The ‘No’ Campaign Can Afford To Be Gracious Because It Had Nothing At Stake

Today we got to witness something that I personally believed would never happen: a day in Australian politics whose net emotional impact was a positive one. Unlike every other day in the hell that is ~#auspol~, we didn’t have to scrape through a mountain of garbage to eke out a tiny bit of encouragement, a big gay basket of joy was delivered directly to our doorstep, wrapped in a big ol’ homosexual bow. The postal survey came back ‘yes’.

I’d like to pretend there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the goodness of Australians would prevail, but that would be a lie. After Trump and Brexit,  it’s tough to place too much stock in things like polls and people not being assholes, also – just generally – I’m of the mind that good things don’t happen to me and I should brace for the worst at all times. For once, though, it turns out life is good.

The moment the dude from the ABS finished his endless-seeming 10-minute-long preamble and announced that 61.6% of Australians showed their support for marriage equality (and that 0.2% of Australians either don’t know how to fill out the form or love drawing dicks on forms), I began looking forward to two things: the celebration from the ‘yes’ campaign, and the crushing, visible disappointment of the ‘no’ campaign. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe, but I reckon maybe spending all your time, energy, and cash campaigning to keep gay people down makes you a bad person. So, uh, we’re all different.

We definitely got a lot of the former. For some of us, celebrating meant silently fist-pumping at our desks in triumph. For others, it meant being part of a giant screaming, crying, rapturous crowd or having a spontaneous dance party with Magda Szubanski. Some lucky ducks finally got to propose to their partners.

‘Yes’ supporters are ecstatic, and rightly so. We endured an unnecessary nightmare process and were rewarded for our infinite patience and perseverance with a win.

It’s difficult to imagine how it might have looked if it came back ‘no’. Having to go through this degrading, relentless exercise in having our worth evaluated in public only to find out that Australia decided they didn’t want us as part of society would have been heartbreaking. I know I would have had a hard time maintaining any sort of composure today and I expect quite a few queer people feel the same. Losing the postal survey would have absolutely ruined a substantial amount of ‘yes’ campaigners. The flip side, however, didn’t appear to be true.

The schadenfreude I so craved from seeing conservative figures tear up on camera as they imagined adorable, immoral dog marriages was remarkably absent. Anti-marriage equality politicians, lobbyists and media figures largely (not universally, though) seemed to accept the results with casual resignation and even sincere congratulations, something you definitely would not expect from their opposites if the survey had gone the other way.

Lyle Shelton, director of the Australian Christian Lobby, spent the last few months (if not his entire life) working himself into a tizzy trying to conflate marriage equality with every single bit of social progress that makes religious conservatives terrified. If you were to believe the picture Shelton painted in his many, many TV appearances and apocalyptic press releases, the moment two dudes are granted a marriage certificate in Australia, all the plants will start trying to murder us like in ‘The Happening‘.

Despite his apparently intractable belief that marriage equality is the worst possible thing that could ever happen, the mood from Shelton at the press conference he held immediately after the announcement this morning was congratulatory and, at times, even borderline upbeat.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who has been an outspoken opponent of marriage equality (just as he was an outspoken opponent of decriminalising homosexuality in Tasmania), was similarly non-plussed, congratulating the ‘yes’ side as if it was a hard-fought ping pong match and not the beginning of the collapse of his moral universe.

Again, strong ‘no’ voice and LNP senator Matt Canavan was positively chipper when he spoke to ABC News this morning, objecting only in terms of wanting to make sure the bill had specific exemptions to anti-discrimination laws (not a huge red flag at all).

There was no rioting in the streets. No videos of tearful ‘no’ campaigners vowing to take arms against the forthcoming gay fascist state. A person could say that that’s because the ‘no’ campaign are more composed, reasonable, tolerant people. That person would be a dickhead with a dumbass’s understanding of the world.

There’s a reason these people have all spoken about the decision as if they just lost a game to a more component opponent, and that’s because to them it is a game. To the ‘yes’ campaign, losing the postal survey would have represented a genuine existential threat, queer people would have effectively lost any political mandate to have their rights recognised. Even beyond politics, it would call into question our place in society – how do you go about your day knowing that’s how the country feels about you? For the ‘no’ campaign, on the other hand, losing the postal survey just represents a minor strategic quibble.

Tomorrow morning Lyle Shelton will wake up and his world will be completely the same. On the morning after marriage equality is legislated, Lyle will have the same half-hearted shower wank and eat the same bowl of cereal. Queer people had everything to lose, but Lyle and his ilk won’t be inconvenienced beyond having to think of another thing to scaremonger about to keep religious conservatism an important element of the country’s political landscape.

It’s not surprising that they’re so willing to drop their arguments when they preached them so disingenously. Lyle Shelton argued that a ‘yes’ vote was a ‘yes’ to Safe Schools. Tony Abbott argued that the ‘yes’ vote was a ‘yes’ for the very nebulous concept of ‘political correctness’. Are they going to keep arguing that point now that the country has apparently voted in favour of those things?

The Coalition for Marriage argued that marriage equality would mean religious people would be forced to act against their conscience by having to provide goods or services to gay people, disregarding the fact that it is already illegal to discriminate in that fashion thanks to the anti-discrimination laws in each state and territory.

All of them argued that it’s morally reprehensible to allow a child raised by same-sex parents to miss out on having a mother or a father, and yet none of them are lobbying for it to be illegal for people to be raised by single parents (can’t imagine the optics on that would be great).

Their arguments are spurious because, ultimately, there is no tangible concern for them. Nothing bad will happen. This is just another PR battle in an ongoing culture war and winning would have made it easier for them to claim that their distaste for queer people is a distaste shared by the majority of Australians.

You would expect that anyone who truly believed that marriage equality represented a fundamental unravelling of society would do anything in their power to stop it from coming to fruition instead of just shrugging their shoulders and moving onto the next hurdle (making sure bakers are allowed to grill you on whether or not you are gay before charging you $1,500 for one cake).

It was easy for the ‘no’ campaign to make fun of how emotional queer people got about the postal survey and to act baffled at how apprehensive we were at the idea, because they were truly incapable of understanding what it was like for the ‘debate’ to actually mean something on a personal level. Matt Canavan felt comfortable telling those upset to “grow a spine” because for him the postal survey was a purely intellectual exercise that would not have an impact on his life either way.

For queer people, today was a momentous moment in a struggle for rights in a world that doesn’t fully accept us. For ‘no’ campaigners, it was a Wednesday.