Lessons from the US election
At this month’s US election four state ballots returned pro-marriage equality votes and the first president to support marriage equality was re-elected.
What lessons can Australian marriage equality supporters learn from these unprecedented US victories?
1. Leadership matters
Barack Obama’s support was crucial to marriage equality ballot victories. It also helped him energise young and female voters, and did not alienate ethnic and blue collar voters. The message to Julia Gillard marriage equality is clear: we need your support to win equality and you need to support equality if you want to win the election.
2. Bi-partisanship is the key
Also crucial to victory was that young US Republican legislators supported marriage equality in record numbers. In Australia, marriage equality will be almost impossible to achieve without a Coalition conscience vote. Mitt Romney’s failure to win votes on the back of his anti-equality stance sends a clear message to Tony Abbott that his hard line is a vote loser too.
3. We have to reach out to conservatives and people of faith
These groups were crucial for the ballot wins. In Australia they will also be crucial to winning support in parliament. More effort must be put into encouraging Australian conservatives and Christians who already support marriage equality to speak out.
4. The case we make has to change
There must be a shift in the conversation. Most people don’t understand marriage in terms of “rights” and “discrimination”. They understand it in terms of commitment, responsibility and family. This was the focus US campaigners took and it worked. Discrimination still matters but we can’t engage the public if we’re not speaking about the values we all share.
5. Young people are the future
Young people strongly support marriage equality. US advocates have successfully tapped into the energy and resources young people bring to the issue. We must do the same.
6. Referenda are not the way to go
US campaigners may have just won four ballots but it’s not their preferred path to reform. It cost millions and it violated the principle that fundamental rights should not be put to the vote. Legislative reform is still the way forward in Australia.