• This picture taken on September 10, 2017 shows demonstrators taking part in a same-sex marriage rally in Sydney. Image: AFP/Getty. (AFP/Getty. )
There is no question that the same-sex marriage postal survey created unnecessary heartache. But if we want change, we must accept the pain of transformation, writes Helen Razer.
Helen Razer

8 Nov 2017 - 9:59 AM  UPDATED 13 Nov 2017 - 9:37 AM

Delivery of votes to the marriage postal survey may have closed yesterday, but, gee, we shall long remember this time of “respectful debate”. We shall also remember those weeks when the term “respectful debate” no longer signified respect nor debate, but came to evoke something a bit closer to, “angry shouty purple dude entirely convinced that homosexuality is contagious.”

Oh, yes. There were, on the “Yes” side of things, a few purple moments. Or, really, more a shade of mauve. But perhaps when one’s own immoral influence is being “respectfully debated” on a national scale, a moment of distress is more warranted.

Would that we could say: I’m glad it’s over. It’s not over. With a government currently in disarray over citizenship—their own, that is; not of anyone I might actually care about—who knows whether the predicted “Yes” vote will result in legislation. This nation which has been unnecessarily divided for months may be divided for just a bit longer. There we’ll be. All of us. Coerced into having a strong opinion about something that may not affect us, or really be any of our business.

Nonetheless, there is always some pain that comes with social change

Such distraction can serve political parties very well. Anyone who has kids knows this. The last time I was permitted to babysit, I found that a shiny puppet distracted the four-year-old in my care quite effectively. It took hours for her to realise that I was a terrible babysitter, with no real idea about how to govern.

Actually, in this case, no real harm was done. Sure, little Adelia went home full of sugar, also wearing my second-best balconette bra. She may have also learned the term, “filthy capitalist running dog” as I watched the news, then repeated it back to her family. I am really a very poor leader of children. But, you know, I don’t tend to subject them to months of painful media debate about their legal status.

Same-Sex Marriage: How is Australia faring in the region?
With the results of Australia’s postal survey set to be announced on November 15, it’s a good time to pause and consider how Australia compares against other countries in the Asia Pacific on the recognition of same-sex marriage.

My point is one that has been made by others, some of them medically qualified to do so: the “respectful debate” demanded by a non-binding survey was potentially harmful. There is no question that this division provoked pain. There is no question that this particular pain was unnecessary; it was possibly even a shiny puppet tactic.

But, as I lay, utterly spent after my evening of incompetent babysitting (minus one bra, and all of my lollies) I began to think about pain.

The pain of the last few months, as I have said, was manufactured. Nonetheless, there is always some pain that comes with social change. Again, not this pain. It need not have been so keen and orchestrated. But pain always comes with change.

It would be marvellous, of course, if progress could come from merely talking things through. It would be just perfect if someone recognised an injustice, and others answered with, “Oh. Yes. Of course. We must correct that at once.” But, this never occurs.

Change will have its antagonists. Always. This is not good. This is, however, historically inevitable

Change for the better has always been demanded, and it never comes without a cost. Change is never granted, always seized. Change is never without its casualties or its great human expense.

Change will have its antagonists. Always. This is not good. This is, however, historically inevitable. Revolution, or even reform, does not come without doing damage. And if you can give me an example of a time and a place when everyone simply agreed that something was socially bad and remedied it instantly, I will reward you with the gift of my best balconette bra.

If we want change, we must accept the pain of transformation. We must never think that Apartheid was ended in peace, that Civil Rights were attained without violent disagreement or that the LGBT movement itself was not baptised in conflict.

You can believe, if you like, that ours is a civil society. That we have come so far and that nothing need any longer be fought for. I think the men of Manus might have a different view, along with the world’s sixty million other asylum seekers. I think those many Australians now living in poverty—and our wealth inequality is approaching record levels—might suggest that thing have become less civil over time.

The painful truth is that pain comes with change. The less painful truth is that change can come. And it comes more easily if we stand with those in the most pain, and share their burden. Confident that one day, they might do the same for us. 

Watch: The Feed looks back at the same-sex marriage debate

Same-sex marriage postal survey returns hit 12.6 million as voting closes
Voting has now closed in Australia's same-sex marriage postal survey.
How to have a respectful same-sex marriage debate and stay true to your beliefs
A psychologist's guide on how you can remain cool under pressure when confronted with someone who shares a different opinion.