Let’s start with a simple fact: the Australian gay-marriage campaign has lost this round. Marriage, for the rainbow community, isn’t legal (with the exception of transgendered individuals with opposite sex partners).
Our community is starting to tear itself apart with unhelpful finger-pointing and blame. We’re hearing lots about the failure of Equal Love rallies in Sydney and Melbourne over the weekend. Politically speaking, disunity is death, so rather than attack or accuse I want to share some observations about where we’ve gone wrong, and offer a plan to get us back on track.
If you’ve been to one student protest, you’ve been to them all – literally. Ban live exports, reject capitalism, occupy something, free refugees, free Tibet, save Gaza, Israel is mean, Save the Saudis more funding for the arts, legalise pot, save the planet, and meat is murder are staples at every “day of action”. However, none of them are relevant to gay marriage.
Using a gay marriage rally as an opportunity to proselytise other political positions is tactically unsound. Let me make it plain: I am not comfortable supporting Hamas – Gaza is a police state that labels gays “Zionist collaborators” and then executes them without trial. In my world-view this is fundamentally incompatible with a rally for equal marriage . And I am not the only mainstream person who thinks this way – all you’re doing by talking about Gaza at gay marriage rallies is encouraging people to avoid future rallies.
When people go to rallies, they want you to articulate what they’re feeling. Rally speakers should reflect the thinking, emotions, hopes and fears of the attendees, not the organisers. Do not discuss the rights and wrongs of the Middle-Eastern conflict or Obama’s status as a war criminal – it’s not relevant to gay marriage.
For a protest to have a chance at being effective, you need to pick a topic, and pick a target. Most people who see your protest don’t want to invest any thought into things that don’t affect them. That’s why we need to distil our message down into an aphorism. If you can’t tweet it, your message is too complex. At a gay marriage protest it would go like this:
“We want 87 words removed from the Marriage Act – the 87 words added in 2004 specifically to make sure gays stay second-class citizens”
This sound-bite is brief, specific, and on-topic. It reminds us that the ban on gay marriage was only recently codified and explains why these 87 words must go. It contains a simple, measurable outcome. And, it’s also very quotable in news-print, radio and TV. Imagine the impact of thousands of people united behind such a simple request. On placards break this down into simpler messages like “Lift the ban on gay marriage” or “end homophobia”, chuck in a chant, like “equal love, equal people, equal rights”. Keep it simple.
Ok, so now that we have a clear topic, we need to pick a target. We need to identify who is standing in the way of our objective and then protest them.
It’s convenient for Rainbow Labor to blame Tony Abbott, but that ignores Joe De Bryun, John Murphy, Ursula Stephens and Julia Gillard about 40% of the Parliamentary Labor Party. Blaming Tony Abbott for the ban on gay marriage may be useful in helping the ALP’s re-election campaign, but it doesn’t help lift the ban on gay marriage, does it? It’s also fairly disingenuous: the ALP can’t claim to be the party of gay-rights when the ALP’s policy is “we’re for gay rights, but won’t require our members to support them”.
So who is the root cause of this bipartisan opposition to equality? Well, that’s very simple: the Roman Catholic Church.
The Church is trying to slow down its loss of political influence (and save their reputation). They do this by trying to shift their own sins onto their enemies (in this case, us), because they see the growing acceptance of gays as a sign of their waning influence. That’s why Cardinal George Pell has this annoying habit of claiming that paedophile priests aren’t really Catholic, but rather, gays who infiltrated the church to destroy it from within.
If you’re uncomfortable protesting in front of St Patrick’s Cathedral, how about in front of the registry office? Or, like I did, in front of an anti-gay MP’s office?
Protesting in front of State Library may be free, but it isn’t exactly relevant, is it? Not being from Victoria I can’t speak with authority, but I haven’t heard anything about the State Library’s long history of oppressing gays.
Don’t get me wrong, the gay community owes the mega-lefties who are keeping the fight alive a debt of gratitude. They are committed to fighting injustice, find the time and energy to turn up to every event and brazen through while many of us sit on the couch. But they do have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. One is not really welcome to be a member of organising committees and lobby groups unless one buys into all the extraneous anti-establishment crap. Like folding Gaza into marriage equality rallies. Their self-indulgent habit of excluding everyone who isn’t ideologically pure is costing us victory.
I have been labelled “a right-winger who can’t be trusted” because of my former membership of the Liberal Party (which I resigned). How is my position on economics even relevant to my position on gay-rights? Oddly enough though, it wasn’t the ‘radicals’ of equal love who made this claim, it was the suit-wearing lobbyists who you would think might appreciate my contacts in the LNP.
In other words, as a campaign it’s our responsibility to find a way for everyone who wants to help to contribute, meaningfully. If we don’t, we’re wasting resources and throwing away support.
Excluding the Australian Sex Party is a mistake: like it or not they are the only truly libertarian and anti-censorship party in this country. They have been nothing but steadfast in their position on full gay-rights, and full women’s rights, yet the gay-marriage movement has excluded them because they compete with the Greens and the ALP politically.
I realise most of the organisers of the capital city rallies are paid-up members of Resistance and the Socialist Alliance who view The Greens as a far-right party, however in the real world the Greens are the far left-flank of Australian politics. You can’t really bemoan that Liberal Party members (or former Liberal Party members) won’t come to your rallies if you exclude them or make them feel particularly unwelcome in the gay-rights inner-circle.
Let’s get back to reality: politicians aren’t going to vote for things that aren’t important to them unless they realise that not supporting them can threaten their political career. Right now Rainbow Labor thinks it owns the gay vote because gays won’t vote against the ALP. Excluding competitors to the Greens-ALP coalition is therefore ultimately counter-productive.
You need to decide if your political tribalism is more important than gay-rights. The quickest way to get 87 words removed from the marriage act is to make those 87 words a condition of your political support. Rainbow Labor should try stacking out John Murphy’s preselection, or if that fails, pay for advertising to unseat him. Gay liberals should attack Kevin Andrews and both sides should help each other.
So there it is, my three point plan for getting marriage-equality rallies back on track:
- Get back to basics – marriage equality rallies should be exclusively about gay rights and they should welcome everyone who supports gay marriage – regardless of political position on any other topic. Rallies are about attendees, not organisers;
- Target rallies against those standing in the way of equality by finding ways of using the talents and connections of everyone who wants to be of service on this issue; and,
- Show politicians that you only support politicians who support gay rights by actively fighting against those who oppose gay rights (even, no, especially the ones who are nominally in your tribe).
Until the gay community starts taking open, direct political action (the way the Australian Christian Lobby does) we will not be a threat to anyone’s reelection and we will continue be horse-traded for glittering prizes like a Prime-Minister’s office.