Earlier this year my grandparents heard comments I made in the media in support of marriage equality. My grandfather highlighted to me that for his generation, black, white, and Asian Australia did not mix. He even said, “It is nice that you are advocating for equality, but that is not the world I grew up in.” For a 90-year-old man, who could easily say something bigoted, it was a profound moment.
Marriage equality is something that over 70 percent of Australians support. Same-sex marriage is mostly a nonissue, except for our politicians.
I have been told for years that marriage equality is inevitable in Australia. But since the Irish referendum, the political tide has changed. The leader of the opposition party and his deputy have brought forward a marriage bill for the Parliament to consider. It will be debated and critiqued, and likely passed into law in August.
Never has Australia had a leading politician initiate such a discussion. Previously, LGBT rights issues have been left to minor parties to champion. The momentum in Ireland has definitely helped — modern Australia was founded in 1788 by the United Kingdom (though Aboriginal Australia has been here for about 40,000 years). There are obvious familial and historical links to Ireland that run deep. The turning point for most Australians was that Ireland, as a strong Catholic country, beat Australia to marriage equality. We cannot be more conservative than the Irish, right?
Australia has been grappling with the idea of marriage equality since 2003. Things took a turn for the worse the next year, when the conservative government of the day changed the federal Marriage Act to state that marriage can only be between a man and woman.
Over the past 11 years, support for marriage equality has moved from the progressive fringe to being palatable for the vast majority of Australians. It isn’t because I am gay that my 60-something parents support marriage equality, it's because the inclusive campaign led by Australian Marriage Equality has worked.
Recently there has been a concerted and organized push for businesses to support LGBT inclusion. Global companies with major presences in Australia like PwC and KPMG have come out in support of marriage equality, along with some of our largest homegrown businesses. They can see the business opportunities and economic growth that come with marriage equality, but they also know this debate has raged for too long. Marriage equality is viewed as an unnecessary distraction that highlights our differences.
Australia has largely favored conservative governments, which has impeded some social progress. Up until the 1960s, Australian legislation discriminated against foreigners and our own indigenous people. Our nation has long struggled with bigotry, but over the past five years we've seen a great deal of inclusion. Politicians tried and failed to pass a marriage equality bill in 2011, but this time everything feels different.