We can win the fight for equal marriage rights

September 3, 2010

In the lead-up to the 2004 federal election, legislation was passed against marriage rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. The 2004 marriage ban became the catalyst for the development of a powerful protest movement.

This movement has won a series of important victories. These include the repeal of 85 pieces of federal legislation discriminating against same-sex couples, but not the repeal of the discriminatory marriage ban. Recognition of civil unions has been won in the ACT, after a five-year struggle.

Same-sex adoption has recently passed the New South Wales lower house. Tasmania’s lower house has just passed legislation recognising same-sex marriages and civil unions registered in other states and countries.

Home, the movement still has a lot of work to do. Transgender and intersex people are still denied basic human rights, let alone the right to marry. Further, the federal government — whoever it turns out to be — will be opposed to full marriage rights for LGBTI people.

It is for this reason that the movement for LGBTI rights began this year with a mission. We claimed 2010 as our national year of action and made LGBTI marriage an election issue.

Politicians would have liked to ignore it, but LGBTI marriage was something that the major parties kept getting questioned on.

Australians voted “neither of the above” for the two major parties and marriage equality was one of the issues that influenced this decision.

The Greens, the only party in parliament with a pro-equality stance, significantly increased their vote. In Melbourne, Adam Bandt won the Greens’ first ever lower house seat in a general election. Deeply homophobic Family First Senator Stephen Fielding is likely to lose his seat.

This election result puts increased pressure on the major parties to come out in support of marriage equality. The Labor candidate for Melbourne, Cath Bowtell, came out publicly against her party’s position on marriage equality and addressed the August 14 equal love rally.

The Liberal candidate for Denison, Cameron Simpkins, also came out in support for queer marriage rights. Independent Andrew Wilkie, who ended up winning that seat, is a supporter of queer marriage.

Marriage equality supporters inside the major parties use the excuse that that if their MPs came out in support of queer marriage they would lose votes. However, more than 60% of society supports equal marriage rights.

Both parties, however, are cynically chasing the support of the Christian right.

Labor Party politicians who may privately support queer marriage, but refuse to come out against their party’s opposition to it publicly, display a deep cynicism about the ability of ordinary people to be progressive.

For some Liberal and National Party politicians, their stubbornness is due to an irrational fixation on heterosexual procreation and the bizarre notion that “the survival of the species” depends on maintaining marriage as a heterosexual institution.

This is ironic, given the hammering that the government has given to refugees. One the one hand, they have told us that we have an aging population, our workforce is decreasing, and heterosexually married couples need to have more babies because the survival of the species is at stake.

Yet on the other hand, they tell us that we have an unsustainably high population and we can’t keep taking in refugees.

Is our population unsustainable or are we under threat from extinction because we aren’t breeding enough? They can’t both be true. Both of these positions are in fact lies.

Wendy Francis, candidate of the Christian fundamentalist Family First, claimed that marriage equality is a form of child abuse because all children have a right to both a mother and a father. This is extraordinarily insensitive considering the deep pain that exists in our society due to widespread child abuse in heterosexual nuclear families.

Ultimately, this stubbornness from politicians indicates that anti-queer prejudice is not a superficial thing. It has deep roots in the structure of society itself.

In the 1970s, the queer historian John D’Emilio argued that queer people are scapegoated for the problems of capitalism. It is time for the movement to look at his arguments again in light of the current struggle around the right to marry. At a time when queer people are being scapegoated not only for child abuse but also for the prospect of human extinction, D’Emilio’s argument sounds increasingly compelling.

Politicians might be stubborn, but the protest movement is stubborn too. The election result is likely to further encourage this already strong movement.

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