Religious right has lost the marriage equality fight

Equal marriage rally, Sydney, December 3. Photo: Peter Boyle

Historians will look back at this year’s two parliamentary inquiries into marriage equality as the beginning of the end of the religious right’s disproportionate influence on Australian politics.

On April 13, the Senate marriage equality inquiry announced it had received 75,000 submissions with 44,000 or almost 60% in favour.

As if to confirm this wasn’t a fluke, figures for the House of Representatives inquiry were released ten days later: 277,000 survey forms were sent in with 177,000, or 64%, in favour.

To put this in perspective, the next largest parliamentary inquiry on any other issue was about the 1997 Northern Territory euthanasia bill. It received 12,500 submissions. The 2009 climate change inquiry received 8000 and the Sydney airport noise inquiry 5000.

No longer can politicians declare there is general indifference to marriage equality or that parliament is wasting its time debating the issue.

That said, I was astounded by the pro-marriage equality figures.

For most of my career advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights the religious right has always been able to muster far larger responses to parliamentary inquiries.

This time around they even made a special effort, with Victoria's Catholic Bishops calling on 80,000 parishioners to respond to the Reps inquiry — a dubious use of their authority, which failed dismally.

So what has changed?

Marriage equality is obviously engaging a large numbers of Australians who would not normally take part in a gay rights campaign.

I suspect this is because it speaks to heterosexual people about the kind of nation they want to live in as much as the narrower question of how gay people should be treated.

This is reflected in the words of those cultural icons who have recently spoken in favour of marriage equality.

From Jimmy Barnes through Magda Szubanski to Hugh Jackman, they have all dwelt on the link between marriage equality and Australian identity.

But it’s not all about the issue.

A well-developed campaign involving both social media and community meetings across the nation was the key to mobilising such large numbers of people.

The same techniques can be applied to any social justice or human rights issue from a charter of rights to reproductive rights.

There is no longer any excuse for advocates in these areas to be out-done by the religious right.

Moreover, if social media and community campaigning can generate such an unprecedented response to two inquiries, it can change voting intentions.

The hundreds of thousands of Australians who have engaged with the marriage equality campaign, and now feel part of a movement for positive change, will keep an eye on who supports equality and who doesn’t, right up until they mark their ballot papers.

This is probably why Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson Jim Wallace is so angry. Suddenly, the conservative Christian constituency which federal politicians have kowtowed to at every opportunity and which Wallace purports to speak for has been eclipsed.

Seeing what is afoot, Wallace has dissed the result of the marriage equality inquiries as “simplistic polling” that “cheapens” democracy, even though he crowed about how “the people have spoken” when a 2009 marriage equality inquiry received more submissions from his side.

He has attacked advocates for being deceitful, and has manufactured marriage equality bogeys out of thin air, even though he regularly complains about the low quality of the marriage equality debate.

No wonder a number of religious leaders have distanced themselves from him.

The current marriage equality inquiries have shifted the debate on that issue, confirming its place at the centre of Australian politics and identity.

Just as importantly, the inquiries have seen a shift in the balance of power in our political system away from the religious right toward the sensible, pragmatic centre.

That is why, long after everyone's forgotten about Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson, the current marriage equality inquiries will be seen as a turning point in Australian political history.

[This article is republished from Online Opinion.]


Oh well. There'll always be people against anything. We are a multicultural society. I still wonder why they just say,' OK so we don't like gay marriage...we won't have them, but we won't stop others who want to have them from having them'.

I have been catching glimpses of this debate and am sorely perplexed. As I briefly read this site I fail to see anyone demonstrating an actual appreciation or understanding of what marriage is. Marriage is not a cultural construct, developed by our most popular opinion of what is deemed a 'good idea'. It is an institution of the Jewish/Christian faith who believe God instructed them to engage in this practice.

If people have a concern with the definition of marriage, I don't think we have the right to debate its conditions. It's conditions are what God defines them to be. If we don't think it fits our belief system, why change marriage? Why not create or develop an engaging relationship of our own definition and title to define a 'new' relationship. There appears to be a hijacking of the idea of Marriage. Who's to say we won't one day remove the 'till death do us part' because its too difficult a concept?

It appears this whole debate is not about gay marriage. It is about Christian Authority and to be more specific it is a clear and direct challenge of God's own Authority. Who is God to say what is right in any area of our lives? This is what is being challenged. Let's call it what it is.

Back when Christianity was in it's formative period in Europe, it was actually pretty okay with the whole same-sex marriage thing.


"Same-sex unions in Christian churches were held as long ago as the Middle Ages, research shows.
Historians say the ceremonies included many of the acts involved in heterosexual marriages, with the whole community gathering in a church, the blessing of the couple before an altar and an exchange of holy vows.
A priest officiated in the taking of the Eucharist and there was a wedding feast for guests afterwards."

Read more:

But even if this wasn't the case, your argument would only invalidate marriage in Christian or Jewsih rites, and well, you aren't the only people on the planet, you know?

So there is, in fact, a great deal logical about the "gay marriage debate" just not from your side.

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