Gay marriage: What are you doing to further the cause?
Troy Chiodo-Gurr was the editor of MCV when John Howard controversially made the changes to the Marriage Act. Here he takes us through that tumultuous time and asks: what have you done lately to further the cause?
It was August 2004, and the Marriage Amendment Bill – the marriage would be defined as a union between a man and a woman only – was to be introduced for a third time by Prime Minister John Howard. It had been beaten down by Labor twice before, but 2004 was an election year, and politicians were ducking for cover.
Gay marriage had become a wedge issue – a divisive instrument designed to provoke fear in the electorate, and in the eleventh hour, Labor caved to the whim of perceived public sentiment.
Nicola Roxon, then Shadow Attorney General, delivered the news to a receptive crowd (one arranged by the National Marriage Coalition, a subsidiary consisting of Christian fundamentalists and the Australian Family Association). It was met with great applause, and the bill passed the following week.
At the offices of MCV, we were desperate to get gay marriage off the cover. Seven of the past eight covers trumpeted the impending doom (and fall-out) of the state of affairs, and feedback from the readers indicated they were just as sick of the story as we were. There was a sense that we’d lost this fight months ago, and the post-mortem was getting on people’s nerves.
It’d be easy to reflect on the ten years that have passed and bemoan the lack of progress – after all, we still can’t get married. Three Federal bills to allow same-sex marriage have been introduced in that time, one of which wasn’t even voted on, and despite overwhelming public support for the other two (two-to-one in favor), the House of Representatives and Senate shot them both down (two-to-one against).
But while the public’s attention has been diverted by the M word, other legislation has snuck through. In 2009, the Australian Human Rights Commission amended 85 Commonwealth Laws to eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples. The reforms ensured that same-sex couples were (for the first time under Australian law) recognised akin to our heterosexual counterparts. In September that year, my partner and I availed ourselves of the law. So little has been the publicity and understanding of those changes that five years later we still find ourselves explaining to other gay couples how it works.
Meanwhile, the politicians have continued their back and forth. Nicola Roxon, Labor’s 2004 fall-guy, changed her mind (though only as she was walking out the door). Kevin Rudd offered it as a carrot at the 2013 election and was roundly criticised for pandering to the Left. Another bill was introduced last month by Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek, but until a conscience vote is guaranteed, it’s likely to be another non-starter.
So what can we learn from the last ten years? If you’re lamenting our lack of progress, ask yourself what you’ve done to help move things along. Our leaders are not leading any more than they were ten years ago, but it remains to be seen whether we are. How many more years are you willing to wait?