Last Friday, the day after many Americans gave thanks for their blessings, the Australian grassroots advocacy group Get Up! released a marriage equality video titled "It's Time." The group hoped it would encourage a dialogue that would, as the organization's Paul Mackay puts it, "pave the way for change." No one was prepared for the clip's instant global success.
To date "It's Time" has been seen by nearly 3 million viewers on YouTube. The campaign is aimed at changing the country's Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Saturday will mark a pivotal moment as Australia's Labor Party convenes to discuss making changes to that narrow definition.
Get Up! hopes its now-viral video brings enough attention to what's happening that lawmakers actually make a policy change. Mackay offers The Advocate a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "It's Time," the response it's received from viewers, and what it could mean to the struggle for marriage equality.
The Advocate: How did you decide to tell the story from the perspective of half of a gay couple?
Paul Mackay: We gave a lot of thought as to whether we would tell this love story as a gay or lesbian couple and had varied feedback in the scripting process. Much research, at least here in Australia, is that same-sex female relationships are more widely accepted and we should consider using two women. In the end, we decided to use two men for the benefit of the final reveal. It’s common in advertising to pitch men as dopey characters who fawn over their partners, and so we played into that narrative.
How would you describe the general mood of the cast and crew during the filming?
The mood of the cast and crew during filming was fantastic. Marriage equality is an issue we are all committed to, which helps, but more so we were all committed to the concept. We’re a small organization and run on the smell of an oily rag, so the shoot was completed on a tight schedule and a tighter budget. It was at times quite demanding, but that never stood in the way of us enjoying the process and remaining committed to it. Plus, so much of what we were doing — fun date activities like hanging out at a theme park or beach — provided grounds for having a great time.
What’s the response been like so far?
To say we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response we’ve had is an understatement. We knew the concept was good when we started filming, and we knew the video was good when we launched last Friday — but we never considered it would reach a million views in two days or continue to grow in the way it has. We never expected celebrities would tweet about it or massive international sources like yours would be interested in covering it.
We launched the video with a very simple ask: that people watch, be affected by, and share the video. We thought the simple action of sharing the video would start conversations about equality that would build momentum and public support for the issue and pave the way for change. The massive response we’ve had is hopefully doing just that.
What are some of the more surprising messages you’ve received?
While we made the video to build public support and in turn place pressure on political leaders, some of the more immediate positive change we’ve been told about has been the most surprising and the most humbling. One of my favorites so far was an email from a young woman. She described the ad as “beautiful” and said it reduced her to tears. She showed her parents the video and said it completely changed her father’s perspective on homosexuality, to the point that he now understands. The woman said she and her girlfriend now had the courage to come out to him about their relationship, and I was quite touched to read that. There have been others too, suggesting they will take the leap out of the closet having thought the video portrayed gay as “normal” and gave them confidence.
What’s been the response from the opposition to marriage equality?
Of course we were always going to receive negative feedback from those who oppose marriage equality, but the real surprise has been how little of that there is. Funnily enough, much of the negative feedback we’ve received has centered around people’s dismay that they were “duped” by the video. Many people have written in saying, “How dare you not flag the true nature of the video!?” or “You showed me a beautiful love story then ruined it by revealing a terrible gay relationship!”
Those two statements — that it’s a beautiful love story and that they’re not comfortable with same-sex relationships — are obviously at odds and a large part of why we made this ad: to show people that in all relationships there are highs and lows, moments of joy and heartbreak, but at the end of the day, all love is equal and so too should marriage be.
Why do you think the video has been so successful?
I think there are a number of reasons the video has been so successful, but central is the fact that the video is universal. The fight for equality is happening all over the world, as people in same-sex relationships try to prove their relationships are as valid and deserving as the rest of those in our various societies. Further, the video is simple and has a message most people can connect with — gay or straight.
Then, of course, the help of some tweets by the likes of Stephen Fry don’t go astray in building viewership ...
Researchers in the United States claim that voters are more likely to be swayed by arguments that say gays and lesbians want to make a commitment to their partner. Was the emphasis on showing a "commitment," a conscious choice, as opposed to making an argument about rights and benefits?
