Marriage Equality: Unfinished Business

pic by elyob

They built a national LGBTI campaigning organisation, raised $20m worth of support, trained and hired staff – and then as soon as the marriage bill passed, they dismantled it all and shut it down

———————-This is not a time to be patting ourselves on the back———————–


The Canberra Times recently reported that Canberra power gay couple, Tom Snow (if you don’t know who he is, see links to previous posts below**) and his husband Brooke Horne, have been honoured for their part in the Australian Marriage Equality campaign. In accepting the award he said:

“We’ve got three children and we were deeply afraid as a family of the impact that would have, the impact on our kids, but also young gay and lesbian Australians and their families. So we said, ‘We will step in and help’,” Mr Snow said.

Their initial donation led to the marriage equality campaign being professionally coordinated  and $20 million in cash and in-kind donations, with the Snow Foundation, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce and Optus chairman Paul O’Sullivan giving significant amounts.

Tom Snow: twitter

There is no doubt that their takeover of the campaign, aided by their wealthy friends and top-drawer connections, helped push marriage equality over the line. Unfortunately, they also pushed aside many who had already done most of the spadework, including household names Rodney Croome, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, and Shelley Argent.

Their names are steadily being written out of history: for example, Hinton-Teoh’s name doesn’t even appear in AMEs “honour roll”. There is, however, a mention of “the Hinton Family”. And he is far from the only omission.


This story in the Canberra Times is almost all we have heard regarding Australian Marriage Equality and its offshoot (chaired by Snow), the Equality Campaign, since Dean Smiths flawed same-sex marriage bill passed parliament. Odd, because the bill only provided for same-sex marriage (as the stirrer has pointed out before), which is not at all the same thing as marriage equality. Their ‘triumph’ was incomplete.

To smooth the passage of the Smith bill, the PM set up the Ruddock inquiry into the impact of the measure on religious freedom.  This mollified those who thought the legalisation of same sex marriage would limit their “religious freedom”. They hope Ruddock will free them from the intolerable imposition of having to treat LGBTI people honestly and fairly, and make the conditional equality we now enjoy even less equal than it already is.

We’re not out of the woods yet. So you would imagine AME/EC would still be hard at work, defending what they won, and fighting to stop its erosion. Yet the AME website has been turned into nothing more than a monument, an honour roll of people who worked, wrote, argued, fought for equal marriage.

I am somewhat appalled that everything built with our money and effort seems to have evaporated; the organisation dismantled; everyone pretending the job is done; the wealthy donors and supporters retreated to the enclaves of privilege, insulated from the inequalities and discrimination still endured by most of us.

I have no problem with them being applauded and awarded their laurels. I have strong objections to their resting on them.


Snow told the Canberra Times:

Most of the more than 10,000 cash donations [to Australian Marriage Equality and the Equality Campaign] were from the grassroots, ordinary men and women who wanted all citizens treated equally in the marriage debate.

Rodney Croome

So what has happened to everything that money bought? Where are the detailed accounts showing what was spent, and on what? Rodney Croome told the stirrer

Australian Marriage Equality built up the largest campaign infrastructure in LGBTI history, which then grew even larger under the Equality Campaign during the postal survey.

This included a massive social media presence, huge databases of everyday equality supporters, and large networks of religious, corporate and union contacts.

The LGBTI community needs that infrastructure to campaign for the objectives the Equality Campaign let slip: transgender equality, inclusive schools and the protection of discrimination laws.

But the infrastructure seems to have vanished.

The key point missing here is that we, the community, and those who supported the fight for our equality, paid for it. It belongs to us. It is in danger of going to waste, at a time when we urgently need it. If AME/EC isn’t going to use it, then it could and should serve as the foundation of a new national campaigning body. Croome added

We have a right to know what happened to all that infrastructure, who owns it now, and how we can return it to community ownership.

That last point is very important because whatever national structure replaces the Equality Campaign must be accountable to the LGBTI community.

Accountability is the best inoculation against the kind of unnecessary compromises we have seen too many of in the last two years.


