It is a significant victory. Even though it was only discussed for under two minutes, same-sex marriage took centre stage during the first election debate. Both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott made moves on the issue and marriage equality dominated the news headlines following the leader’s battle.
Significant progress indeed – however, I am skeptical. Of course any progress is welcome and the shift in attitudes, even within just the last three years, has been great. Yet at the same time I am becoming increasingly concerned that GLBTI people are becoming the playthings of our political leaders.
It’s something I’ve noticed increasingly around a range of issues – women’s rights, climate change and GLBTI rights – issues that were part of the new wave of politics starting in the 1960s. As I watch each of these issues play out, I’m noticing a trend in which our leaders latch on to symbols for change, but ignore the structures behind our problems.
GLBTI rights is a perfect example, and we can see it in both parties. Despite support for same-sex marriage, Kevin Rudd has clearly shown – in particular through the treatment of queer asylum seekers – that queer issues are not at the heart of our government. Even if Abbott changes his view on same-sex marriage, or we get a conscience vote through Malcolm Turnbull (if he leads a future Coalition Opposition), the still very conservative structures in the Coalition (the ones that keep Cory Bernadi in Parliament) won’t shift. In other words, marriage is being used as a symbol for change, but the structures of queerphobia are being left untouched.
We often talk about same-sex marriage as an important symbol. I can see that argument. But now I fear it has gone too far. It has now become such a key symbol that it is the only thing we judge our politicians on.
And that means that politicians are now able to use same-sex marriage as a political plaything. It has become about positioning to win votes (or I actually suspect, to make queer groups happy) and nothing to do with actually tackling the issues – and the structures – we need to tackle. Both of the major parties have shown it in this election, and without serious changes I cannot see either shifting any time soon.
So let’s make sure we don’t become the political playthings of the old parties. Congratulate them on what they’ve done, but don’t give them a free pass. Don’t let them get away until we get to the heart of discrimination. That is the only way we can ensure they don’t use us as their playthings.