New research released last week has revealed that Australians rate the achievement of marriage equality as the top historic event to have defined the nation during their lifetime.
The research demonstrated the ownership and pride we share in achieving this reform. The result is significant, but not surprising, given that the conversation and campaign was not only about the LGBTIQ community, it was about the values we cherish as a nation and the way we treat our friends, family, and neighbours.
The extraordinary joyful scenes from the marriage equality vote in Parliament last December provide an example of what can be achieved when politicians work together to achieve the will of the Australian people.
In the aftermath of the legislation’s passage, politicians from all sides embraced, some were overwhelmed by the significance of the moment and in tears, others held up a rainbow flag. Spectators in the public gallery spontaneously broke out into song, choosing the Seekers’ I Am Australian.
A team of researchers at the Social Research Centre, affiliated with the Australian National University, asked 2,000 Australians to reflect on what events had the most significance on Australian life. An overwhelming 30 per cent of respondents chose the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
Having campaigned for marriage equality and witnessed the extraordinary passage of the legislation last year, we believe it is important to reflect on this further. Apart from the immediacy of the vote, why have Australians opted to select the passage of marriage equality as a marker of national significance?
We think it is because the passage of marriage equality reflects the values of fairness and equality which Australians hold dear.
Australians largely accept LGBTI people as their friends, families, and neighbours, fully deserving of full inclusion and acceptance. The vote and the realisation of marriage equality also showed the power of hope.
It also reflected the way Australian people have driven important social change from the grass roots up.
In 2004, the Marriage Act was changed quickly, with little dissent, to exclude same-sex couples. By 2007, polling was showing that a majority of Australians believed that this was unfair and that same-sex Australians should be allowed to marry.
They came to see marriage equality as a positive force, one that would bring Australians together. It was fundamentally unfair to exclude one group of people from a central social institution. It was Parliament that lagged behind the Australian people.
Marriage equality could not have been achieved without hope for a better nation. This was a belief and an expectation that sustained those who worked for this, especially at times when it looked as though the reform had little chance of being achieved. Hope motivates and is the most powerful force to drive social change.
From 2004 through to 2017, when the injustice that saw same-sex Australians excluded from marriage was finally amended, ordinary Australians have been at the forefront of this movement.
When it appeared that the issue would be ‘kicked into the long grass’, every day Australians continued to have conversations and open hearts and minds about why marriage matters.
Scenes of same-sex couples marrying in this country have been moving and joyful to witness and have clearly made a major impression on Australia as a country.
It is important to remember though, that there is still work to be done. Individual states have twelve months to reform laws which currently mean transgender people need to be unmarried if they want to update the sex on their birth certificate.
We urge states to address this as soon as possible to ensure that transgender people are not forced to divorce their partners before amending their sex on their birth certificates, and thank those states who are already taking action.
The achievement of marriage equality sent a positive and profound message about who Australians are. We are a hopeful and inclusive country, motivated to achieve social reform that improves the lives of others.
We must take inspiration from the results of this pioneering study to keep shaping Australia as fairer and more equal place for all.