Star Observer editor Elias Jahshan (Photo credit: Ann-Marie Calihanna)

Star Observer editor Elias Jahshan (Photo credit: Ann-Marie Calihanna)

THIS year saw the rolling of a government committed to marriage equality if re-elected. The introduction of tough laws that mean LGBTI asylum seekers fleeing persecution will be shipped to Papua New Guinea, where it is illegal to be themselves. Let’s also not forget Russia’s homophobic laws that resulted in a violent and public persecution of its LGBTI citizens.

In addition, The Queen made a tiny move towards outlawing LGBTI discrimination throughout the Commonwealth, despite most member nations possessing homophobic laws. We only need to look at Uganda’s relentless persecution of its LGBTI citizens as an example of this. And most recently, India made being gay a crime again.

So much has happened worldwide, but domestically the news of the historic same-sex marriages in the ACT and the subsequent High Court decision overturning those laws five days later have been highlights.

Regardless of whether or not the ACT Government was embarking on legislative activism of sorts, the High Court’s decision was a huge disappointment. Not so much because it declared ACT’s same-sex marriage legislation as unconstitutional – but because the Federal Government actively sought to challenge the legislation, arguing it was inconsistent with the federal Marriage Act.

The ACT laws may have been struck down, but in their judgement Justice French and his team unanimously stated that the Federal Government certainly had the power to amend the Marriage Act to allow same-sex attracted, trans* and intersex people to be included.

A fair interpretation of this decision is that we do not have marriage equality today only because the Liberal/National Coalition got together with Labor in 2004 and amended the laws so that marriage was explicitly defined as one between a man and woman.

This had nothing to do with faith or the institution of marriage but everything to do with political opportunism when then-PM John Howard tried to wedge opposition leader Mark Latham while he was making an unpredictable ascent (which later imploded). Howard was rattled and played chicken with Latham to attract the conservative votes. Latham blinked.

It is time to get rid of the 2004 amendment. Our efforts should be focused on repealing it on a national scale. We do not need new state- by-state marriage laws – just the removal of a decade-old amendment in a federal legislation.

Recently, current PM Tony Abbott was nowhere to be seen expressing sympathy to the scores of couples who married in the ACT recently but had their union annulled after the High Court’s decision. Yet while bouncing between one political crisis after another, Abbott did find time to release a statement in support of the second marriage of Fred Nile, a notoriously homophobic politician. This audacious act can only be viewed as one of provocation. As the saying goes, it was like adding salt to the wound.

Abbott’s daughters, his wife and his own sister in a same-sex de facto relationship couldn’t even convince him on legalising marriage equality – so what chance do we have? Luckily, he has opened the door for this to be a party room decision, meaning we must lobby his MPs – not him. We already have one high-profile Coalition member on board, with communications minister Malcolm Turnbull this week highlighting that Australia was “out of step” with close allies like the UK, Canada, New Zealand and many USA states.

Having said all that, it is vital to realise that the fight for marriage equality in Australia is largely a symbolic one. Our de facto laws are so advanced in that those in non-heterosexual de facto relationships essentially have the same rights and freedoms as a married couple after two years of living and depending on each other, and other laws can provide marriage-like arrangements when used effectively.

Nonetheless, the simple fact that we do not have marriage equality yet still renders us as unequal to fellow Australians and this is worth fighting for – but as Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome recently wrote on these pages, it needs to be done in respectable and effective ways. The “rallies” are becoming incessant, and don’t get me started on the Socialist Alternative hijacking the cause and tarnishing the reputation of the movement.

But more than anything – it is crucial we understand and remind ourselves that marriage equality is not the last bastion of discrimination that we have to fight for domestically or around the world.

LGBTI discrimination still exists in Australia in many forms. For example, in most states faith- based schools are still able to expel students (or fire teachers) if they come out as LGBTI.

They get special protection from anti- discrimination laws that public schools are legally bound to, and this is just wrong. Every child has a right to access education, regardless of the type of institution that provides it. In NSW, Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich has done a lot of ground work to have the laws amended, but there is still lots to be done before it can be achieved.

Homophobia is also still a serious issue – whether it be casual or fully-fledged. For those living in the inner-city LGBTI-friendly suburbs of major cities, this may be hard to believe. But for those who hail from the suburbs – like myself – and country regions, it is something we have to deal with on a more regular basis.

As the recently-appointed editor of Star Observer, I advocate that the LGBTI who live in suburban and country areas deserve as much of a voice as those who live in what is often known as “gay ghettos”. I also believe those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds also deserve a voice. Just like the country itself, Australia’s LGBTI community is one that is incredibly diverse and I will strive to reflect that in the newspaper.

And in 2014, I am committed to broadening our coverage in precisely those places, especially along the east coast.

I also think it is vital to celebrate the positive role models in our community, especially those who help break down stereotypes and further our cause for equality on many fronts – not just marriage equality. Shedding light on brave teens that make coming out videos, and parents that “evolve” in the name of love are also stories worth telling. I also think it is vital that community members living with HIV can tell their stories. Human stories in general are not only interesting, but incredibly powerful.

As for internationally, the situation in many countries is dire and we need get involved where possible. It is easy for us to get caught up in our privileged first-world lifestyle. Raising awareness and lobbying politicians about the homophobic and transphobic laws and acts happening not just in Russia and India – but also throughout Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world – is the very least we could do.

I acknowledge Australia has come a long way since the iconic 1978 gay rights protest in Sydney (a.k.a the first Mardi Gras), and I am incredibly thankful for the elders in our community who have fought for our rights. However, with trans* and intersex people still facing blatant discrimination in various forms, a lack of inclusiveness and/or homophobia in major sporting codes, disproportionately high rates of suicide among LGBTI youth and the bullying they face, plus religious discrimination – we still have a long way to go.

Twitter: @Elias_Jahshan

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