Time To Get Tough

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melissa weise

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the G.A.Y. (Good As You)* community is Australia is in deep trouble. A backlash to marriage equality in America and Ireland could have been expected, though, amazingly, most G.A.Y.* organisations in the USA seem to have been caught on the hop. But in Oz, where we don’t even have equality yet?

Here, we are suffering the double hurt of wearing the same vicious backlash, without having won any progress in the first place. It’s currently focused on the Safe Schools program, and our community groups, such as they are, have been caught napping too.

At least in the US (and the UK) there are still strong organisations who can quickly regroup and fight back. There is no equivalent in Australia, and attempts to form and sustain one – such as the Australian Coalition for Equality, or the National LGBTI Health Alliance – have acrimoniously failed.

There is no organization that can marshall a swift show of support from major corporates and sporting codes, unlike the US, where they have ridden to the rescue. A recent attempt to persuade Australian corporates to speak out for Safe Schools fell on deaf ears.

[There’s a full list of the companies that spoke out against the Georgia laws here]

Our enemies always go for soft targets: in America the attack has been on transgender people and their rights. Our Australian pollies went after G.A.Y.* kids, especially transgender kids.

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pimkie

Malcolm Turnbull simply caved. His actions (as distinct from his words, which do not matter) have been a repeat of previous ploys by Howard and Abbott. Set conditions for change, and then just as the conditions are about to be met, change them, add new ones, make the task harder.

We were conned by Abbott into thinking that he would allow a private members bill to go forward, when he had no intention of doing so. Now Turnbull has pulled the same trick with the plebiscite proposal he inherited from Abbott.

Brandis and Turnbull had a plan to have everything in place before the election. A Marriage Equality Bill would be passed now, only come into effect if the plebiscite vote was yes. The bill would have included:

  • The terms of the plebiscite, i.e., would it require a simple majority of all votes cast, or a simple majority plus majority in each state, would voting be compulsory etc.
  • The question to be put at the plebiscite
  • The date of the plebiscite and the duration of the campaign
  • The funding to made available to both sides
  • The scope of the special opt-out privileges to be granted to the self-described ‘religious’

But it was all too hard. The bill was abandoned, and the plebiscite proposals would be taken to the election. Then that was jettisoned too. The sudden dash to the polls has Turnbull throwing the whole issue on the bonfire as ‘too divisive’. The LNP will go to the polls with nothing substantive: no policy, no plebiscite proposals, no timetable, nothing beyond vague promises of something sometime after the election. Maybe. And we all know how they work out.

Meanwhile Labor, unless I have missed something, remains stuck on bringing in a bill on a conscience vote within 100 days. Depending on the composition of the new parliament, that could still fail.

In short we have been shafted. And the worst is yet to come. And we have nothing with which to fight back. We have only a limited time to come together and formulate a vigorous fightback, and we have only one organization with sufficient reach and clout to lead it.

It is time Australian Marriage Equality stopped playing nice and came out swinging. It is time it stopped being a lobby group campaigning for weddings, and fought for all G.A.Y.* people and our relationships to be not just accepted, but honoured and celebrated as we should be, and as we wish.

Let us be clear what equal marriage is. It is a symbol, nothing more, of our full equality in Australian society. It requires only a simple, straightforward change to the law, allowing any two consenting adults to marry, regardless of sex or gender. All other laws referencing husband, wife and family to apply equally to any married couple. No get-outs, no exemptions, no special rights for anyone.

All must be equal before the law without exemption.

relgious exemptions

But it is time to acknowledge that it is by no means enough. This is as endless fight. We must not make the mistake the Americans made, closing down marriage campaigns once the Supreme Court had spoken. We must not be caught out by new attacks on new targets. We must become pro-active and carry the fight to the other side.

Where are our opponents weak? What is hard for them to justify? Exemptions to discrimination law is one area. Special privileges exempting them from paying their fair share in rates and taxes is another. Their long and shameful record of the abuse of children, and the concealment and excusing of that abuse. These are weapons we should not shirk to use. We need an organisation with courage, and teeth.

AME may not be the best organization to run vigorous political campaigns to attack and unseat opponents and apologists in parliaments, and force our rights and the oppositions unjustifiable privileges to the front of the agenda, but it is the best, if not the only one we have. It is the only G.A.Y.* organisation with a credible claim to national reach, with respect in Canberra and from the wider public, with media savvy and name recognition.

gay flow

We have already seen what swamp-dwellers like Cory Bernardi and George Christensen have unleashed, the extent to which they have lied, smeared, distorted, the naked hatred they have legitimized.

We must have our Human Rights Campaign, our equivalent to Stonewall in the UK, our GLAAD, and we need it yesterday. We need it to be in there fighting during the July 2nd election. There’s no time to start a new organization from scratch, it’s up to AME to face up to the new and dangerous situation we are in, and step up to the plate, perhaps by funding and auspicing a new fighting arm.

Because it is crystal clear there isn’t going to be a successful marriage bill in parliament in the foreseeable future. That strategy has failed. Time for a whole new approach.

*I’m sick to death of the ever-expanding, unpronounceable and unsellable salami of initials that constitute the usual acronym, e.g., LGBTIQ etc. In future all posts on the stirrer will employ G.A.Y., incorporating everyone currently recognized as a member of our community, and standing for Good As You.

good-as-you

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years.

“Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe.” (Daniel Witthaus, “Beyond Priscilla”, Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)