A Rallying Cry For The Gloves To Come Off On Marriage Equality


Comrades for equality, it’s time to take the gloves off.

The time for boxing sportingly on marriage equality is over!

Our great reformist Prime Minister Gough Whitlam smashed walls and glass ceilings. After the last extraordinary week in politics, at the heart of which was Abbott’s reactionary tactics to prolong discrimination for the LGBTI community, It’s Time to box like Whitlam.

I have been part of the campaign for marriage equality for many years now – as a Union leader, as a Labor Party member and as a gay man.

When I first started campaigning on the issue, we activists would defend the “right” of people to maintain their “deeply held views” – be they informed by faith or so-called societal norms. We politely accepted that some had the right to think we are lesser, that our discrimination was acceptable, and moved on.

This approach, undoubtedly, has been the right strategy to advance reform. Let us not forget we had a big job to shift the attitudes of Australians.

And this strategy has been most successful.

Today, any credible poll shows an ever increasing, comfortable majority support for the reform. The journey of the Labor Party is a good reflection of the success of this campaign.

In 2004, the ALP bound its parliamentarians to vote for the “traditional” definition of marriage; today, our Party Platform proudly promotes marriage equality and our Parliamentary Leader plans to introduce a Government Bill in the first 100 days of a Labor Government.

This week marriage equality was within striking distance. But one man stopped this democratic move to expand equality in Australia. And that man was our country’s Prime Minister.

None of us were looking for Abbott’s vote; we simply asked that he do the sensible thing and allow his MPs and Senators to vote from their conscience – a ‘free vote’; that he no longer bound them to vote for discrimination.

It’s easy as a campaigner to be focused on strategy and actions, and to lose connection with the emotional realities that drove you to fight to begin with. Well, that emotion came back this week for me.

Abbott and the most conservative elements of the Liberal and National parties struck a vicious punch against equality by denying a ‘free vote’ of their MPs and Senators. This has squashed any likelihood of marriage equality getting up in this Parliament, despite the clear wishes of the Australian electorate.

Nearing the end of the marathon six-hour Coalition party room debate on Tuesday evening, I tweeted:



And that’s it. This is personal.

Sure, marriage equality is about LGBTI couples who want to get married. But moreover, it is about Australia declaring whether or not it is OK to set us LGBTI people apart as different, unequal, lesser.

It is about LGBTI youth – who are struggling to come to terms with their sexuality; who doubt and even hate themselves. Like I did, like we all have.

It is about the disproportionately high rates of mental health risks for LGBTI people. Like the heartbreaking number of LGBTI who have taken their own lives simply because of who they were, and who they loved.

It is about kids of loving families to whom our nation says, ‘You aren’t part of a real family.’ Like Penny Wong, her partner Sophie and their two daughters.

This is what we activists and so many Australians are fighting for.

A plebiscite, or worse, a referendum (Abbott’s dirty fighting tactics) will serve to licence even more vicious hate speech and prolong the long struggle for equality.

So where does this leave us today? The bout’s not over! The gloves are off for the final rounds.

Opposition to marriage equality is an endorsement of discrimination. It says, ‘You are different. You are wrong. You are not as good as we are.’

No longer will I defend the right of people to oppose marriage equality, nor tolerate their lectures on family and love. This all deserves a counter punch of the human right to equality.

Bill Shorten is right to say that, ‘You either have Mr Abbott or marriage equality, but you can't have both.’

Tricky Abbott has not delivered the knockout punch to this great struggle for equality. He has ensured that marriage equality will be a central issue from now into the next Federal Election where, to apply what Whitlam once proclaimed, we will have ‘a choice between the past and the future, between the habits and fears of the past, and the demands and opportunities of the future.’

We must ensure that Abbott and other bigots are “down for the count”.

As Gough would have said, ‘Maintain your rage and enthusiasm, comrades.’

Let’s go the distance. Equality will win.

Joseph Scales is the Secretary of the Australian Services Union (SA + NT Branch). The ASU represents workers in local government, social & community services, energy, airlines, legal, finance and admin and clerical roles.