What is left to say about marriage equality?
Eight years ago this week the Howard Government (with the full-throated support of the Australian Labor Party) banned gay marriage in Australia and recognising marriages solemnised overseas. In Melbourne today, one of the gay-rights movement’s most prominent campaigners, Doug Pollard, gave this amazing speech to remind us why it is we fight.
When I was asked to speak today, I asked myself – what can there possibly be left to say about marriage equality? Why do we have to keep marching and lobbying and speaking, year after year, for eight years now, even though 2/3rds of Australians now support us.
I mean, why are we still here?
We’re here for equal marriage, obviously, but what does that mean, exactly? What’s so special about marriage that it has become our number one issue, for so long? It wasn’t always. It’s been a very long road from when I first joined a gay organisation, in England, back in 1970.
Back then, if you had told me that forty-odd years later I would be spending my time arguing and lobbying and marching for the right to get married, I would have fallen on the floor laughing. I didn’t understand, back then, what it would mean. To be able to marry my partner. It’s taken a while, but now, I think I do. It’s to do with permanence. It’s to do with continuity. Above all, it is for our protection, now and into the future.
Because one thing I have noticed through the years. Overall there has been progress. But there have been many times when rights we thought we had won, have been eroded, or ignored, or outright taken away, by a change in the political environment, a change of government. It happened in England under Margaret Thatcher. It happened in California, with Proposition 8. And it’s happening right now in Queensland. Rights we thought we had won, are being taken away again. And that makes marriage a much more important and profound right than any other we claim. Which is why we must not for one instant cease to fight for it, and, once we’ve got it, to keep it.
Because the other thing I have learned is that, because we are a minority, the moment we relax, the moment we drop our guard, someone will attack. Someone will try to stuff us back into the closet – or worse. So the fight for gay rights is one that will never be over. But marriage is not just a right in itself: it is a powerful weapon in that fight. Marriage is not just about finding a partner to make a life with. Marriage is about binding together two families. But it’s a lot more. It is about binding together a whole society into one fabric.
Marriage equality is about adding our colourful rainbow threads to the web that marriage weaves throughout all society, the web of parents, uncles, grandparents, cousins, nephews and nieces, through the generations. Outside that web, as single threads, we are easily snapped. But woven into the fabric, we are strong, supported and protected.
In the past, each new generation of glbtiq folk who came along more or less had to invent a life for themselves from nothing. And we’ve done pretty well at it, for a people who could be jailed for being themselves when I was a teenager. But this web we have built is fragile. Organisations, like the ALSO Foundation, that was meant to help us in our old age, collapse. Volunteers burn out. Governments withdraw funding, as Campbell Newman has done in Queensland. Or just stop listening to advice from our community.
Yes, Mr Baillieu, I’m talking about you and the Ministerial Advisory Committees on Justice and Health that used to operate in Victoria.
Each new generation has had to fight afresh, build a new web, learn again. Because without marriage, each generation stands alone. But marriage binds the generations together. Once we marry and have children, we have a web which transmits knowledge and skills from father to daughter, mother to son, no matter what their sexuality or gender, regardless of who is in power, regardless of what organisations come and go. An integral part of every family in the country. No one will ever be able to stuff us back in a closet again, or take away our rights without one hell of a fight, because all our relatives will be fighting with us.
That’s why we’re still here at these rallies. That’s why we march, and lobby.
And that’s why above all else, we need equal marriage now.