If Australia votes on same sex marriage, openly gay Murray Bridge resident Michael Collins fears it will become a “nasty campaign” against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
This morning, the Senate again blocked the federal government’s proposed $525 million mandatory plebiscite, which would have ensured all Australians deliver a vote.
Instead, the federal government will now issue a voluntary postal vote, costing taxpayers $122 million, if a High Court challenge is unsuccessful.
Mr Collins is concerned a national debate would be deeply hurtful and offensive to LGBT families.
“If this poisonous, expensive and non-binding plebiscite goes ahead, I have no doubt Australians will vote in favour of marriage equality but the debate fills me with dread,” he said.
“Whilst the majority of the Australian people would be respectful, the minority will be just as vocal and it’s their words that will be quite damaging.”
Mr Collins said his biggest fear was for the LGBT youth.
“Teenagers will hear negative and hurtful views about them and their relationships being second class, and children of LGBT families will hear untruths about their families and their parents relationships being less important,” he said.
“It’s hard growing up, realising your gay and feeling isolated… it’s a huge reason for depression and anxiety in young LGBT people as they feel the weight of negative reinforcements from society.”
He said marriage equality was about ending discrimination.
“Our local liberal parliamentarians say this is an issue about which ‘decent people’ can disagree… I struggle with that because ‘decent people’ generally don’t support discrimination of any kind,” he said.
“I was asked ‘shouldn’t bakers have the right to not bake a cake for a same sex marriage if they oppose it?’ and I said absolutely not… it wouldn’t be acceptable for them to refuse to make a cake for a black person so they shouldn’t be able to discriminate against anyone.”
Instead of a plebiscite, Mr Collins said the Members of Parliament should simply do the job they are paid to do.
“It could be resolved by the end of the week with a free vote in Parliament if the Liberal National Coalition would drop their intransigence and allow the democratically elected Members of Parliament to do their jobs,” he said.
Without his “basic right to marry”, Mr Collins said he still felt like a second-class citizen.
“We are all supposed to be equal citizens in Australia but at the moment, we (LGBT community) are not in the eyes of the law,” he said.
On Monday, Mr Collins took his concerns to Member for Barker Tony Pasin.
“We discussed religious freedom and I told him I would defend people’s right to religious freedom but freedom ends when it infringes on other’s peoples rights,” he said.
Mr Pasin told The Standard that he trusted society to debate the issue of marriage equality in a respectful way that will not be hurtful or cause distress.
“My hope is that debates such as this will continue to bring the people of this Nation together, united in their freedom to express their views and influence outcomes one way or the other, as has been the Australian way up to this point,” he said.
He said redefining marriage was a major social change that required the support of the people to be successful.
“I want the people of Barker to have their chance to voice their views on this matter and have their say,” he said.
However, he said marriage equality was not a priority for the people of Barker.
“Over the Parliamentary break I spent considerable time door knocking constituents in my electorate. Not once was this this brought up as a matter of concern,” he said.
“The clear majority of people I have spoken to, including some who support same sex marriage agree with the Coalition policy of allowing this matter to be decided by all Australians, not 226 politicians.”
In response to Mr Collins’ concerns for the LBGT community during the debate, Mr Pasin said he would be the first to call out any hurtful or disrespectful behaviour.
“Leaders in this country need to stand up as an example and contribute to the debate respectfully. They also need to call out those in our society that do not act in a respectful manner,” he said.
Mr Pasin said he would respect the result of a plebiscite.
“I personally believe in the traditional definition of marriage, that it is between a man and a woman… I will however, vote in Parliament based on the will of the people as determined by a plebiscite,” he said.
A postal vote would see ballot papers in mailboxes from September 12 and a result declared on November 15.