Activists fire up for Equal Love

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Aly M, co-convenor of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, speaks out for same-sex relationship equality. Photo by Alison Thorne.

On 1 December 2005 the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the highest court in the country, ruled that same-sex marriages have the same legal status as those between a man and a woman. In contrast, the Howard Government legislated an explicit ban.

On Saturday, 13 August 2005 — the first anniversary of the reactionary Australian ban — supporters of gay and lesbian rights around the country rallied to protest and demand equal rights for same-sex couples. The largest protest was in Sydney where 1,200 marched. In Melbourne, 800 people attended a rally in the City Square, organised by the newly formed Equal Love Campaign. Buoyed by the success of the Melbourne protest, activists decided to continue organising. The Equal Love Campaign is now constituted as a sub-committee of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

The focus of the campaign is to educate and win broad support for relationship equality. Equal Love will have a contingent at The Pride March on February 6. Activists have also designed a webpage, which will be launched during the 2006 Midsumma Festival. Equal Love is holding a Mass Debate to examine arguments for and against same-sex marriage. This event, planned for 12 March, is part of the program of the Melbourne Queer Film and Video Festival. Among the debaters is Alison Thorne, who will speak for Radical Women and put the socialist feminist case for supporting marriage equality.

The Equal Love Campaign also did some groundbreaking coalition building when it signed up to help organise a Melbourne rally for International Human Rights Day on 10 December. The broad theme of the protest was Stop the War on Human Rights. The rally took up a range of demands which included: Oppose the “anti-terror” laws, Full rights for refugees, End vilification of Muslims, End racial profiling of people of Middle Eastern descent, Justice, land rights and sovereignty for Indigenous Australians, End Black deaths in custody, Stop the attacks on workers and Equal Rights for same-sex couples.

More than 300 people turned out for the Human Rights Day rally. Aly M, the newly-elected female co-convenor of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, spoke for the Equal Love Campaign. She said  that she was proud to speak on the platform with refugee, union, Indigenous and civil liberties speakers and put a powerful case that same-sex relationship equality is a fundamental human rights issue.

Other speakers who addressed the rally included Indigenous activist Richard Frankland, CFMEU Secretary Martin Kingham, Brian Walters from Liberty Victoria, Indigenous elder, Susan Rankin, and Ramatulla, who shared his refugee experience. Yorta Yorta man, David Dryden, gave an acknowledgment that we were meeting on the land of the Kulin Nation before playing his didgeridoo. Monica Weightman and Richard Frankland performed their catchy song, Cry Freedom, which is fast becoming an anthem of popular resistance.

Lesbian and gay activists plan to make demands for same-sex relationship equality an issue in the lead-up to the 2006 Victorian State election. Tasmanian same-sex couples can register their relationships, although this does not guarantee equal rights. In December 2005, the ACT Government announced plans to introduce a bill into the Legislative Assembly in March, which will recognise civil unions. The law will be based on the New Zealand model and will grant basic social and legal rights, including the rights to inherit and consent to medical treatment for a partner.

Equal Love aims to make 13 August 2006 a major day of action in the campaign to end the second-class status of gay and lesbian couples. Radical Women (RW) is actively involved in the campaign. Alison Thorne spoke on behalf of RW at the 2005 protest against Howard’s marriage ban. Her speech was well received by the crowd and is published below.

“We won’t settle for anything less than full relationship equality!”

“It is fantastic to see this diverse crowd here today, united in our resolve to win full relationship equality! We will not accept anything less!

One year ago today, the parliamentary bigots and homophobes in the Howard Government took the unprecedented step of proposing a law to ban same-sex marriage. The gutless Labor opposition fell into line and helped pass this legislation, putting forward the argument that the queer community and our allies were not out on the streets demanding marriage equality.

Well we’re here now! And lots of us!

And we’re out on the streets in cities all around the country today, demanding relationship equality and the right to make the same choices as those in heterosexual relationships.

I’m speaking today for Radical Women — we’re a socialist feminist organisation which is part of the coalition which makes up the Equal Love Campaign.

Radical Women has been fighting around these issues since our Australian chapter was established in 1983. We’ve campaigned for recognition of same-sex partners in immigration law as part of the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Task Force. When Greg Brown lost his longtime partner Noddy, and came slap up against superannuation discrimination, we joined with him and others in Homodefactos to campaign for superannuation equality. We’ve organised within our unions for same-sex relationships to be recognised for carers and bereavement leave. And, as campaigners for women’s reproductive rights, equal access for lesbians and single women to assisted reproductive technologies has always been a key demand.

But the Equal Love campaign takes things to a new level. Instead of campaigning in a piecemeal way against the specific results of relationship inequality — we’re now demanding complete equality up to and including the right to marry. Bring it on!

I guess anyone with the slightest understanding of feminism is probably scratching their head and asking the question what are feminists doing supporting marriage? Good question!

Marriage is a profoundly conservative institution and patriarchal to the core. It was designed for one group of men (fathers) to be able to pass on their property (daughters) to another group of men (husbands). Marriage is also based on women’s economic dependence. It’s about ensuring that paternity is guaranteed. It is also a really neat set-up for capitalism. Through marriage and the nuclear family, women labour for free to maintain the existing workforce and rear the next generation of workers.

But in the second half of the 20th century, a funny thing happened to this stuffy, patriarchal institution. It began to unravel as women entered the workforce en masse. No-fault divorce laws, the sole-parent pension, the pill, the decline of religious identification, the women’s liberation and gay liberation movements have all had a huge social impact. Many heterosexual couples actively refuse to buy into marriage, preferring to retain their independence. Even the language of government itself symbolises how deep this change is: government departments do not talk about husbands and wives but “partners.”

The campaign to win same-sex marriage equality will continue this process of weakening marriage, and Radical Women welcomes this. We don’t want anyone treated as the property of another. We don’t want anyone forced into economic dependence on another.  

The campaign to win relationship equality can help turn marriage into its opposite and usher in an era of genuine relationship choices. An era where people can be monogamous or non-monogamous. Where they can partner for life. Have one partner, or two, or three or none at all. An era where queer relationships are widely recognised, respected and validated.

Radical Women wants to see the replacement of the current property-based family system with a society in which all human relationships can evolve naturally, according to preference, desire and compatibility, not economic coercion. But until that occurs, there will be those who wish to line the pockets of the multi-million dollar wedding industry, purchasing lacy white frocks, cakes, flowers and hiring limos. They should be free to do so — it is a question of basic democratic rights. But while I will not be marching down the aisle, I will fight strongly for the right of those who wish to marry to be able to do so.

We need to be clear that this campaign is not about what we individually think of marriage. There are many different views in the crowd today.

This campaign is about taking on a nasty, homophobic, narrow-minded government which now has control of the Senate and which will not hesitate to do deals with Family First’s, Steve Fielding or the National’s Barnaby Joyce to flog off Telstra, get through its industrial relations agenda, erode women’s reproductive rights or ram through Voluntary Student Unionism legislation. It will happily trade off our rights — queer rights — to push along its other conservative agendas.

So, now must be the time to go on the offensive. We won’t settle for anything less than full relationship equality. To do so would buckle to homophobia.

The Equal Love Campaign will continue. We have vowed that we will be back on 13 August next year and that we will have an even bigger crowd as we convince our families, our workmates, our classmates, our neighbours to join us on the streets to say no to homophobia. To say no to our relationships being treated as second class. To say yes to equal love! So watch out John Howard: queers are united against your homophobia, we have many allies and together we are unstoppable!”

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