There has been a lot of debate about where the LGBTI community should focus its attention now we have marriage equality.
For me, the answer is simple.
To fight that battle we need to democratise ownership of the networks, resources, and skills acquired during the marriage equality campaign.
“The ‘religious freedom’ idea threatens to pull down all the gains the gay community has made”: they are the words of an Anglican Minister I spoke to on Thursday who supports equality and who knows the game plan of conservative religious leaders and their political allies.
Their next move is the Ruddock Inquiry. It was a political solution to getting marriage equality through and it will have a political outcome as well.
I fear it will recommend ‘religious freedom protections’ that will be used by the Turnbull Government to drive a wedge between progressive and conservative Labor members in the lead up to the next federal election, in exactly the same way marriage equality was used by the Howard Government as a wedge to divide Labor in 2004.
Back then Labor responded to the wedge by falling in behind Howard. We have a lot of work ahead to ensure history doesn’t repeat, Labor stays strong, and the Senate defeats whatever moves the Government takes towards weakening existing anti-discrimination laws.
Now, as then, LGBTI people and our human rights will be collateral damage.
What raises my suspicion about the Ruddock Inquiry being a set up is hearing how Catholic photographers and Baptist bakers are right now quietly shutting down their businesses out of “fear of being prosecuted” if they turn away marrying same-sex couples.
These people will stride the Ruddock stage as examples of the “unintended consequences” of marriage equality and the need to roll back discrimination laws that protect LGBTI people.
If I’m right and “religious freedom” is about to irrupt into national politics, the LGBTI community needs to be campaigning now: showing that the “religious freedom” case against marriage equality is contrived, highlighting that Australia’s discrimination laws have fostered a better society, pointing to the racial and religious minorities that will also suffer from holes being punched in these laws, and pointing out that when conservative religious leaders say “freedom” they mean “privilege and control”.
It’s not enough for groups like the Australian Human Rights Commission to meekly say that we need to strike a balance between religious freedom and LGBTI equality.
Australia already has protections for genuine religious freedom.
What is being demanded by the Australian religious right, in lock step with their American cousins, is the privilege to ignore the laws the rest of us have to abide by in order to heap pain, stigma and disadvantage on people they don’t like.
Every self-respecting human rights defender must be calling out the current “religious freedom” narrative for exactly what it is, an abuse of human rights, minorities, faith, and freedom.
In the words of my Anglican Minister: “It’s one thing to win equality and quite another to defend it. Please don’t throw away your t-shirts and your banners.”
If the movement for religious privilege is the great challenge LGBTI Australians face, the great opportunity we have is the storehouse of resources, skills, expertise, networks and databases accumulated during the marriage equality campaign including the postal survey.
These resources matched and defeated Australia’s anti-equality forces in 2017 and they can do it again in 2018.
They are the greatest source of power and influence for LGBTI equality Australia has ever seen.
The problem is that it is not clear who owns or manages them.
Marriage equality campaign groups like Australians 4 Equality and Australian Marriage Equality have no membership, no elections, and no formal or direct accountability to the LGBTI community.
As talented and well-intentioned as many A4E and AME campaigners are, their boards are self-appointed and self-perpetuating.
It is essential that the control of these organisations’ vast and valuable campaign assets be democratised so they belong to, and are available to, all LGBTI Australians equally.
Together we raised the money, built the databases and enhanced our own skills and the skills of those around us.
It’s time for us to have a say in what happens to all these precious commodities.
This immense, new-found power for LGBTI equality must be responsive and responsible to all those who created it and are affected by it.
That means the formation, for the first time in Australia, of a truly accountable and democratic national LGBTI rights organisation.
That organisation would have the capacity to deal with a whole raft of urgent issues, including transgender law reform and LGBTI issues in schools, as well as combatting the movement for religious privilege.
The ground work has been laid already with relevant discussions at the Better Together conference in Melbourne last week, and with large-scale surveys conducted by social researchers for just.equal and PFLAG to determine what priorities LGBTI Australians actually have.
Now, it’s time to take the next step and transform the marriage equality movement’s out-dated aristocratic governance model into a new democratic model for a new post-marriage world.
The challenge the LGBTI community faces from the religious privilege movement is immense, but we can meet that challenge if we finally have a national voice that is responsible to us all and that we all have an equal stake in.
To sign a petition to the Ruddock Inquiry in support of LGBTI equality, go to: www.equal.org.au/ruddock_inquiry.
To send your own submission, go to: https://pmc.gov.au/domestic-policy/religious-freedom-review.