In the aftermath of the marriage equality vote, attention has focused on NSW, which recorded the lowest level of support, and on Western Sydney in particular.
Much of the commentary has been concerned with the large ethnic and Muslim communities there. There have been attempts to portray these communities as somehow out of step with “Australian values”. Right-wing Senator David Leyonhjelm said it showed the need for more scrutiny of immigrants because, “some of them are not integrating very well.”
Any attempt to blame Muslims for the No vote is racist nonsense. Millions of white Australians voted No. Muslims make up 2.6 per cent of the population. They cannot possibly explain the No vote of 38.4 per cent.
It was Coalition MPs like Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz who helped lead the No campaign, alongside the mainstream Christian churches. The Anglican diocese of Sydney donated $1 million to the No campaign.
Liberal electorates voted Yes at a slightly higher rate than Labor electorates overall. This is an indication that the bigots managed to sway sections of the working class.
Homophobia is a ruling class ideology, promoted by the churches and the media, rooted in the link between capitalism and the nuclear family.
Campaigning within ethnic and religious groups in Western Sydney seems to have been an important reason for the No vote there. There was a correlation between religiosity and No votes everywhere. And Western Sydney is among the most religious areas of NSW.
The plebiscite was designed to give a platform to bigotry—and not surprisingly seems to have had particular traction in communities that are dependent on places of worship, and where conservative attitudes on LGBTI rights were already strong.
The Yes campaign did little to counter this, focusing on inner city areas.
The left and LGBTI activists have an ongoing challenge to reach out to places such as Western Sydney, to counter the racism and bigotry they are subjected to by people like Leyonhjelm, Abbot and Abetz.