This fall, Australians will submit a mail-in ballot to indicate whether they are for or against same-sex marriage. And a vitriolic campaign to sway them for the latter choice has already begun.
In Melbourne, posters printed with "Stop the Fags" have cropped up around the city. The fliers paint gay people as child molesters and include fake statistics like "92 percent of children raised by gay parents are abused; 51 percent have depression; and 72 percent are obese." In Sydney as well, fliers calling gay people "a tragedy of a family" have also appeared, reports The New York Times.
Activists had long warned lawmakers of the likelihood of such a smear campaign -- as well as the devastating consequences it would have to LGBT youth -- in the event of a national vote, which they argue is unnecessary.
Instead of simply voting on same-sex marriage, leaders of Australia's Liberal Party (which is actually its conservative party) had promised voters to first conduct a plebiscite -- a poll of the nation's views, in which voting would be mandatory. That measure failed in the Senate.
In its place, lawmakers turned to a voluntary mail-in ballot, which is being challenged in Australia's High Court. Now citizens have until Thursday to register to vote on the issue, with ballots due by November 7. Until then, Australians may now have to suffer through months of antigay campaigning. What's worse, the mail-in ballot is nonbinding, so members of Parliament have no obligation to honor the will of people after the census is conducted.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denounced the posters in an interview with Melbourne radio station 2DayFM. "I deplore disrespectful abusive language, whether it is directed at young gay people or people of other religions or people of other races," he said.
However, he also defended the bigots' right to free speech. "We're in a democracy," Turnbull said. "People will often say in any democratic debate, they'll often say things that are hurtful and unfair and sometimes cruel, that is part of a debate."
"The only way to stop people saying things that you find hurtful is to shut down free speech," he added.
Or avoid scenarios that would empower hate speech in the first place. Listen to the interview below.
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