The voice of the pleb-iscite

Raj Gupta

It is hard to ignore this week’s advances in our national discussion about same sex marriage. Paul Sheehan wrote an excellent piece in this week’s SMH (12 Aug 2015):

‘For those who believe that legalising same-sex marriage is a moral imperative and a social inevitability, the announcement …. that [the Abbott] government would commit to a national plebiscite on the issue should have been welcomed as good news.

‘Instead, in yet another sign of just how unnecessarily and ironically intolerant the debate has become, [it] was treated in the media and social media as Machiavellian and undemocratic….’

Only 11 years ago the Marriage Act was intentionally changed to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Whichever side one may support, there is good reason not be too hasty to write such a radical social change, and one with such significant consequences into law. 

As Sheehan notes, ‘there has been a growing, and counter-productive, use of accusations of "bigotry" against supporters of the traditional definition of marriage, ironically in the name of tolerance. This helps no one.’ Good debate leads to good policy. Bad debate, or a silenced  debate, leads to bad policy. 

Following the Coalition discussions, there are promising signs of a more balanced national debate – such as Sheehan’s article; and a stunning interview with Katy Faust: a woman who grew up with lesbian parents who so gracefully yet firmly argued against recognising same sex marriage, whilst affirming her love for her lesbian parents. 

Furthermore, there is now a greater opportunity to acknowledge the ‘contraction of freedom of speech and freedom of belief that has occurred in Canada and some US States’ (and other places around the world).

One can and should love people (that is why Jesus came – to die for all people). But that is different to agreeing with the behaviours and values of people. And that is different again to basing our society on these behaviours.

Whether or not one embraces the love of Jesus for forgiveness and justification, the Bible is still the place that God speaks to humanity. All still can learn the best way to order our society.

Perhaps a plebiscite is the best way to hear the voice of 'the plebs'. Yet, Sheehan’s last line is chilling: ‘in the end, it may be the rights of those unable to vote in a plebiscite – children – which emerge as the dormant and critical issue of this debate.’