Australia’s marriage equality story is a long, tough, and inspiring one.

As we approach the one year mark of Australians saying Yes to a fairer and more equal Australia, it’s time to reflect and celebrate a movement that brought our country together despite much political adversity.

In 1972, the movement for equal recognition of LGBTIQ+ relationships began with a kiss, when long term community activist Peter de Waal and Peter ‘Bon’ Bonsall-Boone talked about their relationship on national television and kissed – the very first time a same-sex kiss was shown on television.

As foundation members of CAMP (Campaign Against Moral Persecution), they paved the way for five decades of activism that would eventually deliver marriage equality.

Cruelly, despite their commitment to each other and to advancing LGBTIQ+ equality, politicians couldn’t get their act together to deliver the will of the Australian people until after Bon passed away.

While the past year has seen nearly 5,000 weddings, it’s important to spend a moment and think about all those loving couples like Peter and Bon, whose joy and happiness was actively denied by federal parliament.

For many, the first time people heard the term “gay marriage” was in 1998 when Dr Kerryn Phelps married teacher Jackie Stricker in a religious ceremony in New York.

Kerryn and Jackie were trailblazers at a time when support for reform was low, and there was no organised campaign structure to support them. They had to battle a media storm for all of us.

Their support was consistent and Kerryn, now the federal member for Wentworth, was a leading voice in the Yes campaign and worked to dispel the myths of the No campaign, while providing care and reassurance to the very much under siege LGBTIQ+ community.

Support for marriage equality grew over many years of hard work from Australians right across the country.

In 2007, I was inspired to join Australian Marriage Equality, the organisation leading the way for reform, and over the next decade, I had the privilege of working with some of the most amazing people who were focussed on empowering Australians to make a difference.

We saw people write submissions to parliamentary inquiries, lobby their MPs, attend rallies, and win over their friends and families.

Many prominent Australians also stood up for the LGBTIQ+ community, especially those who are part of that community.

Magda Szubanksi was undeniably the Wonder Woman of the campaign.

When Magda came out on The Project, which she did to support marriage equality, she supercharged the campaign.

Coming out for anyone is tough, coming out on live television is even tougher, and doing so to bring attention to marriage equality is a mark of Magda’s sacrifice and generosity.

Australians love Magda and Magda loves Australia, and despite last year being an unbearably tough year for her with her mother passing away, Magda showed and shared her strength in a way that inspired others to do the same.   

There were amazing campaigns right across the country for marriage equality.

Nobody wanted the postal survey, but nobody wanted to lose. One of those campaigns was led by Edie Shepherd, founder of Blackfullas for Marriage Equality.

Edie saw the parallels between this survey and the 1967 referendum to count Aboriginal people in the census, and she knew the indigenous community needed a platform to support marriage equality, so she provided that.

Despite regular abuse from those campaigning for No, Edie’s determination was representative of the tens of thousands of Australians who did everything they could to ensure we won.

Writing a book on the marriage equality movement with Dr Shirleene Robinson highlighted to me how hard this story is to tell. It is full of emotional highs and lows, and the heroism of so many people you will never know.

A few years back, Kirk Marcolina approached me to start a documentary on marriage equality and my immediate response to him was “you are not filming the mess we are in”. But Kirk spent the next couple years with an amazing team, volunteering full-time with the campaign to share the stories of why marriage equality mattered to so many Australians.

Fortunately we got out of the mess we were in and love finally had a landslide victory. Kirk got to complete a moving and powerful documentary on a movement that activated and inspired a nation.

The stories of Peter and Bon, Kerryn and Jackie, Magda, and Edie are all shared and are moving examples of the many who shared the journey that brought Australia together to not only celebrate LGBTIQ+ Australians, but reaffirm our national values of fairness and equality.

Watch Australia Says Yes on SBS on Thursday, November 15 at 7:30pm

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