Thinking Beyond The Win

pic: Jorge Lascar

It’s not enough to win new territory: as any gamer knows, you must also hold, defend and develop it

Yesterday was a truly remarkable day, as one MP after another supported the Dean Smith Not Quite Equal Marriage Bill. Even Tony Abbott managed to sound almost conciliatory.

Very soon, it seems, the bill (with the flaws I have previously noted), will pass. That is a significant achievement, even if it isn’t quite the marriage equality we’ve been fighting for. As has been said time and time again, partial equality is not equality at all. Until a marriage is a marriage is a marriage, regardless of the two parties involved, we will still have work to do.


US marriage equality organisations closed down after the Supreme Court ruling. They dropped the ball, leaving a vacuum into which Alliance Defending Freedom and others rushed.

Only this week the US Supreme Court significantly rolled back marriage equality, ruling that the right of same sex couples to marry does not include the right to all the benefits normally granted to married couples. And only yesterday they were hearing a case about a wedding cake, which has the potential to roll back LGBTI protections in anti-discrimination law nationwide.

Though we may legitimately pause to enjoy the victory, and take a brief break, the work of Equal Love, just.equal, Australian Marriage Equality and the rest of us doesn’t end with the passage of the bill. The work is not yet done, and they cannot yet shut up shop.


It isn’t enough to win new territory – in this case, marriage rights. We must also hold it, and defend it against attack. Which is already being planned. We must now refocus our organisations, and funds, to fight back in both the political and legal arena.

One of the first attacks will be the “religious freedom” enquiry chaired by Phillip Ruddock. Given that only one member, Father Frank Brennan, is likely to stand up for LGBTI rights, we can expect a recommendation to enhance anti-discrimination law by extending existing religious privileges. These already grant religious businesses, some of the largest employers in the country, sweeping powers to refuse employment, accommodation, certain kinds of medical treatment and other services to people they don’t approve of. Principally LGBTI, but also single mums, couples ‘living in sin’, members of other faiths.


The enquiry is, in fact, a Trojan horse, a way to package up the failed “religious freedom” amendments to the Smith Bill, and make them into a “Religious Protection” bill of their own. The surprisingly conciliatory tone of many of yesterday’s speeches probably reflects behind the scenes assurances to opponents of marriage equality, like, “Be gracious. Tone it down. Don’t worry about religious protections. We’ve got this sorted. Ruddock will get you your religious freedoms.”


Assuming we stay focussed and organised, we can defeat that too. But it’s a big if. We mustn’t get carried away by the euphoria of our initial win.

Assuming we can stop any further extension of religious protections by the Parliament, we will still be second class until, among other things:

  • any religious exemptions exist in any laws
  • our health issues are more than just a brief elective in all medical education
  • our history is integrated into all history teaching
  • all sex and relationship education is non-judgemental and includes LGBTI

And that’s just a few of the issues we will still have to fight: lots also to do for trans and intersex members of the rainbow family, for example. Homelessness. Aged care. Mental health. The list is long. And the ACL is already geared up for a long war of attrition.

Marriage will be a big win, but it isn’t the end of the fight for equality: it’s the beginning.


So many people to thank for all their work for our rights, but I want to pay a special tribute to a pair of lions. To Rodney Croome, who has carried the flame for so many years, and Shelley Argent, who has been the staunchest ally our community could wish for. Even among the august company of those who have fought this fight, who all deserve our thanks, they stand head and shoulders above the rest. Thank you.

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)