The five key lessons to emerge from the same-sex marriage result

Senator Penny Wong with Sentor Sam Dastyari after the result in the same sex marriage survey at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 15 November 2017. Fedpol. Sexpol. Photo: Andrew Meares SEXPOL : Addvicates for the YES vote at Prince Alfred Park, Sydney celebrate the verdic of the postal vote on same sex marriage as YES wins in every state, on 15 November 2017. Photo: Jessica Hromas
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Finance Senator Mathias Cormann address the media after the result of the same-sex marriage postal survey result, at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 15 November 2017. fedpol sexpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

has rejoined the rights revolution. That’s the first of five key lessons to emerge from the outcome of the same-sex marriage vote.

The success of the campaign for marriage equality is the latest advance in a centuries-long movement that has extended rights to an ever-widening universe.

Torture, slavery, child marriage and capital punishment were all normal practices that have given way to the dawning of an era of universal human rights.

It was a movement that once led, during the n spring in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

South ‘s was the first legislature in the world to allow women to stand for parliament. pioneered in creating the eight-hour work day and the secret ballot. It invented the concept of a legal minimum living wage.

No longer a leader, on some measures has become a laggard. As the nation became more settled and more satisfied, it became more cautious.

is now poised to become the 26th country to allow same-sex marriage. Or the 27th if you recognise Mexico, where it’s legal in some jurisdictions.

The rights revolution that began around the time of the Age of Reason and the European Enlightenment has rarely proceeded in a simple linear movement but has met obstacles and reversals.

Eventually, however, the rocks in the river prove helpless against the flow of changing social attitudes. In contemporary ‘s case, John Howard and Tony Abbott have been the leading rocks.

The second lesson is that a new demonstration effect has been established. The last one cast a taboo, a political and psychological blockage that Howard’s conservative politics put in place against progressive causes 18 years ago.

“The assumption by the hard right in n politics since the 1999 republic referendum has been overturned by this result,” says the strategist for the Yes campaign, former Labor national secretary Tim Gartrell.

That assumption? “That they had a blocking silent majority of the n people, and all they had to do to stop progress was to hold a plebiscite or a referendum.”

It worked against the referendum campaign but has now failed. “I hope,” says Gartrell, “It encourages people to have a rethink about further steps to modernise n society like Indigenous recognition, a republic and other causes.”

Just as the failure of the republic referendum discouraged the ambition of n progressives, the success of this one is likely to energise them.

The third lesson is that scare campaigns, which have often been devastatingly effective in n politics, do not necessarily work.

The “No” campaign claims to have transformed a million yes votes into no votes.

The evidence does not support this. The first Newspoll published after the start of the campaign showed 57 per cent support for same-sex marriage and 34 per cent against, with 9 per cent undecided.

Assuming that the undecided vote split down the middle, this represented 61.5 per cent to 38.5 per cent. Meaning? The final results were almost exactly unchanged from the first poll.

The “no” campaign was based on fear – fear that religious rights would be assaulted and fear that children would be forced into radical sex education.

Why did this scare campaign fail where many others have succeeded? Perhaps it’s simply that ‘s mind was made up. Or perhaps the “no” campaign’s fears were just an expression of the fears of its own base and failed to resonate with the broader public.

The conclusion seems to be that a scare campaign has to be credible with the general public in order to work, and this one was not.

The fourth lesson is that immigration, and especially geographic concentrations of immigrant groups, can challenge a nation’s values and change its politics.

The early evidence is that the “no” vote was heavily concentrated in electorates where Muslim and Chinese and other ethnic communities are most intensely clustered.

Because this was a national survey and not an election based on electorates, this did not materially change the outcome.

But it starkly illuminates the potential power of these communities for future elections. The marginal federal electorates of Western Sydney have become the crucibles for national election campaigns, and this is exactly where these communities are at their strongest.

Future campaigns will be even more deliberately designed to engage their values and excite their interests. Yet we saw in the same-sex marriage survey that they are unrepresentative of the rest of the country.

There is a tension here. New immigrants of all creeds and colours are welcomed into without discrimination, yet some of these immigrants are not prepared to extend the same acceptance to others in their adopted country.

Finally, the survey result shows afresh the divisions that run through the constituencies of both the major political parties. Labor holds nine of the 10 seats most hostile to same-sex marriage, yet its leaders are exultantly in favour.

In the Coalition’s case, the plebiscite, invented by Abbott as an obstacle to progress, has been wielded by Malcolm Turnbull as an instrument of progress.

The most vocal of the Coalition’s “no” advocates will now make a great show of campaigning for protections for religious observance. Turnbull and his senior ministers will need to manage this carefully so that they have their say and achieve useful measures yet do not use procedural tricks to sabotage the entire project.

The “no” conservatives will not surrender, of course. Tony Abbott is already manoeuvring to make himself their champion. He’s less interested in the 75 per cent “yes” vote in his electorate of Warringah than in the 4.8 million people who voted no.

He sees these as the core of the religious and traditionalist movement he will now seek to lead, the reaction against the revolution, all the way to his second coming.

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