AUSTRALIA’S tardiness on marriage equality is bound to prompt debate on why we’ve fallen behind similar countries and how we can move to reform as quickly as possible.
The election will bring these questions into sharp focus: some people will demand a vote in parliament and others a plebiscite, some will urge a vote for Labor or the Greens at next year’s election, and others for any pro-equality candidate.
[showads ad=MREC]However, there are problems with putting all our eggs in any of these baskets.
In terms of a parliamentary vote, the Coalition has said it won’t allow a free vote until after the election. Even if it allowed one now we don’t yet have the numbers in the House of Representatives.
With support from the leaders of both major parties, a plebiscite is likely to return a “yes” vote but the result is not binding and MPs who oppose are already finding excuses not to implement it.
Even if Labor wins the next election and moves straight to a vote in parliament, its members are bound to a conscience vote until 2019 so the support of Coalition members will still be required.
Whichever path we take to marriage equality they all converge at the same point: having the numbers in a cross-party free vote after the next election.
This is why Australian Marriage Equality’s campaign in the lead up to next year’s election is focussed on securing majority support for marriage equality in parliament regardless of who wins government.
We need eight more votes in the lower house and plan to run well-resourced grassroots campaigns across 25 to 30 electorates to win these votes.
I understand the concerns of those marriage equality supporters who would rather we campaign hard against a plebiscite or, alternatively, focus on how to win one. But our focus on winning a majority in parliament actually does both these things.
The best insurance against a plebiscite is having a majority of MPs in favour of marriage equality, making a public vote unnecessary.
Establishing the grassroots campaigns necessary to persuade more MPs to support reform is the best first step in the massive task of building the campaign infrastructure necessary to win a plebiscite.
Our focus also has the advantage of maintaining attention on the case for marriage equality and uniting people behind that case rather than distracting and dividing them with debates about how to achieve reform.
What I don’t understand are the concerns of people like Simon Copland who believe AME’s strategy has already proven a failure. Our focus on building support for marriage equality in the community and in parliament has been remarkably successful.
There is more community support for marriage equality in Australia than in any other western country, including those that have achieved the reform. The number of MPs willing and able to vote for marriage equality has risen from seven in 2009 to 48 in 2012 to 68 today. This has happened despite concerted opposition to marriage equality at the highest levels of politics, in stark contrast to the leadership shown by political leaders in other countries.
The key to our success so far has been the way we have translated community support into political support, particularly in suburban, regional and rural areas given the debate is largely won in the inner city.
We have facilitated grassroots campaigns in key electorates, and helped ensure important influencers in those electorates have their voices heard. In the past year alone almost 50 councils and over 700 businesses, mostly in suburban, regional and rural electorates, have come out in favour of marriage equality. Meanwhile, support for reform has been highlighted in a welter of local newspaper stories, rallies, marches, town hall meetings, street stalls, barbecues and other mobilising events.
Particular tribute goes to advocates in places like Geelong, Penrith, Albury, Goulburn, Launceston, Berwick and Rockhampton who have worked effectively with a range of churches, sports teams, service organisations and other local influencers to move their federal MPs toward marriage equality.
The work of dedicated advocates around the country has seen a dozen MPs declare support for marriage equality since the start of this year. They are the people who are getting results on the ground and they have backed AME’s approach.
Given the success of this approach, securing the support of at least eight more MP is not just crucial, it’s achievable.
It’s certainly more achievable than Copland’s suggestions which are to vote Labor into government, even to the point of persuading marriage equality supporters to vote for anti-equality Labor candidates — or to hold a plebiscite at the election, which AME prefers to a plebiscite down the track, but which seems unlikely.
There are no magic solutions or short cuts to marriage equality. It remains what it has always been: a reform that will be achieved one conversation, one heart and one seat at a time.
What’s new is AME’s plan to upscale and refine our organising, fundraising and messaging. We have brought Erin McCallum on board as our new campaign manager. Her experience at Get Up! will be critical to ensuring we have the kind of campaign infrastructure that provides maximum support to local advocates.
We are drawing on the skills of our new chief executive, Janine Middleton, who as a former banker is able to effectively liaise with potential donors and marshal support for marriage equality within corporate Australia.
We are also conducting the research necessary to ensure our case for marriage equality, and our responses to opposition groups, are as persuasive as they can be.
This is the kind of work that will make marriage equality a reality. But ultimately, we cannot do it without your support.
Keep an eye out for our upcoming campaigns and please do what you can to contribute.