Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? This is the question which is being put to Australians at the moment in a postal plebiscite. Voters have only two options: Yes and No.

We should not be influenced by the fact that one way of voting is expressed positively, as a “Yes”, and the other way of voting is expressed negatively, as a “No”. On a superficial level, it might seem that a “Yes” vote embodies a positive human attitude —a more open, life-affirming stance— compared to a “No” vote.

But that is only a trick of language.

Perhaps you think of yourself as a “Yes” person overall. Perhaps you place a high value on open-mindedness, on optimism, on enthusiasm, on being receptive to new things, on being progressive. Perhaps you believe it’s a good thing, even imperative, to embrace life in all of its richness, to welcome life, to make way for the new.

That alone might persuade you to vote “Yes”. After all, you want to be a “Yes” person, and you think being “positive” is always better.

But what if the question had been been, “Are you in favour of traditional marriage?”

The fact that someone is on the “negative” or “against” side in a debate does not by itself make that person a “negative” person, someone who is pessimistic and closed.

After all, those who are in favour of redefining marriage are for that reason against something—the traditional understanding of marriage. And those who are against redefining marriage are for that reason for something—the traditional understanding of marriage (in most cases at least).

Those advocating for same-sex marriage have the rhetorical advantage. They are able to associate their cause with a “Yes” and condemn the opposition as being nay-sayers.

But we need to see through this bias as we consider the question. We need to look beyond the trick of language, which makes “Yes” appear brighter and more positive. 

Whichever way you vote, you will be a “nay-sayer”. If you vote for same-sex marriage, your Yes will amount to a whole series of Nos. No, you do not recognise the rights of a child to have a Mum and a Dad. No, you do not recognise the rights of parents to educate children as they see fit. No, you do not recognise any right to religious freedom on this matter. No, you do not think there is anything particular special about the traditional marriage arrangement. No, you do not take seriously the common wisdom of the vast majority of people through the vast majority of centuries.

In the plebiscite on same-sex marriage, No means Yes, and Yes means No.

Brendan Triffett holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Tasmania and specialises in metaphysics and meta-ethics. He currently works as a lecturer at Alphacrucis College, Hobart.   

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Brendan Triffett holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Tasmania and specialises in metaphysics and metaethics. He currently works as a lecturer at Alphacrucis College, Hobart.