Not Quite Marriage: A Dangerous Moment

pic: Fibonacci Blue

In the chase for Marriage, we’re in danger of forgetting the Equality

Well, we won the first skirmish. Assuming no-one succumbs to pressure, Labor and the cross-bench will shortly kill off the plebiscite in the Senate. Time for a quick high-five and a smile, and a huge thank you to those who stayed true to their community and delivered this day, including (but not limited to) Rodney Croome, Ivan Hinton-Teoh & just.equal, Shelley Argent & PFLAG, Jac Tomlins & Rainbow Families, and many many more. But let’s not get carried away: we can’t afford to relax or relent.

This is not over, not by a long way. Firstly, even without a plebiscite, the Australian Christian Lobby, the Roman Catholic Church, and their fellow zealots (collectively, the “Christaliban”), will keep rolling out the hate, as ACLs Lyle Shelton reminds us in his latest post.

Mr Shelton said ACL would redouble its efforts with marriage coalition partners in coming months and years to ensure the Australian people understood the consequences of change.

They dont need the bad excuse of a plebiscite to keep up the attacks. They won’t relent: neither must we.

I won’t rehash the story of how we reached this point, as Alastair Lawrie has already written eloquently and at some length about the war so far. I urge you to read his blog post here. He writes:

We must keep the pressure up on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a man who claims to support the LGBTIQ community generally, and marriage equality specifically. Well, if that is the case, then it is his responsibility to actually demonstrate that support by providing a free vote in the Parliament, so that this issue can be resolved as quickly as possible (and potentially before the end of this year).

And if Turnbull is unwilling or unable to lead on this… then we must keep the pressure up on other MPs and Senators within the Coalition who back marriage equality, and encourage them to follow their conscience and cross the floor to support the legislation put forward by Labor and/or the Greens.

This is a key point: the roadblock to equality is not Bill Shorten and Labor, voting down the plebiscite, but Malcolm Turnbull and those Liberal Party members who claim to support marriage equality, but are too cowardly to do anything to advance it. GetUp explain the situation well in this video.

The soft Liberals claim they are blocked by the extreme right of the party, and it’s true that from time to time one or other of that crew threatens to throw a tanty and cross the floor if Malcolm wavers, bring the government down and put their job on the line. As if! This is just bluster. This bluff should be called, and the people to call it are the equality supporters in the Liberal Party.

Alex Greenwich and Tiernan Brady of AME/A4E are now jostling to put themselves back at the head of the marriage pack (even though they previously spent a great deal of time and effort flirting with the plebiscite). They understand that ending the plebiscite only mutes the hate campaign: it doesn’t end it.

It’s important that we acknowledge the reality that blocking the plebiscite will not achieve marriage equality, nor will it stop the campaign of the opponents of reform. One of the loudest arguments against the plebiscite has been the concern the damage that could be done to the LGBTI community by the words and tactics of the more extreme opponents, which have always been used to distract and demean. We shouldn’t think they will pack up their game plan and leave us alone. To prevent a sustained and intense campaign against same-sex couples and families we must now work with our supporters across the political spectrum to achieve reform by the end of the year.

All well and good. But there is a danger that, in the haste to get this done – a haste, by the way, of which I wholly approve – they risk once again flirting with danger, as they did with the plebiscite. They claim that the proposed amendments to the marriage act released by the Attorney-General this week provide “a window to achieve reform”.

This is the first time an Australian government has developed legislation for marriage equality, and provides a starting point to progress reform through a legislative path.

It doesn’t. It offers a path to enshrine anti-LGBTI discrimination in law. The AGs amendments would increase the scope for marriage celebrants and religious-owned businesses and facilities to refuse to serve the LGBTI community. We want ‘Australian Marriage Equality’, not ‘Australian Not Quite Marriage’. Or “Garriage” or “Pairage” as suggested by Sophie York of the Marriage Alliance, an even more venomous crew than the ACL.

graphic by Pauline Pantsdown

graphic by Pauline Pantsdown

Let us be very clear: marriage equality equals marriage, open to all couples, on exactly the same terms. Equality does not admit compromise. No special conditions, no opt-outs, no special privileges for those who don’t care for idea. They must just hold their noses and do their jobs. They’ll get used to it.

If ministers of religion don’t want to perform non-hetero marriages, fine. They – grudgingly – get a waiver. But no-one else. If a church (or any other religious operation) happens to run a business tangentially affected by the change, tough. If you’re in business, you serve everyone the same, regardless of creed, colour, race, handedness, hair colour, sexual orientation or gender diversity.

In our eagerness to embrace marriage, we must not jettison equality.

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)