Emma Teitel writes at the Toronto Star:
And while it may be enormously gratifying for gay Australians to learn that the majority of their nation voted in favour of their civil rights, the question remains, is a popular vote the most ethical way to shift policy on a civil rights issue? The answer is no.
This is because polls that affirm how progressive one nation is can also affirm the opposite truth about another nation. Journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan put it best, in the aftermath of Ireland’s “Yes” referendum in 2015, when he wrote in the Guardian that “win or lose,” referendums on gay rights and minority issues are a “dangerous practice and can set a precedent for other nations where public opinion might not be so enlightened or tolerant.”
Imagine for example, that you are the leader of a traditionally homophobic nation in Eastern Europe, Africa or the Middle East, the kind of leader who likes to boast, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-style, that there are no gay people in your country. The kind of leader who believes that homosexuality is a Western import. Now imagine that a small but vocal group of LGBTQ activists within your borders begin making waves, inspiring international media attention and support from Western governments with robust protections for their own LGBTQ citizens. Imagine one of the countries criticizing you for your unwillingness to extend civil rights to your LGBTQ citizens, is a country like Australia or Ireland that once held a popular vote on gay rights.
Wouldn’t it behoove you to organize your own referendum, among your own predominantly socially conservative populace to prove once and for all to the international community that you have a democratic precedent for your bigotry? By holding such a vote in a traditionally homophobic country (on gay marriage, on gays serving in the military, on the legality of gay sex) you could reasonably argue in the face of a nation like Australia or Ireland: “We did exactly what you did. We held a vote and our people spoke, too. But what they had to say was very different than what yours said. What my people had to say is that they don’t want that kind of thing here. And that’s their prerogative.”