Same Sex Marriage Debate Heating Up In Australia: What Emergency Responders Should Know


Beginning on September 12th, 2018, Australia entered into a week-long public voting procedure that will determine whether or not same sex marriage will be legal. This has heated the debate surrounding same sex marriage, on which the country’s Senate has been divided for more than two years. Thousands of protesters gathered to support and oppose the legislation.

Rally’s Become Heated

Australia’s police force and emergency responders were present at one recent rally, at a Brisbane Church. One woman protester said that she was injured when a campaigner rallying against gay marriage drove a vehicle into the crowds. A second protest, erupting at the University of Sydney also became heated as both sides of the debate engaged in verbal confrontation. Police officers of the Newtown Local Area Command were called to the scene.

Emergency Response To Protests Depends On Situation

Police officers, paramedics, and firefighters are often called to the site of protests such as the gay marriage protests occurring in Sydney. Emergency responders must be aware that civil unrest can take on many different forms. Experts from the Police Executive Research Forum explain that a mass gathering people can take many various forms, ranging from spontaneous to organized, calm to violent, and alcohol fueled to sober.

These differences will affect the way that emergency responders react to a mass gathering. In the case of the civil unrest in Australia, many of the protests have had emotional volatility, due to the personal nature of the cause and the high number of same sex couples who want to exercise their rights to a legal marriage.

Challenges and Strategies

One of the biggest challenges that comes up for emergency responders when called to action for a large scale event is the infrequency of responding to such an event. Large scale protests are not a common occurrence, and when they do happen responders might feel under prepared or undertrained. One way to manage this is to train for mass events of civil unrest, though they are infrequent.

Planning and preparation are essential, and all emergency responders should work within their organizations to review and plan for different situations that may come up. Studying previous cases and reviewing and critiquing the responses can be a helpful way to prepare. Each responder should also stay up to date on the organization’s procedures and standards of operation regarding large scale protest response.

Emergency responders can expect to hear more from both sides of the same sex marriage debate over the coming weeks. Results from the public ballot are scheduled to be revealed in Mid November.

Author: Jane Sandwood

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