Tension between old and new at heart of marriage debate in Tasmania

For Tasmanians, the same-sex marriage postal survey isn’t just about saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

It’s reflective of an ongoing struggle between the old Tasmania and the new.

We’ve seen this, too, in the recent legislative stoush over the Anti-Discrimination Act.

As a means of freeing up debate, the state government wanted to allow religious exemptions for statements that may otherwise have been deemed discriminatory.

The bill was voted down in the upper house.

Until 1997, gay and lesbian sex acts were illegal in our state, as was cross-dressing. 

We were the last state in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality.

It was for reasons such as this that Tasmania came to be known pejoratively as Bigots’ Island.

Tasmania’s most prominent LGBTI advocate Rodney Croome spearheaded the push for gay and transgender rights here in the 1990s.

And, more recently, he and independent Denison MHR Andrew Wilkie brought an unsuccessful High Court action against the federal government, arguing that the appropriation of funds for the postal survey on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

What’s more, recent polling from the ABC suggested that Tasmanians largely supported the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

So, how did we get to this point?

The tireless efforts of Croome have played no small part in the gradual change.

But that’s not all.

When the Museum of Old and New Art opened on the outskirts of Hobart in 2011, the ground seemed to shift in this state.

MONA was founded on the same tension between past and present currently fuelling the same-sex marriage debate in this state.

It’s right there in the name.

Owner David Walsh has assembled a collection that defies classification.

There’s modern art aplenty: vaginal moulds line the walls, a machine pumps out artificial poo.

But there’s also Egyptian sarcophagi, Greek and Roman coins and a Goya sketch.

As MONA was embraced by Tasmanians, so was the weirdness and wildness that have always been inherent to our identity – both then and now.

The queerness that has, until quite recently, been repressed.

With MONA FOMA and Dark Mofo – the museum’s summer and winter festivals, respectively - this celebration of everything left-of-centre has been taken even further.

These bacchanalian rave-ups have trafficked in Tasmania’s id, sending a message to young Tasmanians: you can lose your inhibitions without getting on the first flight to Melbourne.

More importantly, MONA and its offspring have announced to minorities living in this state that it’s OK if you don’t meet the white, male, heteronormative standards so ingrained in our culture.

The museum has come to symbolise a more forward-looking Tasmania; a Tasmania that’s managed to shake off the Bigots’ Island label, that’s made a virtue of its gothic landscape.

For Tasmanians, it might be argued that voting ‘no’ in the postal survey would amount to siding with the state’s old guard.

Do we really want that?

Earlier in 2017, before the postal survey was even announced, Walsh revealed his ambitious plans to construct a hotel at the MONA site.

Its name?


As auspicious as signs come.