Tag Archives: Same-sex Marriage

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.

Christianity vs. LGBTI, an unnecessary war

“This is not a suffering competition for martyrs, it’s a legislative process taking place in a secular nation.”

THE Turnbull government has no firm plans for a public vote on marriage equality. We only know it’ll be ‘after the election’, an Abbott three-word slogan for ‘on the never-never’; and that it will be a non-binding, $160-million-dollar opinion poll that won’t be compulsory for any Australian voter or politician to participate in.

But that doesn’t really matter. While Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t watching, a war cabinet has been plotting against LGBTI dignity from the Coalition backbench, spilling from the party room into the media this week when the Safe Schools program came under attack.

Now is not the time to be under any illusions: Australians in every community are coming under pressure to take a position on whether Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people (LGBTI) have the right to equal marriage and if the parliament should attempt to ensure LGBTI children are no longer alienated and bullied at school.

From many right-wing MPs and senators, and at least one on the left, this program generated hate speech that was about as unparliamentary and dishonourable as it gets, from representatives who bear the word ‘honourable’ in their formal titles.

The Safe Schools program was always going to come under unjustifiable attack. Every LGBTI project I have ever been involved with has become a target if it even hinted at the possibility of going anywhere near a school.

God forbid adults who have lived through the profound lack of in-school protection for LGBTIs seek to ensure young people receive a shred of information, before they start learning myths about diversity from those who would seek to indoctrinate their children against us and the LGBTI students and teachers among them.

Yet the multi-party state- and federally-funded program has revealed deep phobias, from the parliament to my neighbourhood and on social media. The reaction has been so strong it’s become hard to pick the real victims.

Quite rightly, LGBTI groups cited the National School Chaplaincy Program as meeting every one of the accusations levelled at Safe Schools.

12496322_10153958480562813_111425310789912770_oMemes showing the huge disparity between Safe Schools and School Chaplain funding left many people of faith feeling under fire.

I get why – it smarts when you’re made to feel you have to justify your existence.

But this is not a suffering competition for martyrs, it’s a legislative process taking place in a secular nation. While your repression might feel like my oppression, they are certainly far from the same phenomenon, and only one of us is being legislated against.

Whichever citizens can be bothered voting in the never-never plebiscite do not need the distraction of false victims when it comes to exactly who is being oppressed by inequality.

Coming so soon after the Australian Christian Lobby’s call to hit the pause button on anti-discrimination laws so they can hate their way through the marriage equality debate, we’ve woken up in the middle of a war: Christians versus LGBTI.

Bill Shorten called-out Cory Bernardi on his homophobia this week, while Malcolm Turnbull called for measured language, preferring to avoid labelling the hate that dare not speak its name.

I wish it wasn’t happening, I wish our parliament would simply vote on the matter, because in absolving itself of guiding a parliamentary free vote, the Coalition is leading this country to tear itself asunder.

“Bringing homophobia and transphobia into the light will be an ugly process for an ugly energy.”

The marriage equality plebiscite is already causing damage. The debate has become a base numbers game between LGBTI and Christians, so vociferous so early that many voters will simply stay away.

Once we see yes/no campaigns in communities, such as the small island where I live with my husband among a population of around 600, I predict the Coalition’s plan will cause great division.

Homophobia, in my experience, always polarises between two extremes. There are the unacceptable and illegal gay bashings and overt violence, while at the other end of the spectrum are the silent, insidious processes of exclusion that occur right under the nose and invariably go unchallenged.

Gradually, our friends have started to witness attempts to make us invisible in certain conversations, because it’s noticeable when a homophobe addresses someone we’re standing with, but not us.

When we were new to this place, few were aware of this subtle discrimination, but about a year ago, making new friends brought with it the realisation that some of the so-called ‘great people’ living here, who are also incredibly homophobic, would gradually make themselves apparent to anyone paying attention.

As the plebiscite approaches, all this covert behaviour is being forced into the open. Election campaigns in my part of the world take place on the road, where there’ll be no hiding for anyone.

Bringing homophobia and transphobia into the light will be an ugly process for an ugly energy, and where my husband and I might have flown under the radar in certain quarters of our community, we’ll be outed far more than we realise. It’s already started to happen, and we’ve been on the receiving end of verbal homophobia only a few steps from our front door since the Coalition’s plebiscite plan was announced, after not being the target of anything remotely homophobic for more than a decade.

I have never felt the wish to avoid witnessing my own times, but if I could safely opt out of this era, I probably would. I can’t afford a world cruise until marriage equality is delivered, so it’s time to stand visibly, primarily on the home front.

For a generation of LGBTI on the brink of coming out, this period in Australia’s history has the potential to create a similar level of confusion and despair as the AIDS crisis did for my generation, putting nails in closet doors, not removing them.

For that reason I will participate in a long and relentless yes campaign in my community, unapologetic and vocal. They’ll need to face plenty of questions and cut through some uncomfortable moments, but there is room on the yes team for moderate and progressive Christians and people of other faiths.

The reality of picketing the island’s only polling booth, handing out yes material with a bunch of naysayers across the driveway doesn’t fill me with pride, not yet, but at least the homophobes will be as out as the homosexuals in this community, and when we finally have marriage equality, years from today, we’ll know who to hold hands in front of as a reminder of exactly who the oppressed ones were.

Michael’s book Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love is out now. This article was first published on NoFibs.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

On the same page about marriage equality

26785881IN every writer’s life there comes a time when a piece written by someone else renders our own contribution unnecessary. After exploring the issue of marriage equality in my country for more than a decade, Rodney Croome’s new book has finally done this for me.

