Tag Archives: Consumer Boycotts

Marriage Equality in 2019, just you wait and see

MARRIAGE Equality will be legislated in Australia no sooner than 2019. I know many will fly into a rage about that assertion, but let’s get real for a few moments: the current Coalition will never independently instigate a change to the Marriage Act allowing equal access to same-sex couples. Even this week, Malcolm Turnbull told us it’s a plebiscite or nothing, and despite the fact that he has no money for a public vote, he means it.

Before you lose your shit at me, you need to acknowledge that the majority of the Australian LGBTIQ community are okay with that. When the largest ever group of this demographic was recently polled on whether we’d be happy to wait for another government to hold a parliamentary vote instead of a plebiscite almost 60 per cent of us said yes.

We killed the Coalition’s unpopular ‘ask the people’ approach, but history tells us that pioneering same-sex equality law reform in Australia only ever occurs under Labor governments.

From South Australia’s decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1975; the first legislation recognising same-sex de-facto relationships in the Australian Capital Territory in 1994; the first same-sex adoptions in Western Australia in 2002; the federal amendment of 100 pieces of discriminatory federal legislation in 2009; the enabling of any adult to choose to identify as male or female in 2013, and the first same-sex marriages in the ACT in 2014 (overturned by the High Court less than a week later), the ALP can be relied on to get LGBTIQ equality started, eventually.

The notion of “eventually” is the key. We read it often in the media, and I’ve heard a hundred friends and pundits offer it as a panacea to tough times: “Eventually, it’ll happen,” they advise, probably wishing I’d just shut up and stop reminding everyone that we still don’t have federal civil unions for same-sex couples in this country, let alone marriage.

But honestly, I accepted this unwelcome advice years ago. Why would any informed observer not, when we compare our lack of reform with the equality wins of our closest cultural and political allies?

AT LAST Marriage Equality passes in the New Zealand parliament in 2013.

Australia’s decriminalisation of homosexuality lagged thirty years behind the United Kingdom’s and Canada’s, and a decade behind New Zealand’s.

All three of those nations passed civil unions over a decade ago, and same-sex marriage duly passed in all three – Canada in 2005, New Zealand in 2013 and the United Kingdom in 2014.

After you’ve done all the lobbying, it seems what you have to do in Australia to achieve LGBTIQ equality, is wait.

Some commentators bravely attempt to name the date. I’ve often quoted Guardian Australia journalist Gay Alcorn’s courageous prediction that reform would arrive by 2014-2015, but only because her remonstrations about being tired of the debate were delivered ten years after the start of the main game. Sorry you’ve got marriage equality fatigue, Gay, but hopefully you joined the end of the queue and got someone to share a pillow with you.

Waiting stinks, and progressives don’t like it, but when you force a nation to wait, strange things happen.

Waiting hijinks

This week has seen many classic absurdist hijinks that are the result of an immature Coalition putting the brakes on reform.

Aussies are known to imbibe a few rounds at the pub whenever there’s time to kill, and this week the fermented amber beverage was put to good use in ‘that’ corporate video produced by the Bible Society of Australia.

In the absence of anything practical to do about marriage equality during the current political impasse, Coopers beers were raised by two Liberal Party MPs in the name of civil debate, and merry hell was raised across the social media in the fallout.

CIVIL DEBATE MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie pretending we need more of it.

Many couldn’t see the issue with (yet another) debate on reform that is already supported by the vast majority of Australians in any poll you’d like to pick; but just as many raged at the flippancy of “keeping it light” where delayed civil rights are concerned, and the attempts to fit the whole boring exercise into a hashtag for marketing purposes.

But I can understand why Tim Wilson MP needed some confected progress on marriage equality, because even he, with his enthusiasm and the ear of the PM, cannot get Malcolm Turnbull to pick up any existing bill and vote on it in parliament.

Lobby groups are also coming to terms with the delays.

