The silent majority is a lie

There is one thing we now know, tested at great expense and through a process of significant trauma: Australia is better than its politics.

The silent majority is a lie. Tony Abbott is a lie. So are Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi. Lyle Shelton is a lie. The Daily Telegraph is a lie.

The postal survey on marriage equality was never more than a failure of our politics. It was devised as an injunction on the inevitable. That is the job our parliament has made for itself: to stand between its people and the future.

The postal survey put queer lives on trial. It now asks them to be grateful for a right for which they should never have had to beg.

It does so because it can, a last show of strength for a fading world view. Too much power still resides where people no longer do: in churches and in the conservative wing of the Liberal Party.

It is possible to think of this as a signal moment. Surely, the lie that keeps this country from its better impulses can no longer be sustained. Surely, the parliament must now relent on euthanasia and refugee policy and other issues on which it walks so out of step with reason.

One might think this, and they would be wrong. The postal survey proves that our politicians do not represent the people. It does not change this fact, however. The question is not what the public wants; it is what the branches want and what the public will put up with. That is the wretched truth of our politics.

To celebrate equal marriage should be to feel anger at the process by which we were led to it. There have been moments of great humanity, but there has also been terrible viciousness.

The failure of the parliament to do its job – for the prime minister and the opposition leader to speak with passion to a motion they both support and see it carried – has acted as a distraction from countless other issues. The public has been asked to fight for popular change, while men remain on Manus being tortured, while Indigenous recognition is pushed again from the agenda and social inequality worsens.

The changing of one act does not bring decency to the parliament. The government is not softened by it. The marriage papers will still exclude and erase non-binary people, as other legislation will still discriminate and disenfranchise.

This is a win for equality. But the jubilation should not forgive the government its other actions, should not provide cover for its other cruelties.

We know better after this week that Australia is good. We also know that our politics needs to change.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 18, 2017 as "The silent majority is a lie".

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