Fight for equal love gets stronger


In 2004, the Coalition government, with Labor support, banned marriage for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. This year, the Greens introduced the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill to federal parliament, to try to overturn the ban.

In June, the Senate referred the bill to an inquiry — the largest Senate inquiry in Australian history. More than 28,000 submissions were received. About 40% were in favour of marriage equality and 60% against.

The proportion of submissions against marriage equality did not reflect public opinion, which is the other way around, according to the latest Galaxy polling.

The November 28 national day of action (NDA) for same-sex marriage will take place two days after the Senate inquiry is due to release its report. Demonstrations will be held in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra.

The NDA will launch what has been dubbed a national year of action. After the August 1 NDA — the biggest demonstration for queer rights in Australian history — activists are determined to take the campaign to new heights in 2010.

The coming year is a federal election year. The policies of both Labor and the Coalition are homophobic, so we can't rely on election solutions for winning rights for queers. But an election will present us with opportunities to challenge the major parties' policies, through protest and community organising.

The recent passage of legislation for civil unions with ceremonies in the Australian Capital Territory also raises the pressure. The legislation did not grant the right to marry, but it does challenge the anti-queer prejudice of the federal government by allowing official ceremonies.

This is the third attempt by the ACT Legislative Assembly to introduce civil unions with ceremonies.

The first attempt was overturned by the Coalition government. The second time, the newly elected Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd threatened to overturn the legislation unless the right to a ceremony was dropped.

Remarkably, the Legislative Assembly made a third attempt. This would probably not have happened without such a lively same-sex rights movement in Canberra.

Civil unions with ceremonies have also been granted in Tasmania.

Activists predict that the federal government is likely to override the ACT legislation yet again. The Australian Christian Lobby is busy mounting an intensive campaign for the government to do exactly that.

In fact, displaying just how close the ties are between church and state, Rudd was the keynote speaker at the Australian Christian Lobby's national conference on November 21.

The Christian right has friends in high places, but queers and their supporters have the muscle on the ground — and public opinion on their side. The growing protests show this majority is increasingly willing to act on its belief.

The Christian left needs to take this debate into the churches, to counter the offensive of the Christian right. Fortunately, there are church groups, such as the Quakers, who are ready to take up the challenge.

Young people are another sector of society proving to be important to the campaign. Seventy-four percent of people aged between 16 and 24 support marriage rights for queers, said a recent Galaxy poll.

For the generation of queer people who came before them, who remember high school as a time of fear, violence and and/or suicide attempts, this is a staggering statistic. This is the first generation of young people that is decisively in favour of queer rights.

That doesn't mean the problems with violence, drug abuse, self-harm and suicide among queer young people are over. It does mean there is a new generation out there who are in an unprecedented position to change this situation if they get organised.

Transgender and intersex people are also important to this campaign. Activists are debating whether to call the campaign an "equal love" campaign or a "same-sex marriage" campaign. Many transgender and transsexual people identify strictly with one sex or another, yet the law does not necessarily recognise their gender identity.

There are also transgender and intersex people who do not identify strictly with either gender, but as a combination of both. They do not necessarily see themselves as being in "same-sex" relationships. Yet the federal marriage ban excludes them just as much as it excludes same-sex couples.

The phrase "equal love" is therefore more inclusive of transsexual, transgender and intersex people.

The law defines many transsexual people who are in fact in same-sex relationships as being in opposite sex relationships. This leads to situations where people have to choose between their gender identity and their marriage.

The demand for the legal recognition of one's true gender is an important demand in its own right, separate from the demand for the right to marry. Winning queer marriage rights, however phrased, cannot substitute for winning legal gender recognition.

But the demand for the right to marry "regardless of gender", rather than the right to "same-sex marriage", at least means that if it is won, the victory won't exclude transsexual people just because they haven't won the right to the legal recognition of their gender.

One drawback of the terms "equal marriage" and "marriage regardless of gender" is that they are less widely known than the phrase "same-sex marriage". But this is not an insurmountable obstacle. It is our job to educate society. Further, it is not worth sacrificing our solidarity with transgender and intersex people for.

The campaign is heating up on a global level, not just in Australia. There have been some recent defeats. A referendum in the US state of Maine voted down queer marriage. In Uganda, the death penalty for homosexuality may soon be reintroduced.

But there have also been victories. It was announced in July that same-sex marriage will soon be introduced in Albania. In Argentina, a court recently gave a same-sex couple permission to marry.

Perhaps the most significant recent development was the October 11 convergence on Washington in the US. More than 200,000 people took part, demanding, among other things, equal marriage rights.

We should use the national year of action to replicate the Washington experience in Australia.

The strength of the US campaign shows this is a movement with real global weight. It is now critical for the survival of the human race that social movements regain the confidence its skills to fight and win.

This confidence took a battering in Australia when Iraq was bombed after the biggest anti-war demonstrations in Australian history. We have an important role to play in rebuilding that confidence.

If the equal love campaign wins its demands, the sense of victory and confidence will be an important contribution to other struggles as well.