebrant."). However I also find it particularly clear-cut. So while I'm happy to argue that that alone is conclusive reason for change, there are plenty of other reasons. One of them is that the state should not officially endorse a nonsensical and discriminatory approach to an issue, since this can only serve to miseducate and to make the government seem both heartless and clueless.

    From time to time I may fire up about other State interventions in the lives of consenting adults, if I find the cases against them similarly clear-cut. Sometimes (guns most obviously) it turns out that I don't.

  13. Well an obvious analogy is the minimum wage. Two consenting adults ? Check. Any obvious differences with same sex marriage ? Yup - it's not just the denial of an official stamp for what you're doing, it's actually creating fines and penalties for disobeying. Making certain voluntary agreements illegal. And it does have a knock on effect on third parties - it puts the price of goods and services up.

    But this is just one of a thousand - nah, tens of thousands - of examples of Mr Bureaucrat preferring his opinion to the opinion of consenting adults. Government really does spend very little time and effort chasing rapists and burglars, and an enormous amount of time telling people how to mind their own business. What's special about the EU is that it actually spends NONE of its time and effort on the legitimate functions of government and ALL of its time and effort interposing itself between the agreements of consenting adults. That's a very special form of government !

  14. The worse take away from Brexit is the ramping up of xenophobic violence in the UK that's been unleashed. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that similar dark undercurrents could be seen directed at the LGBTI community here.
    Parliament's job is to make (and change) laws. This is a simple change to the Marriage Act. There is no good reason for a public vote.

  15. ""Christian" homophobes do not generally engage in such acts of lethal terrorism on behalf of their cause, "

    Actually, right-wing Christian terrorism is quite common in the US, certainly *far* more common that Islamic terrorism. The news media tends to suppress the repeated reports of individual assaults and murders. The FBI gets pressured not to report the Christian political links of killers. It's the same group of extremists who murder doctors for performing abortions.

    Here in the US we have an active Christian nationalist movement which wants to replace our democracy with a Christian theocracy. They have engaged in a huge amount of lethal terrorism; the FBI actually keeps tabs on it but has been pressured not to refer to it as Christian terrorism. The media makes endless excuses to pretend that these mass shootings, clinic bombings, etc. are not Christian-linked (even though nearly all the terrorists have manifestos which make it clear that they are) and they avoid using the word "terrorism" -- but it's Christian terrorism nonetheless.

    I am not aware of any other country in the developed world, with the exception of Northern Ireland, where Christian terrorism is an *active movement*. Certainly not Australia. Lucky you.