You only have to look at and/or participate in Mardi Gras to see what fun can be had while we wait for equality, and letting off steam collectively helps many, but the event is no more or less sponsor-soaked than the Bible Society’s video, which is why key LGBTIQ lobby groups aren’t pointing the finger at the Society or the Liberal Party for forging a strategic alliance with Coopers Brewery: the bills have to be paid while the timeline for reform stretches out.

Happy to wait

As a solution to being forced to sit tight, the CEOs of more than thirty companies sent a letter (a letter!) to Mr Turnbull, demanding marriage equality be legislated. That ought to fix the problem, right?

Wrong. It’s yet another distraction in the waiting game. If Turnbull was going to deliver marriage equality as a conservative Prime Minister in the same manner as New Zealand’s John Key and the UK’s David Cameron, he would already have done it.

His hands are not tied, he’s just content to wait. It’s what conservatives do best.

Victim blaming

In the glut of social media after Coopers apologised and supported marriage equality, and the Bible Society pulled its video, plenty of impatient pundits engaged in victim-blaming of equality advocates. It was as eye-opening as always, seeing those who should know a lot better accusing people of shutting down debate if we boycott a commercial brand, or congratulate those who do, but it’s just the confused commentator’s way of dealing with the delays in reform.

They’re sick of twiddling their thumbs and we feel their pain. As worldy-wise, global thinkers, they’re embarrassed Australia is being shown up by a growing list of countries that have no problem legislating for marriage equality, but an astute LGBTIQ community – and our supporters – shouldn’t be blamed because Australian commentators are bored, ashamed, or just don’t get the Coalition’s problem with marriage equality.

Back in 2004, when John Howard and Mark Latham enthusiastically united Australia’s parliament to alter the Marriage Act and exclude same-sex couples, 2019 seemed an impossibly long way off. These days, this pivotal election year looms larger for Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition than anyone else in the country. Ironically, I can’t wait.

This article appears in Michael’s eBook Creating Waves: Critical takes on culture and politics.

Go beyond the like button (you know you want to)

“Westerners have lost touch with one of our strongest power bases: we are consumers.”

PROGRESSIVES internationally are being hit with some hard facts, from the reality of the United Kingdom’s vote to end its politico-economic links with the European Union (EU); through the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican United States presidential candidate; to Australia’s problem catching up with both nations on the human rights inherent in Marriage Equality.

It’s become impossible to participate on social media without also being hit with online petitions.

“But is it realistic?” I saw one concerned Remain voter ask her Facebook friends, of yet another public vote attempting to reverse the Brexit result.

It could be, I wanted to reply, if only you’d just sign it.

But I didn’t write that response (I just said “sign them all, in only takes a few minutes”) because we keyboard warriors and slacktivists get very sensitive about doing much more than ‘liking’ stuff.

Liking is good. It’s a show of hands sweeping through our Facebook feed, but let’s be real for a minute: Liking really achieves nothing. No-one has to show up. At best, it’s little more than virtual loyalty over morning coffee.

I was reminded this week (by another Facebook post) of the principles of the civil rights movement, and the way it continues to define change in Western nations where politicians and corporates have stymied communities and left us feeling speechless and disenfranchised.

Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21, 1956, the day Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated.
BACK SEAT BOYCOTT Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21, 1956, the day Montgomery’s public transportation system was legally integrated.

I also reminded myself of some fundamental tenets of most democracies, proven long before the social media came along. People generally have the right of assembly, demonstration and petition – that is, we should not fear meeting, protesting with and canvassing other members of the public for common views.

From the Montgomery Bus Boycott triggered when African-America Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up for an Anglo-American passenger in 1955; to the Sudanese Civil War Sex Strike, when Samira Ahmed encouraged wives to abandon sexual relations with their husbands until the second Sudanese Civil War ended, people have been taking relatively peaceful, simple stands to enact lasting change.