From This Day Forward: Marriage Equality in Australia is an aggregation of Croome’s major writing on the marriage equality debate to date, including updates on his 2010 contribution to Why Vs. Why: Bill Muehlenberg and Rodney Croome debate Gay Marriage (Pantera Press).

But Croome’s collection is much more that; it’s the best document Australia has to move the debate – finally – into legislation.

The only possible rebuttal to From This Day Forward is religious ranting or political belligerence, because, as Croome puts it: “The critics of marriage equality are trapped in an intellectual cul-de-sac.”

I had a particular interest in reading this book: I was keen to fact-check my own publication Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love against a more comprehensive document covering the story of Australia’s legislative failure, but I was unaware of Croome’s book until it was launched in Brisbane last week.

“A well-articulated exploration of the total lack of arguments left for opposing marriage equality. It stands like a boundary, behind which the debate will retreat no longer.”

It’s a great year for books by same-sex attracted writers. With Magda Szubanski’s memoir Reckoning, and the rerelease of Timothy Conigrave’s Holding the Man off the back of the movie release, gay and lesbian writing is getting a great run.

Although like my title, From This Day Forward does not have a huge marketing machine behind it. This makes for a hard sell at a time when readers and audiences are at marriage equality saturation point, there’s an overbearing unwillingness to just get it done, and the mainstream media seems incapable of selling a story of what it sees as a dead horse, slaughtered by both sides of parliament.

Croome’s book is a well-articulated exploration of the total lack of arguments left for opposing marriage equality. It stands like a boundary, behind which the debate will retreat no longer. For someone who has heard and endured all the classic approaches (he was confronted by one at his launch – the old ‘why call it marriage?’ chestnut), in person and in his book, Croome – the national convenor of Australian Marriage Equality – maintains the neutrality of an activist prepared to go on calmly answering loaded questions forever.

Rodney_Croome
EQUALITY CAMPAIGNER Rodney Croome.

I admire such public strength. My own book reveals my inability to be as dispassionate. Driven by grief, fear and pain, I wrote the awful truth about the depth of my disenfranchisement in Questionable Deeds, revealing how prejudice and lax laws robbed me of self determination as a surviving spouse.

Although I was relieved my research stood up without the benefit of reading Croome’s book, what encouraged me more was his call to action from the LGBTI community to share our experiences.

“Whatever lies behind the power of personal stories, they are immensely effective in showing how marriage inequality affects ordinary people day-to-day. They tap into our desire to understand the ideas and feeling of others,” Croome writes.

Our stories are most effective for the cause when we manage to bend the ear of our federal MPs, Croome writes. Mine is Andrew Laming, federal member for the Queensland electorate of Bowman, a regular flip-flopper on marriage equality.

At his launch, Croome paid tribute to Queensland’s major contribution to the legislative push. It’s here that Warren Entsch (Liberal federal member for Leichhardt), and Teresa Gambaro (Liberal federal member for Brisbane, who launched Croome’s book last week), joined forces with Terri Butler (Labor federal member for Griffith) to co-sponsor a cross-party bill on marriage equality.

Since the entire house of representatives owned the bill, this was a unique moment in the journey, and a shining example of politicians getting their heads around the positive impact of equality on the mental health and wellbeing of their constituents. Andrew Laming would do well to watch and learn, and he could start by buying Croome’s book, and mine. He was invited to my book launch, but did not respond.

Croome also gets to the heart of the current plan for a marriage equality referendum or plebiscite.

“Human rights defenders are rightly concerned about putting inalienable rights to equality and personal autonomy to a show of hands,” he writes, underlining how there’s no constitutional requirement to ask the people on marriage when it was parliament that autonomously altered its definition in the first place.

I support Croome’s view that a national vote on marriage equality would pass the law. Even if the regular polls are significantly wrong, the majority of Australians would say yes.

“My concern is with the process, not the outcome,” Croome writes, referring to the high price that would be paid by the LGBTI community in terms of our mental health.

It’s in this zone that Croome’s book and mine intersect. Croome quotes statistics gathered in the wake of the banning of marriage equality in 2004 – the year my partner died – which showed a sudden increase in mental health challenges for LGBTI.

Of the 2004 ban, I wrote: “It would have passed through my consciousness in my deepest grief and registered only as another reason to feel dreadfully unsafe about being same-sex attracted in my own country.”

I recall the sadness that went into writing that sentence, and nearly deleting it from subsequent drafts because I’d kept such deep-seated emotions in check while remembering the daily struggle of grief and depression in that terrible year. Croome’s book has finally put my struggle to process my disenfranchisement in context.

A major new element of From This Day Forward is an essay ‘Flight from the gilded cage: addressing criticism of marriage equality from the left’.

It’s an area of great interest, not just for those of us who are shocked at how the marginalised seek to marginalise others, but also for anyone wanting to advance their knowledge on the last bastions of objection.

QUESTIONABLE DEEDS PRAt my own book launch, in conversation with No Fibs’ editor Margo Kingston, she expressed a wish that I’d written more on marriage equality opposition that didn’t stem from homophobia.

I touched on it in my afterword, but Croome’s essay is the most comprehensive and timely argument taken up to several high-profile commentators who have provided great fodder for the religious right over the years.

Croome confronts them all – from former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her feminist arguments, to author Robert Dessaix and historian Dennis Altman, who have long argued that same-sex attracted people should not need such a heteronormative institution as marriage (although Altman began shifting his stance this year).

This essay validated all the times I’d thrown stuff at the television seeing these commentators failing the entire LGBTI community with their frivolous, often under-researched naysaying.

If you’ve endured the years of debate, From This Day Forward is worth reading for this boost alone.

From This Day Forward: Marriage Equality in Australia (Walleah Press) and Questionable Deeds: Making stand for equal love are out now.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

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