27 March 2013

Should same-sex marriage be put to a referendum?

As Members of Parliament twist and turn under the pressure of a conscience vote on the amendment to the Marriage Act that would allow for same-sex marriage, some might support moves to put the matter to a referendum. After all, as this is a member's Bill pulled out of the hat, it was not an issue that was debated before the election, and many MPs may not see it as their role to decide for the people, given the degree of concern about it.
On the other hand, as a representative democracy, the people elect these MPs precisely for that purpose: to make decisions on our behalf, knowing that MPs will have access to much more information for and against any particular issue (and the time to consider it) than the average citizen. Those MPs who call for a referendum suffer from the indecisiveness of the proverbial possum caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. In this case, that vehicle is public anger.
The other problem with a referendum is that it would allow a majority to make a decision (for or against) on a matter of equality of rights for a minority. Not all members of the GLBT community wish to get married, but those who do are obviously a small minority of our society. Is it fair and just that the straight majority (who can enjoy the right to marry a person they love, regardless of whether they choose to have children as well) should be given the chance to 'allow' (or not) a small minority of equally law-abiding citizens the same opportunity?
I support the rights of all committed loving couples to unite in marriage. Life is short, and love is hard to find... so let them do it! And I am not satisfied that a public referendum on this particular issue is the right process, especially given the intemperate debate that would lead up to it.
A true democracy is not a tyranny of the majority where minorities get squashed simply because they are minorities and hence can never hope to sway a referendum.


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