Popular support for marriage equality is everywhere. Tony Abbott couldn’t even convince his own kids to oppose it.
In an extraordinary outpouring, everyone from universities to sporting codes, the doctors’ association and most unions have announced their support for a “Yes” vote.
In September tens of thousands of people across Australia demonstrated in the biggest ever marches for marriage equality.
Both major football codes, the AFL and the NRL have declared their support as well as ten individual AFL clubs.
When Abbott and the “No” campaign went on the attack against rapper Macklemore playing at the NRL grand final, his song “Same Love” then topped the iTunes charts.
The Bureau of Statistics’ first weekly update showed almost 60 per cent of people have already voted, and a large ReachTel poll recorded 64 per cent were voting yes.
However, as everyone predicted, the postal vote campaign has given homophobes and the right an opportunity to whip up bigotry.
A homophobic campaign
Malcolm Turnbull has legitimised this homophobia, saying that, “I respect every Australian’s view on this matter” and that, “The vast majority of people who do not agree with same-sex marriage are not homophobic and do not denigrate gay people.”
But the “No” campaign is grounded in homophobia. Their scaremongering about “radical gay and lesbian sex education” implies there is something wrong with LGBTI relationships.
The Coalition for Marriage’s official Q&A sheet says equal marriage threatens, “the ideal loving environment for growing children”. This is a homophobic attempt to delegitimise LGBTI relationships and parents as somehow inferior to the nuclear family.
But unbelievably, the “No” campaign has tried to present itself as the victim of abuse and intolerance. Tony Abbott seized on his headbutt in Hobart, saying, “nearly all of [the ugliness] seems to be coming from one side and that is the people who tell us that love is love”.
This is nothing compared to the discrimination, abuse and violence the LGBTI community has had to face. Sydney’s LGBTI youth service Twenty10, who provide mental health and counselling services, have experienced a 20 per cent increase in people contacting them for help since the postal survey was announced.
Five of Australia’s most prominent mental health groups cited research in other countries that have introduced equal marriage to argue that up to 3000 high school suicide attempts a year could be averted by a “yes” vote.
Homophobia on display
Homophobic and transphobic attacks have been reported across Australia. A Brisbane woman who decorated her house with rainbow flags, Olivia Hill, had rocks thrown through her windows by a person yelling homophobic abuse.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my entire life,” she told the media, fearing he was going to kill her. A transgender teen in Hobart was attacked and seized around the throat during a debate about marriage equality.
Yet this has barely been reported in the mainstream media. This is partly because, as Marriage Equality campaign’s Tiernan Brady has said, the yes campaign, “have chosen as a campaign not to highlight that because marriage equality needs to unite the country not divide it”.
But this means refusing to tackle homophobia or the right’s bigoted ideas.
The campaign for marriage equality needs to undermine the supposed respectability of the “No” campaign and their homophobia and transphobia. This fight won’t end with the postal vote.
The campaign needs to be as public as possible. Phone calls and door knocking alone leave individuals dealing with the issue in an atomised and less visible way. The big demonstrations during the campaign can play an important role.
Homophobia at work should be taken up through union meetings and workplace actions to show support for the “yes” campaign.
A good example was a CFMEU toolbox meeting in Victoria that led one gay union member on site to write to the union and thank them for their stand despite opposition in the form of “the negativity and vile hatred of a few”. This is the kind of work that can make significant blows against homophobia.
The rallies, forums and campaign work in unions, schools and universities needs to continue to spread the movement against LGBTI oppression to defend every LGBTI unionist and oppose every instance of homophobia and transphobia.
We need to ensure equal marriage is actually legislated but we also need a fighting political movement that is willing to go on the front foot against the bigotry of the “No” campaign and their homophobia and transphobia.
By Feiyi Zhang