This month, the Australian public spoke resoundingly in favour of changing the law to allow same sex marriage. Following the subsiding of excitement about the survey result, much of the media commentary has focused on the noticeably high ‘No’ vote in western Sydney. Of particular interest were those ‘No’ voting electorates, which contain a large overseas-born or culturally diverse population. One narrative has centred on ethnic minorities or multicultural communities being hostile towards same-sex marriage, if not also towards the LGBTI community at large.
"Just as we must reject racial discrimination, so we must also as a society reject discrimination based on disability, age, sex and sexual orientation. We must also hope that those who experience racial discrimination are prepared also to empathise with those who encounter other forms of discrimination. There must be solidarity on the principle of equality and non-discrimination," said Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane in a speech delivered at University of Western Sydney yesterday.
Speaking at the National Advancing Community Cohesion conference, Commissioner Soutphommasane reminded the audience that the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia, the peak ethnic community body, backed the ‘Yes’ vote.
He said that while much of the post-vote commentary reported on an overwhelming majority of multicultural communities voted ‘No’, is incorrect: some 38 per cent of voted ‘No’ and they were from a wide range of backgrounds.
Commissioner Soutphommasane said somehow it became acceptable to vote ‘No’ if you are the majority, but not if you are in the minority.
"We must avoid adopting easy narratives, without first looking at the evidence. In a world that many describe as post-truth or post-factual, our social cohesion is not always well served by jumping to conclusions. Once appealing narratives take hold, they can help fuel stereotypes about others – and these can be difficult to shake off. Sometimes this is because they may conveniently help to confirm cultural hierarchies in our society.
"It is certainly true that there are some ethnic or multicultural communities, whose members are not generally in favour of same sex marriage – whose members adhere to a view of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, as defined by their ethnic, religious or cultural traditions.
"However, a more clear-eyed examination of the postal survey reveals that the narrative of a dominant multicultural ‘No’ vote is a false one. A closer look at the data shows that it was not cultural diversity as such that explained a ‘No’ vote. Rather, it was religiosity or religious adherence that appeared to be the main driving factor.," he said.