AME/EC seem to have made the same disastrous mistake as US  marriage campaigners: they assumed that having won the battle, they had won the war. They never imagined a backlash, never mind a successful one.

But since the election of Donald Trump US LGBTGI rights have been travelling backwards at the speed of tweets, while the very organisations which should have been resisting him have largely disappeared: declared ‘job done’; closed their doors; laid off their experienced campaign staff; deleted their supporter databases.  Blindsided by Trumps unthinkable victory, they threw away their advantages. AME/EQ now appears to be doing likewise.

It’s is a timely reminder that when the wind changes, rights can be stripped away as quickly as they were granted. The US groups have now understood this and are now scrambling to salvage what they can. Why aren’t AME/EC?

It’s no good saying “It cannot happen  here.” It is already happening here. The religious right have infiltrated the LNP in Queensland, and the Liberals in WA and NSW. They are mounting a takeover bid in Victoria right now. The possibility of a Trump-like backlash cannot be ignored.

It’s wishful thinking to say “Marriage is done and dusted”, that we are now free to fight the many other injustices and inequalities – trans rights, youth homelessness, LGBTI seniors for example. Before we can advance, we must secure and defend what we have gained.


In a little less than two years time I shall be 70 years of age. I have devoted a fair chunk of my life to arguing for LGBTI rights, and if I have learned one thing, it is this. As soon as we stop fighting, we start to lose what we have gained. Being in a minority means the war is never over, and the fighting can never stop. The majority is always there and will always roll over us like a steamroller unless we act, constantly, to prevent it.

There is always a backlash. As soon as partial decriminalisation was achieved in the UK in 1967, the rate of convictions for homosexual offences – some newly invented, some creative reinterpretations of old laws – rose sharply. Our opponents fought back. They always do. It never stops.


Rodney Croome agrees that AME/EC have largely absented themselves from the battle:

The Ruddock Review was a direct outcome of last year’s marriage legislation but the Equality Campaign put in very little effort to educate and mobilise supporters of equality to respond to that review. That job fell to under-resourced groups like just.equal, PFLAG and Rainbow Families.

One indication of the Equality Campaign’s failure is that submissions against LGBTI equality far outnumbered those in favour. Ultimately this should not be about numbers, but neither should we be giving anti-equality groups this kind of free kick.

Philip Ruddock

Meanwhile the ACL are churning out press releases, blog posts and Facebook posts, with almost no-one on our side refuting their rubbish, explaining the desperate need to remove existing discrimination against us, not expand the scope of legally permissible discrimination. If the politicians are only talking to one side of the argument and the media are only hearing from our opponents, we can hardly be surprised when we are backed into a corner yet again.

Now that Super Saturday is over, the Ruddock Review is about to report, and where are our big guns, primed and ready to blow it apart? Or has AME/EQ decided they can live with being second-class citizens, so long as they’re “sort-of” married? That NQR matrimony is “good enough”?


You don’t have to be a genius to know that LGBTI are by no means equal yet, still subject to vilification and discrimination. If you need to be reminded, I’ve listed a few examples, with links, below.

I’d like to ask Tom Snow, and Brooke Horne, and Alan Joyce, and all their wealthy LGBTI colleagues, “Seeing what is happening in the US, do you not fear the rising influence of the arrogant, ignorant, self-righteous right here? Has it not occurred to you that you risk having your children taken from you, and your marriages annulled, if they come to power here?”

 Speaking about the postal vote, Tom Snow, said:

We’ve got three children and we were deeply afraid as a family of the impact that would have, the impact on our kids, but also young gay and lesbian Australians and their families.

And rightly so. But have you ceased to fear, now that same-sex marriage has passed? Why?

What if any of your children should happen to be LGBTI? Bullying can happen at even the most expensive of private schools: are you not afraid for them? Have you no sympathy for other LGBTI families who do not have the means to insulate their kids from bullying, as your wealth allow you to do? Are you not “deeply afraid” of the the damage that might be done to those children? Are you happy to consign them to unsafe schools, when you have the means to prevent it?

