Last month I cast my first vote as an Australian citizen. It was also the first time I was allowed to vote in any country since the Irish general election in 2007. I was unable to have my say in the historic marriage equality referendum here in 2015 so it seems appropriate that my first vote as an Aussie is to try and bring about the same change there as happened here.
Some people aren’t bothered voting but I always enjoyed exercising my democratic right and engaging in the civic process. I considered it a privilege and it felt empowering. That’s what made the feeling of disenfranchisement so isolating when I moved to Sydney. By emigrating I was deprived of my right to vote in Ireland and unqualified to vote in Australia. A stranger in a new land and a spectator of my home land, I was silenced from having a say anywhere. A citizen of nowhere.
I moved home last year after seven years in Australia and brought with me a new identity. Now I’m a dual citizen so I can vote in all Australian elections, and as a prodigal son, can have my say in the litany of referenda in Ireland next year. One of the issues will be about extending voting rights to citizens living abroad, in Presidential elections only. This is a very Irish answer to an Irish question - give a half assed solution. Emigrants can vote on the symbolic issue but not on the substantive ones.
Australia has a better system. As an Aussie living in Ireland I am allowed vote in all elections for 6 years. If I am still living out of the country after that I have to apply each year to have my overseas electoral status renewed. Or, if I leave indefinitely, I can apply to get taken off the register and do not get to vote but can re-register once I return to live in Australia. This seems sensible and fair to me. People who have gone for 20 years won’t get to have a say in matters but those that have been gone only a few years still have that feeling of attachment and inclusion to their home country.
Although Australia is behind Ireland on marriage equality* it is ahead in social progress on most other issues. It is strange moving from a very secular country back to a country making the transition and still trying to cast aside the vestiges of theocratic tendencies. Next year we’ll also be asked to consider the clause in the constitution that stipulates a woman’s place to be in the home. We’ll contemplate our strict divorce laws and our maintenance of the currently criminal act of blasphemy. Bangladesh where atheists bloggers are murdered in their droves and Saudi Arabia that considers atheism a terrorist activity (no joke!) cite Ireland’s blasphemy laws in the UN as a shining example of a western country that punishes intolerable blasphemers. Some company. Hopefully these archaic ideas will be consigned to the bin of bad ideas that history has been collecting since the Enlightenment.
However, for real change to happen and for us to ever dare to be an enlightened society, religion must be taken out of public life. No more Angelus on the TV and radio, no more having to have your children baptised just so they can go to a good local school, no more allowing religious influence on how we access health care.
We’re getting there but there’s still a way to go.
*This is for purely political reasons. Multiple polls have shown that the majority of Australians want marriage equality but the ruling Liberals feel the need to appease their Christian Right wing faction. That’s also why they have made this a postal vote in the hope that young people will not vote as much as old people. All of this despite the fact the PM Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly supported and advocated for marriage equality.