same-sex marriage

What Will Happen if Australia Votes 'No'

Surprisingly, it'd be the last thing the Liberals want.

by Royce Kurmelovs
23 August 2017, 1:11am

Image by Flickr user Prachatai

So instead of Australia's parliament voting on same-sex marriage and dealing with it like every other issue that's come before our elected representatives, we've just gone through a national, non-binding, postal vote on the issue to double check where we all stand.

Today, the results of that vote will be announced at 10 AM. And while we're pretty sure (hopeful) the answer will be "Yes," there's a chance it won't be. So what happens if people vote "No"? Or more specifically, what happens if a lot of people vote "No" and the results are extremely close? Will the Federal Government see that as enough of an impetus to legislate on the issue?

"A 'No' vote would be a disaster," political scientist Pr Dennis Altman told VICE. "It would send a message that the most narrow-minded and intolerant section of Australia has triumphed."

Altman is a gay rights activist who published After Homosexual in 1971 and has been writing about the politicised nature of homosexuality in Australia ever since.

"I think the reality is that the right wing have made marriage a much bigger issue than it really is, but what people are voting about is a basic recognition of sexual diversity," he says.

In this way, a 'No' vote would ostensibly cut down a blooming civil right movement, while the political fallout for would be dramatic and complex for both parties.

"If a 'No' vote were to turn, it would be dreadful for the Liberals and dreadful for the ALP," says Mark Egelstaff, former Liberal Staffer. "You look at the front page of The Australian the other day, which had Shorten out there campaigning for same-sex marriage. So if a 'No' vote comes back, he hasn't been able to campaign successfully. Turnbull's in favour of it, but said he wouldn't go out there campaigning, so no one wins."

Essentially, a 'No' vote means a draw which in turn means the issue does not get resolved or go away. On the face of it, the Liberal Party is at a disadvantage in that situation, given that the Labor Party has promised a free vote. Though this does not mean all Labor MPs would vote for marriage equality when it came to the crunch, it disadvantage the Liberal Party who would be locked into a position opposing same-sex marriage at the next election.

Therefore everything would stay the same, but the frustration would grow and for the Liberal Party at least, this would express itself as further tensions between its factions. The moderate side of the Liberal Party aren't willing to give up on same-sex marriage, while the conservative side has largely said it would respect the result of the vote, gambling on the fact that a postal vote loads the dice against a 'Yes' vote.

This would then ripple out within the Liberal Party, which has seen tensions rise between its various divisions. One Liberal Party staffer, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity so they could speak freely, said that same-sex marriage was inevitable but the failure to deal with it was amping up tensions within the party between the moderates and the right wing.

While it was unlikely, their worst case scenario was that the long-term consequences would see elements among the Liberal Party's right-wing embark on a "scorched earth" campaign and the possibility of a leadership challenge.

Such a scenario would be extremely unlikely, they added, because there isn't a clear successor in the Liberal Party who might make the challenge. While Julie Bishop is seen as competent, they didn't think she had the numbers. Scott Morrison was favoured for a while as Immigration Minister, but not since. Tony Abbott is about the only one who seems to think he has a shot at the Prime Ministership again.

The takeaway is that everyone, aside from a small group of moralists and populists, is counting on an overwhelming "Yes" vote to be returned. Without that, the whole thing continues as it is, soaking up time, resources and generating more negative media stories about the inability of politics to get anything done, while denying a small community basic civil rights.

Follow Royce on Twitter