On August 14, rallies will take place in 13 different cities around Australia for the sixth annual national day of action for equal marriage rights. Last year’s national day of action drew more than 10,000 people, making it the biggest demonstration for queer rights in Australian history. The movement has claimed 2010 as its “national year of action”.
Activists have taken some colourful initiatives to build this year’s rally. Sydney’s Community Action Against Homophobia threw eggs at cardboard cut-outs of Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard.
Equal Love Melbourne made YouTube ads featuring recently retired gay Olympic swimmer Daniel Kowalski, the cast of ABCTV’s Hungry Beast, and queer Canadian indie pop stars Tegan and Sara.
High Schools Against Homophobia, together with socialist youth organisation Resistance, has initiated a high school referendum in Sydney, Wollongong and Geelong.
The ballot paper asks three questions: “Do you think the government should get rid of the same-sex marriage ban?”, “Are you in favour of equal marriage rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people?”, and “Do you want your school to sign on to a ‘homophobia free zone’ campaign?”
The high school referendum is partly a response to the desperate situation queer youth face in Australia, and partly a response to the positive stand that so many high school students are making.
One-third of LGBTI youth attempt suicide, which is far higher than heterosexual youth. But young people aged between 16 and 24 are the section of society that is the most supportive of equal marriage rights.
Young people have also been particularly active in building this movement. The referendum is an effort to give students the tools to fight prejudice on their high school.
The movement has already won several important victories. The federal Labor government opposes anything that even looks like queer marriage, including any kind of official ceremony. But civil union legislation in the ACT, although flawed, have put the first major dent in federal Labor’s policy.
Same-sex marriages will also be recognised by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the 2011 census.
In its defence, the Labor government has promoted the anti-discriminatory changes made to legislation for de facto relationships from November 2008 as proof that they are not homophobic.
Rather than seeing these changes as a sign of Labor’s benevolence, we should see them as a victory that we won through struggle. As long as they refuse us the right to marry it still isn’t good enough.
Many hoped that PM Julia Gillard, an atheist and a woman, and cabinet minister Penny Wong, a lesbian, would be more progressive. Yet their public statements in favour of the Labor position against same-sex marriage have disappointed many.
At the same time that the major parties are showing their stubbornness, they are also starting to show their vulnerability.
Cath Bowtell, the Labor candidate for the seat of Melbourne, has publicly come out against her party’s position, as has Liberal candidate for Denison Cameron Simpkins.
This shows how much pressure the major parties are under. Bowtell will speak at the Melbourne rally on August 14.
Both major parties are against making same-sex marriage rights a major election issue. They are too busy sticking the boot into refugees. The attack on refugees in itself has important implications for queer rights, given that some refugees are fleeing from anti-queer persecution.
The Greens, the Socialist Alliance and the Australian Sex Party are taking a progressive stand this election. The ASP have debated the homophobic Family First party on the August 2 Sunrise program. This may be remembered as a defining moment in an otherwise dull election.
In defence of the marriage ban, Family First could only come up with such inanities as “marriage is the backbone of Australia”. Such vacuousness was easily deflected by the ASP’s Fiona Patten who simply pointed out that the marriage ban is discriminatory.
Globally, the movement is gaining ground. Ten countries around the world now have equal marriage laws.
Equal marriage rights came into effect in Portugal on the June 5. This was despite considerable opposition, such as a rally against same-sex marriage that mobilised 5000 people on February 20.
Four days before the ratification of the law Pope Benedict XVI visited Portugal and described same-sex marriage as “insidious and dangerous”.
Argentina introduced equal marriage rights on the July 22, becoming it the first country in Latin America to do so.
Equal marriage legislation may be introduced in Nepal next year. In a process led by Nepal’s Maoist revolutionary forces, the country’s new constitution is currently being drafted and is expected to include same-sex marriage and protections for sexual minorities. Despite delay from conservative opponents, the new constitution is slated to come into effect by May 28, 2011.
A major victory has been also won in the United States. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex marriage ban in California, known as Proposition 8, was overturned by the federal court in San Francisco on the August 5.
Proposition 8 was found to be in violation of the US Constitution. This court victory reflects the mass movement that mobilised hundreds of thousands of people over the past two years.
The fight is not yet over, as the decision is likely to be appealed.