Certainly. We’ve been trying different tactics for quite some time now, and our previous video on the issue featured two twin brothers — one gay, one straight. They told their story of growing up together with all the same opportunities and even spoke about what it was like for the gay brother to be the best man at his brother’s wedding. They then explored what it meant to be told on this one aspect of their lives, they can’t share a similar experience. That video really allowed us to discuss rights and benefits but this video was different.
On Saturday the Labor Party (who hold government here in Australia) will meet for their National Conference. The conference takes place every two years and allows rank-and-file party members to discuss the party’s policy platform and change it. Currently, their policy holds that marriage is an institution reserved for those in heterosexual relationships, and we’re hoping this conference will change that. So we produced this video to be spread far and wide, to give a last boost of public support for the issue so that delegates to the conference couldn’t ignore the tide of public opinion. We wanted the video to connect with people in a way that explained the ridiculousness of blocking equality, and in a way that made them want to share that frustration. I think we were able to achieve that.
Do you think this type of campaign could be applied in the United States?
I think if anything, the international attention the video has received shows it’s a style of campaign that could work anywhere in the world. We’ve already been reached out to by groups right across the globe, including the U.S., who want to either take the video or reproduce it with their own local landmarks. I think the campaign could be applied anywhere due to its universal nature. Put simply, the point we’re making with the video is that love is equal and we should allow people in loving relationships to have that love recognized with the highest institution our society offers. This point certainly holds true in the U.S.
Do activists in Australia keep track of what’s happened in the United States on marriage equality, with it passing in New York for example, and are there any lessons learned from it?
Activists in Australia certainly do keep track of U.S. progress and are often buoyed by it. When news broke that the legislation had passed in New York, we were ecstatic here in our office, 10,000 miles away. I think the biggest lesson to take away from the success that certain states of the U.S. have had is to keep at it. We’re about to face our first open political battle on the issue, and it may not go our way. We’re still trying to get the parties on side too; there certainly isn’t a legislative fight on the floor of Parliament scheduled for any time soon. But recent polling in Australia shows over 85% of the population believes change is “inevitable,” so if we don’t get there on our first attempt, it certainly doesn’t mean campaigning will stop. It might take us a couple of attempts, and it might take quite some time, but looking at the passage in New York and other U.S. states certainly gives hope that with time and sustained effort change can come.
Have you noticed any direct impact of momentum from the marriage equality win in New York, the biggest in the U.S. to date?
Momentum from New York has certainly built momentum here, both within the campaigning community and in the broader community. I think what New York did for us was really kick-start the conversation about equality. We saw the vision of celebrations in our evening news; we heard the touching stories of people who’d waited decades and were now married. We started thinking about why, in 2011, we continue to have hateful and discriminatory legislation that actively excludes Australians in loving relationships from the institutions available to the rest of us. It made us question why equal love does not deserve equal marriage. And that conversation is so important — the more people who have it, the more politicians who’re pressured by it, the closer we are to equality.
What are your hopes for the Australian Labor Party conference this coming weekend, and what are your realistic expectations?
The ALP National Conference will certainly be a watershed moment in our fight for marriage equality. It’s the first opportunity Labor MPs and members have to change the party’s platform to allow for a legislative vote for equality.
In an ideal world, the Labor Party unanimously decides to change the party platform to include full marriage equality and binds members to vote as such when legislation fronts Parliament.
More realistically, however, and still a positive result, is that the party simply removes the “man and woman” part of the platform, allowing for a vote on equality. The challenge then is whether the party is offered a conscience vote on the issue. Labor MPs are bound by party policy to vote for legislation along party lines, except in matters of “conscience,” which are traditionally offered on matters of “life and death,” as in euthanasia, abortion, and the like. Marriage equality is clearly not such a matter, and it’s terrible to even consider the opposition argument be legitimized in this way. If a conscience vote is offered, it is not likely the Parliament will pass any proposed legislation. But that is a fight for another day.
There’s still last-minute scrapping and negotiations going on, but in just the last few months we’ve made newspaper ads, run polling, fronted the media, and driven up a huge petition. Now, with the success of the video, hopefully enough people continue to share it and continue the conversation right up until the conference so that delegates will not be able to ignore the growing tide of public opinion and they'll have no choice but to usher in full equality under the law.
Learn more about Get Up! here. Watch"It's Time" below.