Tell Your MP: It’s About Discrimination, Not Marriage

pic: Atheist Happy Thoughts

Don’t lose sight of the fact that Marriage Equality is all about removing discrimination, not strengthening it

Some members of the LGBTI community seem to have become obsessed with passing a marriage bill – any marriage bill – even if it doesn’t provide the equality, respect, and freedom from discrimination we need and demand. Even if it offers only a second-class kind of union, a shadow marriage that others are free to ignore and disrespect if they don’t like us. This misses the point entirely.

It simply isn’t possible to compromise on equality: either we – and our marriages – are equal, or we’re not.


This isn’t just about marriage. As Rose Saxe, Senior Staff Attorney, LGBT & HIV Project at the American Civil Liberties Union writes, it’s about demolishing the legacy of discrimination we all grew up with.

[Anti-discrimination law] says that businesses that open their doors to the public can’t discriminate based on race, religion, sex, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. [They] aim to make sure that when we walk through the doors of a store or hotel, we all have the same freedom to buy a cake, eat a meal, or rent a room. They say to LGBT people, “you matter, and you shouldn’t be mistreated because you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

Through [those laws] we start to trust those assurances and feel more confident living our lives. But when a business owner says, “No, we won’t serve you because you’re gay,” all that humiliation [we grew up with] resurfaces.

That’s why it’s inappropriate to tell us… to just go to a different bakery. This isn’t just about the services. It’s about the harm that being turned away causes. It’s about how shame and fear prevent us from fully feeling safe and participating in public life. It’s about the pain of our children seeing us, and them, rejected, or the pain of our parents watching, unable to protect us. And it doesn’t matter if it’s just one store.

Because once we are refused, every time we approach the door of a store, we wonder how we will be treated and are more likely to hide who we are. That comes at a steep cost.

She is writing about the case of the Colorado baker currently before the Supreme Court. That case is being driven by the Alliance Defending Freedom, of whom more later. As she clearly shows, destroying anti-discrimination law is all about driving us back into the closet.


Ahead of debate in the House on Dean Smith’s marriage bill, the push is on to revive amendments that were voted down in the Senate. They would entrench exactly the discrimination Saxe writes about above.

Fourteen of our more extremist church leaders have written a last gasp demand for ‘religious protections’ to be written into marriage equality legislation. Those ‘protections’ were drawn up with the help of the Australian Christian Lobby, and based heavily on US Republican state bills devised by the biggest and richest anti-LGBTI group in the world, the Alliance Defending Freedom.


If such changes are passed, the bill will return to the upper house.  Senators will then face a dilemma. Do they accept a deeply flawed bill entrenching discrimination into law? Do they pass a Marriage Apartheid bill, with one law for LGBTI and another for everyone else? Or do they reject the amended bill in its entirety?

As I have written elsewhere, the LGBTI community has indicated “religious exemptions” would not be acceptable, in a survey conducted by just.equal and PFLAG. We’d prefer to wait.


In the meantime it’s important to remember – and to remind wavering members of Parliament – that these fourteen churchmen represent only a small and diminishing percentage of religious people in Australia.

Back in June, 100 leaders of all major Australian religions – including Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish Faiths, the Salvation Army and Quakers –expressed support for marriage equality. None are concerned about “religious freedoms”. Around two thirds of Catholics have no problem with marriage equality.


Time and again it has been shown that marriage equality does not in any way impinge on ‘religious freedom’. Only on the freedom of anti-LGBTI zealots to ignore the law. These very same ‘leaders’ have for years fought against religious freedom. Because what they really want is special privileges for themselves. This demand is just more of the same.


Already the Prime Minister has been spooked into saying he will support some “religious” amendments to the bill. And some wavering MPs may do likewise. With the margin of support for marriage equality much thinner in the House than the Senate, there is a good chance that some of these discriminatory clauses will make it into the bill. What happens then?


There has been a lot of premature rejoicing. Please don’t get carried away. If the amendments rejected by the Senate are reinserted by the House, the bill goes back to the Senate. They will have to accept it, or refuse the changes and reject it entirely. I would hope they have the courage to reject it.

We must prepare ourselves for the possibility that we will NOT have marriage equality next week. We might have a marriage apartheid bill, or we might have no new marriage act at all. My hope is that by writing about this danger, we can somehow avert it. MPs need to vote these amendments down.


You can use the form letter provided by just.equal to let your MP know that you want the bill passed, cleanly, and without these amendments. You can ring them and let them know direct: their phone numbers and other contact details aren’t that hard to find on the parliament website. But whatever you do, please, don’t accept the fake marriage that would result if the bill passes into law with these amendments.

It simply isn’t possible to compromise on equality: either we are equal, or we’re not.

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)