Today I am so pleased to welcome Welton B. Marsland to Joyfully Jay. Welton has come to talk to us about the results of Australia’s recent survey on the Marriage Act, as well as the author’s upcoming release, By the Currawong’s Call (which I adored beyond reason and will be reviewing on Monday). Please join me in giving Welton a big welcome!
When fellow Australian author Kim Kelly reviewed my novel, By the Currawong’s Call last month, she ended with a wry observation – “…a tale with a very timely message: people in love will marry whether it’s legal or not.” Currawong was written some time ago now, but its final edits were made as the parliamentary rhetoric regarding marriage equality in Australia ramped up; its pre-release period has run concurrently with a fraught public “debate” while every Australian on the electrol roll was asked their opinion on same-sex marriage via a voluntary postal survey; its release on November 20 will come just five days after the announcement of that survey’s results. As I write, the country is less than two hours away from finding out if the wait and the stress has been worth it.
The only people who really wanted this postal survey were those opposed to changing the Marriage Act (it was an excellent delaying tactic) and our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who, although a conservative, has long been an outspoken supporter of marriage equality – until he landed the top job. As soon as finding himself leader, Turnbull has been hamstrung at every turn by the powerful ultra-conservative, hard right faction of his party. If he’s wanted to remain party leader, he’s had to appease those voices, thus the LGBTQI community got thrown under a bus. Weak. But here we are.
Turnbull simpered that he was sure the Australian people would provide only “respectful debate”. Cue houses displaying Yes posters being vandalised with swastikas. Cue trans kids being attacked. Cue flyer drops equating homosexuals with paedophiles. Think of the children! (but not the queer children or the children with same-sex parents who were being told their families were wrong and broken)
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, perhaps the loudest voice of the No campaign, said at the outset “If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote ‘No’, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote ‘No’ because voting ‘No’ will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.”
The whole thing has been unnecessary (the Australian public has been calling for this change for literally years, all parliamentarians had to do was their jobs) and expensive ($122 million of taxpayer’s money), only to have the result be non-binding anyhow – that’s right, the government doesn’t even have to abide by the outcome if it doesn’t want to. And, spoiler alert! This government really doesn’t want to.
Thankfully, a draft Bill with powerful cross-party support behind it has already been written up and is ready to go in the Senate this afternoon, should this morning’s result be a “Yes”. The fact that this draft Bill already has the approval of the Labor Party caucus plus the endorsement of the leader of the Greens, gives me a strange twisty feeling – I think it’s called hope. We just have to get that “Yes” result this morning and the wheels can start turning.
I didn’t expect to actually cry at the result. And I didn’t for the actual stats – a resounding YES, 61.6% of the vote (versus 38% for No), a majority Yes in every state and territory – but I came undone at how proudly our Head Statistician announced that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (for it was they the government saddled with this postal vote, not the Electoral Commission) had brought in this project not only on time but under budget (by more than $22 million). What sort of government department ever does that? We should get the ABS to do everything from now on!
My Twitter feed was quickly overflowing with love and joy. Photos and videos of the public parties that were breaking out everywhere filled the timeine. Engagements were announced! Video of the moment Australia’s highest ranking lesbian, Senator Penny Wong, heard the result made tears flow again and again, no matter how many times it was watched. A good friend posted a photo of the celebratory gin & tonic he’d just made and a response said, very eloquently I thought, “If they give you lemons – the bar is open!”
The ABS, being the brilliant, wonderful nerds that they are, had reams of statistics, maps and infographics already ready to go and as these started making the rounds, there were truly heartwarming facts revealed. For instance, all of our most repugnantly No politicians found themselves with electorates that voted Yes. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbot, who’d said the vote was about free speech, freedom of religion and stopping political correctness in its tracks, was told by the people of not just Australia, but his own seat of Warringah to shut the hell up – a whopping 75% of his constituents voted Yes. It’s a sad day to be Tony Abbott, and it’s thoroughly deserved.
The Marriage Act should be amended by Christmas. We can’t relax just yet though, of course. That draft Bill with strong cross-party support will get its first reading this afternoon, but No campaigners are already circling like seagulls around someone eating chips. They’re going to do everything they can to strong-arm their own amendments into the Bill, maybe not quite so enshrining-discrimination-into-law as their own Bill might have been, but we all know they’ll definitely try to ruin it (it’s likely to get through, so of course they’ll try).
To think, had this postal vote been an actual referendum instead of a non-compulsory, non-binding survey that spent a lot of money to simply tell the govenerment what the public had been telling it for years anyhow, then the result of a clear majority for Yes in every state and territory would mean that the law would be changed pretty much now. That’s an angry-making thought, but this is where we’re at.
LGBTQI Australians are well aware that our government, as it currently stands, is prepared to throw us under a bus (some of them, with great glee). But this vote has at least shown us that a great majority of our fellow Aussies not only don’t hate us, but want us to have the same rights they do. It’s nice to know, in this age of trolling and gutter politics, that a majority of your countrymen have the desire to look forwards toward progress.
And here’s another nice thing to know: when the postal survey was announced, Australians were encouraged to make sure their electoral roll details were up to date, a consequence of which was that 98,000 people who weren’t already registered signed up – 65,000 of them in the 18-24 age group, which overhelmingly supports progress. That’s a whole lot of new people voting at the next Federal election (and, yes, the vast majority of them will vote; we have compulsory voting in Australian elections).
Today, we made history. And very soon, this government of reactionary, backwards-looking, angry, insecure, little gremlins will be history.
“Things are supposed to progress, y’know, we’re not supposed to just keep on doing the same old shitty things because that’s how they’ve always bloody been.”
– By the Currawong’s Call
Anglican priest Matthew Ottenshaw receives his first posting in tiny Dinbratten, two days’ ride from his Melbourne home. Determined to honour his calling as best he can, he throws himself into the footy mad, two-pub town, navigating the dusty streets, learning the gossip, and striking up a friendship with Jonah Parks, the resident police sergeant and local bona fide hero.
A police officer and a priest often find themselves needed at the same place, and Jonah and Matthew’s friendship deepens quickly, as they set about their business of protecting the bodies and souls of Dinbratten’s residents. When a bushfire threatens the town, and Matthew’s inexperience with fire endangers the church buildings, Jonah comes to the rescue, and a reckless kiss in the midst of the chaos takes their friendship to forbidden.
Neither Matthew nor Jonah can go back to the way things were before, but continuing their relationship puts everything at risk: their jobs, their friends, even their lives. In the outback town of Dinbratten where everyone knows everything about everyone else, how can they ever expect to keep a secret this explosive?
Welton B. Marsland grew up in a township even smaller than the one in “By the Currawong’s Call”. With a background in hospitals, WBM has also spent three years covering the Melbourne International Comedy Festival as a reviewer, has had a story displayed at the National Gallery of Victoria, and even been banned in the state of Queensland. A queer-punk history geek who flits between nature walks, dinky bars, footy matches and live music gigs, WBM lives in the great city of Melbourne with an ex-Army sword-slinger and three idiosyncratic cats.