Do you not worry about a medical profession which is woefully ill-educated about LGBTI health issues? Do you not fear the potentially damaging outcomes for young gays and lesbians and their families who do not have the means to choose their doctors and nurses, and must contend with the public hospital system? Indeed, can you be sure that even the most expensive doctors and private clinics will be up to speed?

And finally, do you think it right that the organisation, the campaign engine, that you helped to build, should simply be left to rust, when marriage equality urgently needs defending, now? And when there is so much else to do?

In the meantime, as I said before, congratulations on your laurels. Please, do not rest on them. Thank you for all you have done. But please do not walk away from your achievements while there are still people who are trying to destroy them. Having won same-sex marriage, please, step up and join us in defending it.

Jonas Bengtsson


Health impacts for gay men and lesbians

Extracted from the website

While many things have improved for gay and lesbian people over the past 50 years in Australia, there is still constant uncertainty about whether they will receive acceptance from families, friends, colleagues and services. The constant pressure of dealing with this uncertainty has an impact on health.

Gay men and lesbians have higher rates of mental health disorders than the rest of the population. They also have higher rates of obesity, smoking and unsafe alcohol and drug use, and are more likely to self-harm.

These conditions develop in response to different scenarios including:

  • ‘coming out’, only to be rejected by family members and friends
  • being bullied or taunted by schoolmates on a daily basis
  • homophobic jokes or harassment in the workplace
  • being threatened or bashed when out on the street
  • hiding part of yourself in social situations for fear of being rejected or marginalised
  • feeling guilt and shame about your sexuality in the face of negative messages being delivered by the society around you.

Gay men, lesbians and health professionals

Research suggests that gay men and lesbians have reduced access to medical care compared to heterosexuals. Some of the issues they face include:

  • The majority of gay men and lesbians have had experience of homophobic health professionals. This may make them less inclined to seek medical help, or they may wait longer before they seek help.
  • Health professionals, particularly in rural areas, may be inadequately informed about gay and lesbian health issues.
  • Gay men and lesbians may experience difficulties communicating with medical professionals because of the fear that they may need to ‘come out’ during the consultation and risk receiving less favourable treatment as a result.
  • The right to provide ‘medical consent’ may be refused to same sex partners, in spite of the fact that it is now illegal to do so.
  • Gay men and lesbians may be reluctant to have their sexuality recorded in their histories due to the fear that others may gain access to their records.
  • Reduced access to services leads to reduced levels of screening in gay and lesbian populations. This is likely to account for the higher levels of some cancers in these groups.

Many health services claim that they ‘treat everyone the same’, but this usually means that they treat everyone as heterosexual. Gay and lesbian people do not need special medical treatment, but they do need treatment that is fair and appropriate.

From the conversation:

In contrast to Canada, which allows birth certificates to record up to four parents, Australia allows only two parents to be recorded. This means that this pivotal identity document may not accurately reflect a child’s family structure.

Another issue that can now receive greater attention is the ongoing use of conversion therapies to “cure” a person’s same-sex attraction. These harmful practices appear to have gone underground, but are actually more prevalent in Australia than ever before.

Conversion therapies have been condemned by the medical profession as harmful and ineffective, and by the UN as a breach of human rights. Nevertheless they continue in Australia.

Mardi Gras – Sydney Morning Herald

In Australia in 2018 a church or a church-affiliated institution is still completely within its rights to sack an employee for being homosexual. Even worse, Malcolm Turnbull has tasked partisan warrior Philip Ruddock with examining whether religious beliefs should give Australians even more rights to discriminate against LGBTQI people.

For every two steps forward we have been forced to take steps back. The fact that tonight many of us will step forward in sequinned heels, with a few high kicks thrown in, in the 40th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras doesn’t change the fact that it can be exhausting and demoralising to have to argue for equality year after year.


And many more. Do the research.

**Meanwhile for those who don’t know, Tom is the son of the Snow family, owners of Canberra airport, and much more Canberra real estate besides. The stirrer has covered the role of Snow in the marriage equality campaign in previous posts:

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)