Which way forward to equality?


Maurice Farrell

On February 19, 5000 paper hearts were planted on the lawn of the Mardi Gras fair day under the banner, "All love is equal", organised by the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL).

The same day, Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), a NSW-based queer-rights activist collective held a speak-out calling for the rights to same-sex marriage and civil unions. Spokesperson Farida Iqbal told Green Left Weekly: "We paraded around the world's largest queer picnic with a huge banner that said 'Repeal the same-sex marriage ban and give us civil unions'. Unfortunately a New Mardi Gras official told us people were intimidated by our banner and asked us to leave, informing us that security would be called if we disobeyed."

However the speakout went ahead, addressed by Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, Bankstown mayor Helen Westwood, NUS national queer officer Rachel Evans and Kamala Emanuel from the Socialist Alliance.

Green Left Weekly spoke to activists from the GLRL, CAAH and others about their campaigning plans for 2006.

The GLRL's David Scamell said: "Our future campaigning projections in NSW will be based around the issue of parenting rights. Non-biological parents in same-sex relationships are discriminated against. This has to be addressed. We are also pushing for federal recognition of the community's relationships, both formal and informal. This includes the issues of tax benefits and other de facto and spousal benefits such as superannuation currently unavailable for same-sex couples.

"We are conducting a community consultation process to help us clarify whether the community wants to push for full marriage rights or other forms of recognition." During fair day, the GLRL surveyed more than 1000 people and the results will be listed on their website in the coming weeks.

The GLRL plans to participate in this year's Mardi Gras parade under the theme of "All love is equal".

"We are also campaigning against the Work Choices legislation, which provides only higher levels of less protection", Scamell said. "Violence and homophobia, including the related high rates of youth suicide, are also high on the list of challenges the community faces."

According to Simon Margan, CAAH co-convener, "We need massive funding from the state ALP and the federal government to combat high rates of youth suicide. A grassroots campaign to repeal homophobic laws, such as the marriage ban, from all groups would increase queer pride, which would reduce suicide rates."

Rod Swift from the Australian Coalition for Equality (ACE) is confident the campaign for equal recognition is making gains, referring to ACE's December lobbying, "which 'outed' five Liberal party members in support of civil unions or equal relationship rights".

Swift called for a debate on same-sex marriage rights, claiming that "in Australia there is a clear hesitation on both sides — Labor and Liberal — to move forward", citing the example of a press release issued by federal Labor MP Nicola Roxon, indicating "she will sponsor a private member's bill for equal recognition, but only after evidence from a community consultation".

Swift cited a recent Newspoll survey revealing that 53% of those polled support equal recognition for same-sex couples. He also referred to a Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby community consultation, which "revealed that the community wants marriage".

According to Margan, "While the push for civil unions is certainly welcome, civil unions are not a substitute for marriage. As long as queer couples are banned from marrying, we will remain second-class citizens in this country."

Iqbal called for a "mass protest campaign. In this political climate, we can't afford to put all of our trust in the ALP and Coalition politicians who sold us out. We have to place our trust in our own collective power. We have a national day of action coming up on August 13, the two-year anniversary of the marriage ban in Australia.

"We should aim to make it at least twice as big as last year. Let's aim to make it a powerful moment in history, like the march on Washington was for the black civil-rights movement in the 1960s."

Evans told GLW that campaigns for "queer spaces" prove that "direct action delivers the goods". The campaign for a queer space at Wollongong University "led a 47-hour occupation that ended in brutal repression from university management. But they won. They'd been lobbying and negotiating for four years but the rewards came after they networked, media-blitzed and led a grassroots campaign."

Evans's vision for the year is, "Let's fight for marriage rights, unite all the campaigning forces and win equality".

With over 17 years of experience campaigning for gay and lesbian rights, activist Rodney Croome gave this advice: "We've got big opportunities and grave challenges ahead. Our biggest opportunity: the possibility of recognition of same-sex couples as interdependents under federal law. One of our grave challenges: the attempt by the government to ban overseas adoption by same-sex couples.

"Looking at the broader picture, the Christian right is still on the march with an influence on both major parties. To meet the challenge, the community needs to be pro-active, not defensive. If we just sit back and defend the gains we've already made, we will have lost.

"We need to set new benchmarks for justice and equality in areas like same-sex marriage because hot-button issues like these are important in themselves, but also important to show the religious right we're not going to roll over to theocracy.

"'d like to see us banish all whinging from our advocacy. We need to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Australians by inspiring them with a positive and hopeful vision of what this country can be."

From Green Left Weekly, March 1, 2006.
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