Will Radicals Set Back the Marriage Equality Movement?

Graeme Watson-001OPINION

A gradual take over the Equal Love organisation by members of socialist groups is threatening to set back Australia’s long walk towards marriage equality.

With increasingly more aggressive arguments being put forward and less people attending each rally, there is a danger that the organisers will eventually be standing alone.

I attended my first rally for marriage equality five years ago. People met at the clock tower in the Hay Street mall. I was planning to file a report for a community radio station but when I arrived I was shocked at the low turnout, there was only a handful of people. The combined voices of a dozen protestors made little impact on the passing shoppers. I put my recording equipment away; a report on hardly anybody caring about marriage equality was not going to be very helpful in promoting this cause, one I deeply cared about.

Protests have grown, we’ve seen hundreds of people make their way into our city centre to raise their voices and say that this is an issue they care about. Yet as each rally passes, there are progressively fewer people, and segments of the community fall away.

The signs of a turning tide have been appearing over the last twelve months but events in Perth and Brisbane’s rallies last week have seen the issue come to the fore. Many people supportive of marriage equality have openly questioned some of the tactics utilised to garner support for marriage equality.

At last weekend’s rally in Perth, police approached people wearing T-shirts that read “F… Tony Abbott” and asked them to remove them as they deemed them to be offensive because of the use of profanity.

At the Brisbane rally a banner that depicted the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott hanging from the gallows with a rainbow noose was a confronting image to many. As Abbott swings under the hangman’s noose a speech bubble reads ‘No Rites Fa U’ [sic]. The other side of the banner read “Dear Tone, stahp your homophobia or else! sincerely de gayz [sic]”. The people holding the banner wore T-shirts that read “Abbott Hater”.

The banner was created by the political group Socialist Alternative and their publication ‘The Red Flag’. Dylan Carmichael, a committee member of Equal Love in Brisbane wrote an open letter expressing his concern about the banner and the involvement of the Socialist Alternative in the Equal Love rally. The letter was published on the samesame website.

Carmichael’s letter generated a massive amount of debate within the LGBT community and on social media. Facebook comments created long chains of discussion and argument, comments running into the thousands, as people from wide spectrum of political standpoints argued if the t-shirts and the Brisbane banner were helping or hindering the cause.

Today it was revealed that Carmichael has been expelled from the Brisbane chapter of Equal Love with Convener Kat Henderson reportedly calling his behaviour in writing the open letter, “a disgrace”.

DSC_0142-001-horz-001The build up to this point has not happened over night though. It’s a position that we’ve slowly been moving towards. Last year Equal Love in Perth said they had banned members of the Labor party speaking in support of marriage equality because they disagreed with the Rudd government’s policy on asylum seekers.

This is a perfect example of how the organisers of marriage equality rallies need to separate their issues. The rally for refugees was the weekend before. People had come together for marriage equality, and a political party that was in government, and advocating for marriage equality was admonished.

During the federal election period, a Victorian candidate for The Sex Party made controversial remarks online regarding the recent death of Perth activist, and proud socialist, Amber Maxwell. In response Equal Love banned the Sex Party from attending the Equal Love rallies in Perth.

Going back further to the rally before that, in June there was a distinctly more violent vibe. At this rally the organisers encouraged people to stop and sit down in the middle of the road. The move caused traffic chaos in the city centre. On this occasion protestors also plastered the city centre with stickers, placing them on shop fronts, security cameras and on cars that were unexpectedly caught amongst the protestors.

Equal Love disagrees with the city’s rules about gaining permission to hold a rally and don’t inform police ahead of time that they plan to disrupt traffic, which has left officers scrambling to close of streets and create a safe passage for protestors.

Gender issues have also become increasingly integrated into marriage equality campaigns. Personally I believe that the issue regarding the difficulty of marriage, as it applies to trans* people is completely valid within the discourse. But are they the central argument to the marriage equality debate? The last two rallies in Perth have been dominated by speakers discussing transgender challenges. With no speaker at the last rally speaking specifically about same sex couples, is the majority of the audience being alienated?

DSC_0142-001-horz-002To get the train back on the track the organisers of Equal Love should work out a way to separate their marriage equality fight from the many different political campaigns they are involved in. They should work to ensure there is a balance of political backgrounds on their organising committees or work out a way that people leave their political affiliations at the door.

Alternatively, the large number of people in the community who feel that Equal Love no longer speak for them, should form a new organisation that is representative of a wider range of views.

For marriage equality to become a reality the stories and experiences of people of diverse sexuality and gender need to reach the wider Australian community and the politicians that currently don’t understand the importance of this issue and the reality of the people it affects.

Marriage rallies, and the organisations that run them, need to be encouraging more people to attend. Finding away to make the club kids get out of bed for an afternoon rally, welcoming the couples who live in the suburbs who would normally be taking their kids to softball on a Saturday afternoon, inspiring the community elders who fought for the freedoms we enjoy to get up for another fight and the fight for marriage equality must involve members of the LGBT community who hold a conservative viewpoint.

Then we need to get those people to encourage their families to attend, their friends, colleagues and put their support behind this important cause. It’s not about how much disruption and offence you cause while marching; it’s simply about the number of people who join you, and the number of people standing by, who begin to question their own stance on the issue. These are the workers that need to be rising from their slumbers.

Graeme Watson

What do you think about this issue, add your comment below or send an email [email protected]

Image: Equal Love Rally in Perth March 2011.

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