History may soon be made, as Alex Greenwich looks likely to become the first person in a same sex marriage to enter an Australian parliament. The former Australian Marriage Equality boss is running for the NSW parliament in Clover Moore’s old seat of Sydney in tomorrow’s by-election. Clover anointed him after the government forced her to choose between council and parliament – previously she sat in both.
Entering the cut and thrust of politics after being a lobbyist is a natural progression for such a talented operative. He has been a formidable force for the marriage equality campaign, bringing a credible, corporate style to activism. This is impressive in a world where grass roots activism tends to lack discipline.
Full marriage equality was Alex’s prize. For very important reasons this has been pursued rather than the compromise option of civil unions, but that makes it harder to achieve success. With no compromise position, the odds are raised. The prize will either be won, or lost. No middle ground.
Marriage equality activists have done exceptional work, especially the team at AME. While their work has spanned many electoral cycles, when minority government came around they saw their opportunity and took it. This time, they lost. How would opponents of marriage equality have dealt with a win that snuck through thanks to the composition of the current parliament?
The likes of the Australian Christian Lobby would have clamoured for repeal, on the basis that marriage equality had been legislated after 86% of the population had voted for a party that expressly ruled it out during the previous election campaign. Both Labor and Liberal campaigned on “I Don’t”. They would claim that the marriage equality campaign was opportunistic. They would be right, at least in this instance. They would have mounted targeted campaigns in marginal seats.
If it had got up, it might well have been repealed in the next parliament, as happened in Queensland with the watering down of civil partnerships, and as has been threatened with regard to the carbon tax and the mining tax. By bringing on a vote in this parliament, everyone in the Liberal party got a free hit to say that they are not a party to break an electoral promise. Given the carbon tax debacle, who can blame them? Putting immediate time pressure on the undecided did nothing to encourage them out onto the brave ledge of equality, and allowed them to retreat to a safe position.
As the boss of AME, Alex rightfully put his cause to the top of the page, as was his job, even if it did mean taking a noble cause to parliament after the major parties had ruled it out for this term.
Being the talent that he is, no doubt Alex will transition smoothly from lobbyist to parliamentarian, where once he promises something to his electorate, they will expect him to deliver. As the shaky Gillard government has demonstrated, the electorate does not like their government not doing what it says it will, and will punish those who don’t respect the mandate they’ve been given.
It’s a very great pity that LGBT equal rights looks likely to have lost its most effective and charismatic champion. But if Alex does get into parliament, it will be wonderful to watch history being made. While some in parliament hide in the closet with fake wives as their “beards” because they fear their electorate, Alex will enter parliament being himself and being honest about who he loves. He is someone who stands for something and is willing to fight for it. He is not afraid to be himself and is fact is proud of it.That honesty looks to be a vote winner.