We thought marriage equality was in the bag after Prime Minister Tony Abbott hinted he’d support a cross-party bill and conscience vote in the Liberal Party room in June.
We thought we were closer when opposition leader Bill Shorten put forward a marriage equality bill. Victories overseas — Ireland and the US — in May and June propelled momentum here.
But both Abbott and Shorten are now backtracking.
The ALP National Conference decision to continue to allow homophobes in the party to vote according to their bigoted ideas until 2019 is a betrayal. It is another affront in the long list of crimes from a party that claims to represent progress, but enacts prejudice, racism and electoral opportunism.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) community is not stupid. We called it treachery in 2011, when the ALP voted for marriage equality in its party platform and destroyed any chance of a bill being passed by allowing a free vote. Shorten’s “wait until 2019 for a binding vote”, with the “bill in first 100 days if you elect me” sweetener, is more hypocrisy.
With a binding vote the ALP could simply vote for the marriage bill Shorten has already put in Parliament. It would show that the ALP still has some backbone and force the Liberals to rise to the challenge.
There was anger, not celebration, when Penny Wong, an out-lesbian Labor Senator, motivated delegates to vote for the motion.
As LGBTI commentator Doug Pollard said: “Labor just took LGBTI people from the back of the bus and threw us under it”. Regrettably Wong threw her lot in with the gang of bigots who just ran the rainbow community over.
There are already two marriage bills in parliament that Shorten has ignored — one from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young and one from Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm.
Ordinary people are showing resilience and our movement is being reinvigorated. Australian Marriage Equality (AME) and GetUp! mobilised people over the past month in massive rallies in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
But these rallies only called for a free vote for the Liberal Party. They did not call for a binding vote for the ALP. This let Labor off the hook, giving space for the poisonous “Wait till 2019 after you’ve kept us in power for two terms” motion to get up.
But we have to be very clear. Any call for a free vote allows the bigots to win. Would we accept our representatives voting according to their “conscience” against Aboriginal people’s right to vote? No, we would not. Would we accept MPs voting against no fault divorce rights for women? Or against rape being recognised as such within the family unit? No we wouldn’t. So we shouldn’t campaign for a free vote for bigots in any party.
The marriage equality campaign will fail if it ties the movement to electoral strategies of political parties who’ve shown their spineless disregard for struggling minorities. Instead, we need to motivate people to protest again, under the clear demand of “put the bill, pass the bill”.
We have 85% support among young people and 75% in the adult population. Equal Love Perth just organised the biggest queer rights rally in the history of the city.
Gosford City Council and Ashfield Council just passed a unanimous motion of support for same-sex marriage. Newcastle Council also just passed a motion supporting marriage equality and are painting a rainbow pedestrian crossing in a busy city street.
We have the support. We have the momentum. But we need an upsurge in the movement now to win against this backtracking.
Ordinary people make change, not MPs of bankrupt political parties who waiver and obfuscate. We need to put our efforts into galvanising them, not simply tweeting, or changing a Facebook status. We also need a united people power movement. AME and GetUp! need to endorse, support, converse with and give a platform to grassroots organisations. We need a united movement.
Coalitin MP Warren Entsch has committed to putting another marriage bill with cross-party support in the first week of parliament in early August. Rallies are taking place all over the country in August, demanding the government pass the bill. We need these to be massive, diverse and resolute. Get involved in organising for it. Bring your union, your friends, your family.
When we win marriage equality, we will show that people power can win against insurmountable odds. This will be a blow to the agenda of the Abbott government and its policies of demonising Muslims, throwing Aboriginal people off their land, torturing refugees, attacking workers, unions and students.
[This is an edited version of a speech Rachel Evans gave to a marriage equality forum organised by Green Left Weekly on July 28. Rachel Evans is the Queer SUPRA office bearer for 2015-2016, and a long term marriage equality campaigner. She is a member of the Socialist Alliance.]