Today was the 8th Marriage Equality National Day of Action. Usually held on the second Saturday of August each year, it is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Senate’s passage of Howard’s Marriage Amendment Bill 2004, which both the Liberal-National Government, and Labor Opposition, shamefully voted into law on Black Friday 13 August 2004.
I attended the protest at Sydney Town Hall, which I would estimate had a crowd of somewhere around 1000 to 1500 people braving the cold and windy weather (although estimating crowd numbers is, as always, a mug’s game). Sadly, my fiance Steve couldn’t come along as he had to work. There were also rallies around the country, including Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Newcastle.
The rally itself was fairly traditional. A range of the usual suspects spoke (Lord Mayor and State MP Clover Moore, Australian Marriage Equality’s Alex Greenwich, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Chair Peter Urmson and others). The acknowledgment of country by the gay indigenous speaker to commence proceedings was rather lovely (I wonder if he did find his husband this afternoon?), as was a touching speech by a young Melbournian representing the sex and gender diverse community (and my apologies to both for not recalling their names). The Maritime Union of Australia delegate certainly fired up the crowd as well.
What I found most telling, however, was the need for one of the organisers to announce the date for the next marriage equality rally – for November 25th. That is after the expected votes on marriage equality bills in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. While that may seem pessimistic, it is also probably fairly realistic, with the legislation likely to fail in both chambers.
These widely-anticipated defeats, and with a Tony Abbott-led Coalition currently odds-on favourites to win next year’s federal election, mean that Australians who support marriage equality are in for a very testing time over the next 18 months. It will be incredibly important for the people advocating this reform to maintain focus during this time, and to keep their eyes on the eventual prize, even if we may not achieve national marriage equality until the 2020s.
Which is, obviously, easier said than done. On a personal level I found this afternoon to be a little bit depressing. It is the sixth or seventh national day of action I have attended (I can’t recall whether I returned in time for 2009’s rally from the Copenhagen OutGames). And in my heart I fear that there will be, at the very least, another six or seven before Steve and I will be considered married under Australian law.
While I share Martin Luther King’s dream for a world free from prejudice, is it selfish to admit that I also dream of not having to give up two, three, four or more Saturdays per year, just to demand human rights which Steve and I should already enjoy? Of course, I know that it is always encumbent upon those people who are discriminated against to stand up for themselves, and so I will be there, year after year, rail, hail or shine, until we ultimately achieve equality.
[As an aside, in a very minor way, I only have myself to blame. Back at the start of 2005, I was a committee member of the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL). At our planning day for the year ahead, I suggested that one of our main priorities should be to build for a protest on the first anniversary of the same-sex marriage ban passing the Senate. The VGLRL, together with Equal Love, subsequently helped to organise the largest rally held on that first national day of action.
Now, I am absolutely NOT claiming credit for the success of that protest – many other people were far more central to actually organising the rally than I was. Nor am I discounting the likelihood that other cities, including Sydney, would probably have also held a protest that day irrespective of our actions. But I hope you don’t mind me thinking back with at least a measure of pride to having played even a small role in the LGBTI community’s fightback against Howard’s marriage ban. On the other hand, it does mean I am morally obliged to keep on giving up those Saturdays into the foreseeable future…]