People on the streets will win marriage equality

Saturday, August 12, 2017

In the past fortnight, many of us thought we were right on the edge of FINALLY winning marriage equality in Australia as dissent within the ranks of Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition government came to a head.

Liberal MP Dean Smith and others put up the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill and called for a free vote. Even Turnbull, a self-declared supporter of marriage equality even as he called for a plebiscite, said he supported the right of Liberal MPs to cross the floor to vote for the bill.

At a snap rally for marriage equality organised by the National Union of Students in Melbourne on August 5, speakers said: “This might be the last time we need to rally for marriage equality. The next one will be a celebratory party”.

But now, we’re staring down the barrel of a postal ballot plebiscite. Or as the Liberals like to call it, “an authorised collection of statistics via a voluntary postal ABS survey of voters”. How did we get here?

On August 9, a government move to restore the equal marriage plebiscite to the Senate’s agenda was blocked following an emotional debate. Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team had the numbers to tie the vote at 31 for and 31 against, meaning the move was defeated.

With this defeat, the government declared it would push ahead with its $122 million voluntary, non-binding postal vote.

In response, independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie and marriage equality advocates Shelley Argent and Felicity Marlowe, launched a High Court challenge. They say the federal government and the agency it wants to run the plebiscite are exceeding their authority.

What can we learn from this? Relying on politicians, and relying on meetings behind closed doors, will not win marriage equality. History shows that it is mass movements and mobilising people that will win it.

Socialist Alliance has consistently called on the government to “Put the Bill, Pass the Bill”. Those governments have failed to deliver marriage equality, while continuing to use the issue as a political football when it suits them.

Socialist Alliance members have also consistently called for democratic, transparent, grassroots collective structures to organise the marriage equality campaign.

The government has given eligible voters 15 days to register to vote with a cut-off date of August 24.

Some activists have called for a boycott of the postal vote. This is a mistake. Abstaining from the national discussion and from the postal vote will give the likes of Australian Christian Lobby director Lyle Shelton free rein to spout their homophobic and transphobic bile.

We need to take this opportunity to mobilise the community around a Yes vote, even if it does not bind those who will have the final say in Canberra.

We need a vibrant and vocal campaign to counter the bigotry. We know that more than 70% of Australians support marriage equality. We need to mobilise as many of that 70% as we can in rallies, door knocking, stalls, direct action, stunts and anything else we can think of to get media attention and sway the remaining 30% in the coming weeks.

When our so-called “representatives” finally do have their free vote, they will vote based on political pressure from the ground. We need to make sure it is pro-marriage equality political pressure that influences that final vote.

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