By Dallas Rogers
I’m a proud Westie and I voted yes. While I can’t speak for all western Sydney people, I was surprised to learn 12 of only 17 electorates that voted no are in western Sydney.
The suburbs of western Sydney have pulled down NSW’s overall Yes count.
This is a blow for our strong cultural diversity credentials out west.
The temptation might be to think about the diverse peoples and communities of western Sydney as the sole custodians of their views.
The discussion about the No vote will almost certainly follow a familiar narrative: the west is full of variously conservative new migrants, old people and ethnic and religious minorities. Religious and migrant media will come under fire.
The familiar troupe of derogatory Westie, migrant and religious discussion will follow.
While western Sydney’s diverse cultural histories are certainly contributing factors, they are not the full story.
Postal survey results from Sydney show the divide in the city on same-sex marriage, with many electorates in western Sydney voting overwhelmingly for No. (Supplied: Australia Bureau of Statistics)
It’s not just about migrants
Sure, NSW has the highest proportion of people born in non-English speaking countries. This migrant history is important for western Sydney, which has long been a landing point for waves of migrants and refugees since World War II.
It is equally true that social, religious and cultural change moves at a slow pace. This is especially true in new migrant communities, as religious, familial and cultural norms morph slowly across the generations.
Western Sydney has long been the state’s champion of welcoming in new peoples.
We have a strong track record of working across cultural, religious and social difference.
And yes, we missed an opportunity to add marriage equality to our repertoire of social acceptance. We have work to do in that space.
Western Sydney has also long been home of the city’s working class, at least in the public imagination.
And public commentaries have made much about the No votes in western Sydney falling within largely Labor electorates.
But unlike worker rights, same-sex marriage doesn’t neatly run along class or political lines.
Most of us have a friend or family member from the LGBTI community.
Much like the issue of refugees, same-sex marriage is a moral rather than a class issue.
It’s not about aligning with class-based interests, but about making a moral choice about what is right for our country.
This is what makes the moral politics and the trial of LGBTI and other communities by media and lobbying so dangerous.
The cultural politics of difference needs strong political leadership and the Coalition government has failed the Australian people over many years.
The Liberal Howard government politicised the refugee debate, creating the refugee enemy.
We have seen this type of moral politics playing out again in the choice to run a postal vote.
Westies under attack
Westies have now been drawn into the moral politics of this debate too.
Westies like me will no doubt come under attack, again, for our lack of moral fortitude and social backwardness.
LGBTI peoples have been exposed to unnecessary and at time heinous social commentary about their lives. This, unfortunately, is likely to continue.
Imagine the triplicate discriminatory forces of being a young gay, religious migrant in western Sydney today.
The postal vote has done significant damage to cultural diversity and acceptance in western Sydney and Australia more broadly.
Education is one way to challenge the moral politics of this issue, and we are seeing a rapid uptake of university education in migrant communities across western Sydney.
But deferring the hard moral questions to “the people” will always serve the interests of the powerful majority.
We have certainly seen this in the same-sex marriage debate, the legacy of which might be the undoing of years of gay and cultural diversity action in NSW.
Dr Dallas Rogers is senior lecturer in urbanism at the University of Sydney.
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