Equal Love Melbourne's Nic McAtamney

Equal Love Melbourne’s Nic McAtamney

AUSTRALIAN Marriage Equality spokesperson Rodney Croome recently launched an unsubtle attack on rallies held by Equal Love and more strangely the language of equality used by the broader campaign.  According to Croome, the word “equality” is too confrontational, we need to call it “marriage fairness” so as not to alienate conservatives.

Equal Love is a little perplexed about the motivations here but more alarming is why Croome would be doing the conservatives work for them. We are on the same side here. We all want marriage equality.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the other hand has made it quite clear he doesn’t want marriage equality.  As a senior Howard Government Minister he voted in the amendment to the federal marriage, limiting marriage to a man and woman.  Almost 10 years later he fought to overturn the ACT government’s same sex marriage laws.

Thus we are a little confused by Croome’s recent article in the Star Observer where he lays blame on the activists for why we don’t have ‘Marriage Fairness’ and identifies Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party as the campaign’s allies. Divide and conquer is a classic strategy used against the oppressed, we need to stand together and not do Abbott’s work for him.

Our symbol is the rainbow – our community has always been diverse both in identities and politics.  There has always had a loud and proud arm and a more quiet and polite stream, from the Mattachine Society to Gay Liberation. These strategies are not mutually exclusive.

What does not help though, is when one arm insists the other be quiet. As the ACT UP slogan went “Silence = Death.” From Stonewall to HIV and AIDS crisis, a public campaign of anger and pride has always taken our struggle out of the closet and put our issues on the political map.

Equal Love is a community group that endeavours to highlight the overwhelming public support that exists for equal rights through mass action and in so doing pressure those responsible for maintaining discrimination to change the law. There are two key reasons we believe this is an important strategy to pursue.

The most obvious is that together we are stronger.  A visual display of community outrage over the issue emboldens those who want change, those who are suffering with homophobia and helps challenge wider layers of people to think about the issue.  Our demonstrations have been the largest and most enduring queer political actions in Australia in many years. It is the endless public outcry on this issue that creates a space for the lobbying work Australian Marriage Equality do.

What is also important about political rallies is that they don’t just make resistance a private personal action but build community and connectedness. Thus was the power of Stonewall to remind people they are not alone in the struggle.  After every rally, we receive messages from attendees on how good the rallies made them feel – that they are not alone. This is particularly important for young people, who make up a large portion of attendees and many travelling to the major cities from often detached rural communities.

What draws in young people and many others who come to our rallies is not necessarily a desire to get married tomorrow, but their experiences of broader discrimination that we are all too familiar with. Equal Love therefore believes it is important not to throw our pride under the bus to try to get marriage rights over the line through backroom deals alone.  It is ‘marriage equality’ and we should not feel ashamed to declare our right to be equal, nor should we leave the transgendered and intersex community out in the cold, our goal is the repeal of the amendment to the Marriage Act in 2004, and the adoption of marriage laws that do not discriminate on the basis of gender, sex or sexuality.

There is not just one way to achieve this.  The size and diversity of the equal marriage campaign has indeed been its strength. The campaign has been one of the most resilient and sustained in Australian politics. As such, it has opened up space for broader issues of homophobia and transphobia to be talked about in the mainstream media, schools and workplaces.  Marriage equality won on the back of a loud public campaign that entrenches our victory more solidly and better places us to go forward to fight around other issues of discrimination, it is a more powerful moral victory against homophobia than winning it through polite lobbying alone.  The demand for silence, fewer rallies or for us to rely on the ‘…Coalition politician’s belief in fairness or family…’ will be the death of the issue as an important public one.  Only sustained pressure on any government in power, which is both public and private will make them change their position.

Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the Howard government’s amendment to the Marriage Act. 10 years too long and Howard’s protégé should not go unchallenged.

Equal Love is organising rallies on Saturday May 17 and Saturday August 16, in line with International Day Against Homophobia and the anniversary of the marriage ban respectively. We welcome all parties, organisations and individuals who unashamedly support marriage equality to help us organise them.

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