One Year Since The YES Vote, Have Any NO Campaign Prophecies Come True?
Australia’s journey to marriage equality was a momentous one that saw everyday Australians showing extraordinary leadership during a time of intense political turmoil.
The movement for reform saw many ups and downs, and there are important lessons from it as we approach the next challenges for Australia and the LGBTIQ community.
Marriage equality depended on a lot of people you have seen and will recognise, but it was also contingent on an incredible number of quiet heroes who were never acknowledged for the contributions they made.
So many people made amazing sacrifices and worked tirelessly over the 13-year campaign and the longer movement for LGBTIQ rights. They made marriage equality possible. We hope as many other people as possible will continue to share their stories and experiences to inspire others to keep shaping Australia as a fairer and more equal place.
We could not have been won without the efforts that had been building since 2004 and decades earlier. Whether those came from the individuals who bravely shared their personal stories about why this mattered, from allies in neighbourhoods across Australia, or supporters in politics, media, sports, religious groups, the corporate world or many other spheres, it all mattered intensely. So many elders from the LGBTIQ community lent us their campaigning skills. We both remember standing proudly with 78ers at rallies and the support shown by many who lived through the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
During the postal survey, we drew on many of the coalitions and alliances that had been in place years earlier, including critical alliances with trade unions and other campaigners. Young people were incredible, signing up to vote in record numbers, bringing energy and momentum to phone banks and door knocks and providing us with hope for the future.
Marriage equality sends an important message about legal equality for the LGBTIQ community but was not and has never been the end point. We still need to make sure that trans and gender diverse Australians are given the legal rights and dignity they have been denied for far too long. Forced surgery on intersex infants and children needs to be stopped. We feel we have a strong obligation to continue to work with campaigners for Indigenous rights and the rights of refugees, along with a number of others causes to advance social justice.
During the campaign we learnt the importance of social movements reflecting the full diversity of those who are in the movements. Yes, the media could be better in representing the diversity of movements for social change but as campaigners, we need to always ensure that we present a range of different people and perspectives. To be truly successful, movements for progressive change must represent all those people who are working and contributing to the social change.
The need for self-care is something that really needs to be emphasised. This was a long campaign and there are many who are still recovering from the toll it took. Sadly, we know not everyone made it through the postal survey period. We would always emphasise that it is important that people know that social change is possible and that it can be one voice or one conversation that can move someone’s opinion and help advance social change. It is exciting to be a part of a movement for change but you can only do that if you are in a supported and positive place.
The campaign continues to take a toll. We both found it very difficult at times. We were fortunate enough to have loving partners and families and friends who understood what it felt like to work with so many others to try and win a campaign about our very right to exist when the odds felt as though they were against us. We also volunteered with so many amazing campaigners who lifted us up. Still, there were moments of deep anxiety and grief.
We know that many among our community are still struggling. The damage done to so many trans and gender diverse people who were the obsessive focus of the NO campaign continues.
Younger people who were just coming to terms with their sexuality or their gender identity lived through a national debate that seemed focused on who they were. Older LGBTIQ Australians were forced to witness a debate on their very being, which brought back painful memories of a time when LGBTIQ life was even harder than it is today.
Of course, over time, the NO campaign’s predictions and misdirection have proven as the falsehoods they always were. Nobody has less freedom of speech than they did this time last year. Perhaps this was to be anticipated. After all, it was the NO campaign -- not the YES campaign -- who tried to shut freedom of speech down. Their efforts to prevent US musician Macklemore from performing his best-selling song at the height of the campaign are remembered by many.
Sex education in schools continues to pose no danger. It helps young people to understand their feelings and to be safe and to know that it is alright to be yourself. Trans and gender diverse Australians continue to exist and deserve to have their rights and dignity respected -- just as always should have been the case.
Ultimately, reflecting on the marriage equality movement, we were constantly reminded of the incredible courage so many people have shown over such a lengthy time period. We were inspired both by an older generation and an emerging generation of LGBTIQ advocates and allies. We hope the movement for marriage equality can continue to inspire and empower people to never take NO for an answer, and keep going till you get to YES.
Alex Greenwich MP and Dr Shirleene Robinson are authors of “Yes Yes Yes: Australia’s Journey to Marriage Equality “ and board members of Australian Marriage Equality.