I am a 31 year old heterosexual male vexed by complex and highly nuanced opinions. What business is it of mine whether or not a same-sex couple can legally be defined as a marriage? Do people like me have any right to speak our mind, voice our concerns, or otherwise contribute to the conversation in any way? In other words, does my opinion matter?
I ask this question because last night the Australian Senate made a final decision to block the bill for the proposed February 2017 plebiscite on the legalisation of same-sex marriage. The reason most commonly cited against the bill was fear that allowing a public debate would incite hate speech. As Penny Wong said, “We oppose this bill because we do not want our families and our children publicly denigrated.” Pretty strong words! How can a matter of federal law be off limits to public discourse? This position only starts to make sense once you add in the other (not so oft quoted) part of the argument. Many advocates for change claim that this is a ‘rights’ issue and therefore the majority doesn’t get a say (because it doesn’t concern them). I.e. The Australian people don’t get to vote on this issue because it’s none of their business!!
Now, I am not writing this article to defend anyone’s opinion or even to advocate for my own preferred course of action. I will not discuss rights, or discrimination, or freedom of speech, or the common good, or the ideals of democracy. My contribution to the discussion today is much simpler. It can be expressed in three little words…
My opinion matters.
This is not so much an argument as a reality check. Like it or not, at the end of the day it is I, along with all the other heterosexual men and women in Australia, who ultimately have the final say. We comprise the vast majority. There can be no social change without us.
Although changes to the Marriage Act may not directly affect us, and we could not possibly suppose to understand what it’s like to be excluded by a heteronormative society, the fact remains that we are that society. If things are going to change, it means we have to change.
In some ways those who advocate for a change in law by arguing that ‘nothing will happen’, have hit upon a real truth. Does it really matter what the law says if the majority do not accept it? Changing the law will not miraculously change public opinion. It will not heal division or resolve disputes. Advocates, opponents, and young men vexed by complex opinions, will all remain. Debates, disagreements, homophobia, bigotry, love, kindness, and acts of solidarity will continue to be a part of the social landscape.
So where to from here? The first thing to realise is that, like it or not, we’re all in this together. This means that every time we tell someone they ‘don’t get a say’, we alienate the very people that we need to make change happen. It blocks communication and prevents the issue from being properly resolved. In my experience, when a person feels that their voice has not been heard, it just makes them want to speak louder. We don’t need louder voices. We need to listen to each other, work out our differences together, and learn to get along.
Bringing this back to the issue at hand, if the goal is social change, if same-sex couples want to be recognised, accepted, respected, and celebrated, then my opinion matters. I do indeed have a say, and so does everyone else. The definition of marriage is most definitely everyone’s business.