SYDNEY It has taken over a decade of dogged campaigning, a nationwide postal survey nobody really wanted, countless hours of parliamentary time (55 hours in the last two weeks alone) and a rainbow-tinted waterfall of tears.
But the day has finally arrived. Marriage equality for same-sex couples will now be legal in Australia, as the law was passed today by the House of Representatives and prepares for inevitable royal assent.
And it’s been a longtime coming for us here in Oz.
The law passed without amendments, despite the last-ditch efforts of those claiming ‘freedoms’ for religion. As this debate raged on in recent weeks, during the heat of the crescendo, a hashtag took off in Australia summarizing the mood: #FreedomFromReligion – demonstrating something telling about the nation.
The myth of the ‘silent majority’ who opposed equality – a label proudly claimed by many religious dissenters – was exposed as a fallacy: the majority part was dispelled by the 38% ‘NO’ vote. The ‘silent’ part was dispelled by the fact that every person in Australia was invited to have their say in the postal ballot on marriage equality. Today marked this confused term’s death in the Australian vernacular.
In the end, it was all resolved with two deceptively simple monosyllabic words whose power many will never understand, but most will remember and respect forever: “That’s it!” In this case, the archetypal Aussie bluntness was as poignant as it was succinct.
As those words were digested, those in the public gallery including the rainbow families who’d fought so hard against the divisive and harmful plebiscite could contain themselves no longer.
In a defiant rebuke of the Speaker of the House’s futile attempts to silence them and bring order to the house, rapturous and lengthy applause broke out for minutes on end applause that seemed somehow to contain both relief and jubilation; both joyousness and a hint of anti-climax; a decade’s worth of emotion between the hands.
We’d been here before, in a sense. Last month, the announcement of the ‘YES’ result to the non-binding, voluntary, and unpopular postal survey on marriage equality evoked complex and conflicting emotions: release, overwhelming relief, anger that we’d been made to work this hard to answer a question we already knew the answer to: Australians want LGBTQ people to be equal.
Sat in the public gallery were rainbow families like Jac Tomlins, her partner Sarah, and their three children. Jac summed up the mood in a beautifully concise way earlier this week, following a relentless fourteen-year campaigning journey for this day.
“The ‘equality’ has always been the most important part of marriage equality,” Tomlinsrecently told INTO. “ The getting married part is secondary to the profound message it sends to young people in our community.”
During the fight for marriage, as things were still unclear and the survey had yet to go out, many in Australia’s LGBTQ community became far more concerned with the anti-gay messages that’d be absorbed by its younger members. Several studies have shown that that showed young LGBTQ people are disproportionately represented in Australia’s suicide statistics and the postal survey put them at further risk of harm, due to the homophobia it gave license to.
While messaging obviously had a negative impact on many across the country the moments that led up to this victory should now hopefully make many young people feel something uniquely powerful: optimism.
The final parliamentary week leading to the long-anticipated result was one of the most dramatic in Australia’s history: a microcosm of ten years of campaigning on either side. Unexpected, wonderful things happened that showed how LGBTQ people can bring people together, and bring out the best in them.
This week, we had the first ever marriage proposal in Australia’s parliament as LNP member Tim Wilson tearfully asked his boyfriend of eight years, who sat in the public gallery, to marry him (he said yes).
And then earlier today, Australian parliament was a sea of rainbows: those in both parties who’ve fought passionately on this issue for years clearly displayed multi-colored sartorial support: within the chamber, rainbow socks, rainbow ties, and rainbow scarves showed all the straight allies that have stood shoulder to shoulder with us on this journey.
They juxtaposed sharply with the sullen white men in blue ties who tabled amendment after amendment, each voted down in a triumphant day of fairness and celebration of diversity.
However, the wolves still showed their colors till the very end. Independent MP Bob Katter (more interested in crocodiles than marriage equality) said: “They took the word gay off us and now they’re taking the word marriage off us” adding that he refuses to use the word ‘gay’ in this context.
But no matter, love and dignity prevailed despite the final show of hatred even from those who have not always been our biggest allies.
Longstanding allies tookremarkable steps to support thecampaign. Just a fortnight ago, Australia’s first ever indigenous federalMP,Labor’s Linda Burney, suffered a shocking tragedy. Her adult son died “of his demons.” Now, days later,amidst visual raw grief,she found the strength and empathy to support those in the LGBTQ community with a moving speech – despite her own heart breaking.
When the result was announced, she leapt into the arms of veteran equality campaigner, MP Warren Entsch. They sit on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but this issue brought them together despite all the odds.
As the public gallery sang “We are Australian,” MPs applauded and LGBTQ Australians wiped away tears of every emotion conceivable, news of the victory reverberated around the globe. Over inTaiwansomething very fitting happened. The longest-ever recorded rainbow shone across some ancient, unmovable mountains.
Coincidence? The gay gods think not.