On Monday morning, my friend Michael in Melbourne woke up and looked out the window to check the weather. Instead, what caught his eye was a poster on the street that had been put up overnight. It screamed at him, “STOP THE FAGS,” and contained a string of ludicrous allegations of child abuse by gay parents.

Anti-same-sex marriage poster in Australia.

© 2017 Private

My friend, who is gay, closed his curtain. It was a bad start to the week for him. For the first time in his life, he felt a campaign targeted him because of his sexual orientation.

The Australian government is planning a nationwide poll in September that will ask voters, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” This puts gays and lesbians in a very vulnerable position. Their fundamental rights will be put to the will of voters participating in a costly yet non-binding vote. Some anti-marriage equality groups are using scare tactics to lure voters to their side. In the case of this vitriolic poster campaign, some peddle outright lies to discourage people from voting for marriage equality. More than 70 peer-reviewed academic studies from around the world have concluded that the children of gay or lesbian parents fare just as well as other children.

Australia is a member of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), an international partnership of 35 countries advocating equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. At a recent meeting at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, ERC member states, including Australia, publicly pledged to strengthen the protection and promotion of equal rights for LGBTI people, share best practice on how to repeal discriminatory laws, improve responses to hate-motivated violence, and promote legal protection from discrimination.

The Australian government should stick to its word and denounce publicly this fearmongering campaign and focus on protecting the rights and safety of people like my friend Michael. Better still, the government should scrap this unnecessary and divisive poll entirely, and simply pass a marriage equality bill.