It was a pamphlet distributed by community leader Jo Ann Robinson that reminded African-Americans of a mathematical reality – that they were the majority of Montgomery’s bus ticket-buying marketplace – and they reacted with courage. Bus travel was out, replaced by car-pooling and other simple efforts actioned by individuals, and by 1956 the Montgomery racial segregation laws were ruled unconstitutional.

It’s never completely simple, it’s never totally peaceful, yet withholding what a large number of people want has proven to move mountains, particularly when what they want is our money.

“International corporate and individual brands are already making such decisions easier for consumers.”

Perhaps it’s the weight of all our first-world problems, but Westerners have lost touch with one of our strongest power bases: we are consumers with an array of choices when it comes to everything from the weekly groceries, to clothing, entertainment and countless other products and services.

Nationalistic movements like Brexit, populist candidates such as Trump, and human rights outcomes linked to a nation’s economy (Malcolm Turnbull’s commitment to spend $160 million on an unnecessary plebiscite on Marriage Equality) leave themselves wide open to economic boycotts.

The internet makes it relatively easy to find where products originate and which corporates support or political candidates and movements. Some are politically savvy and hedge their bets, but most are not.

In just a few clicks, you can choose between banks, department stores, communications companies, financiers and even restaurants that support causes you’re aligned with.

In just a few well-directed emails, you can ensure other companies know why you’re making the choice to spend your money with their competition.

Although sites are cropping up that make it very easy, there’s no need for blanket bans on buying British or American products – remember, not everyone in the United Kingdom wanted to leave the EU and not everyone in America is voting for Trump.

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling went public on Brexit.
HARRY’S WAY Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling went public on Brexit.

But one of the most powerful things you can do is to ask a simple question of the management in these companies. Are you supporting Trump? Do you want to leave the EU?

They’ll be affronted, no doubt. They might not even give you a clear answer, but it’s your money, right? You get to choose where you spend it.

International corporate and individual brands are already making such decisions easier for consumers. Richard Branson came out early as a Remain supporter in the Brexit fallout on behalf of Virgin Group. British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver likewise made his Remain stance crystal clear for his followers.

One of Britain’s most lucrative (and nationalistic) cultural exports of the past two decades is the Harry Potter brand, yet Harry Potter wants to stay in the EU! Author J.K. Rowling is one of the highest-profile Remain advocates in the unfolding Brexit landscape.

Silicon Valley CEOs went public earlier this year about their concerns over Donald Trump’s presidential nomination. Large US retailers, media outlets and sporting and cultural events led the way a year ago.

A snapshot of Australian corporates that support Marriage Equality.
CORPORATE BACKING A snapshot of Australian corporates that support Marriage Equality.

National Lobby Group Australian Marriage Equality has published a growing list of more than 1000 corporate entities that support changing Australia’s Marriage Act to allow equal access to same-sex couples. I’ve been using it for more than a year to make high-street choices that sit better with my equality activism.

Consumer boycotting often gets negative attention, amid suggestions that it’s ineffective, or a form of trade protectionism; whereas in actual fact, it’s already proven itself to have deep impact at the highest corporate level in Australia.

Australian telecommunications giant Telstra wavered on its public expression of its support for Marriage Equality in April this year, reportedly under pressure from Christian organisations threatening a boycott of Telstra services across Catholic organisations.

But the consumer backlash was fast and profound, and Telstra was forced to reassert its public support for legal reform of Australia’s Marriage Act.

There’s a whole world of consumer boycotting going on – check out the site that claims to be: “The most comprehensive English language list of progressive boycotts”.

There isn’t a ‘dislike’ button on the majority of social media platforms. Facebook has no plans for one. If there was, social media shareholders might lose their grip on this lucrative new wave of media – and millions in advertising revenue – when participants grow sick of their thoughts and opinions garnering the type of protests that a thumbs-down would attract.

Perhaps that leaves some hope for progressive politics? With no way to give the thumbs-down at the keyboard, the only thing left – if you’re still frustrated – is to do something.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.