BY ROBERT CATTO
It all could have been so simple.
For the last two years - and even more so in the past few months - the Australian Government has been struggling with the question of same-sex marriage, and if/when/how to legalise it within this modern, developed, and yet conservative, country.
With recent polling showing something over 70% public support for marriage equality, it seemed like a slam dunk - any government who passed such a bill would, you'd think, get a boost in popularity.
Instead, the coalition government has been hamstrung by its own right wing, and agreed to first a plebiscite (which wasn't required, as constitutional change wouldn't be needed - unlike in Ireland, for example), and then a "non-binding public postal survey". And so the Yes and No campaigns began, with both large-scale and hand-made support for the Yes vote being seen around the country - though not always left untouched by the opposing side.
But really, that's only half the story - the mechanism of how the government asked the question is nothing compared to the nastiness of the continuous public debate on the matter, with right wing groups stating anything from "won't someone think of the children!" (a non-issue, since same-sex couples have already been able to adopt for years) to complaints of sport being politicised, and threats to free speech and religious freedom under the "slippery slope" argument. (John Oliver summarises the situation well - if somewhat swearily - here.)
With the survey ending this week, a last few marches through the streets of capital cities were held to encourage people to post their papers before the deadline; and we're now in the limbo between voting, and knowing the result.
Unsurprisingly, while thousands turned out in support of the Yes campaign on an overcast Melbourne afternoon, only a single No campaigner appeared - following at the back, with a megaphone, and shouting religious jargon, he was largely ignored, apart from one man who got in his face until police intervened, and a lone flag-bearing woman, who stood her ground from a distance.
He eventually signed off with "have a nice afternoon". That might be a few weeks away, once the result is known - but, here's hoping.
Postscript: the result of the survey was announced this morning (15 November), with 61.8% of Australians voting in favour of marriage equality. Celebrations around the country were loud, and immediate - and the Prime Minister has indicated that Parliament should pass this into law before Christmas.