The scenes of elation and celebration in Ireland and the US following the passing of same sex marriage legislation have further highlighted the backwardness of Australian politics on the question of LGBTIQ rights.
Labor and Liberal politicians are trailing far behind majority opinion on the issue of equal rights. Both parties have made it very clear they are putting factional games and the interests of their big business religious backers before equality.
The dismal scenes at the ALP National Conference in July – where the party delayed a binding vote for its MPs on the issue until 2019 – were about appeasing powerful religious players in the party, namely the right-wing Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) union.
The Irish and American victories came about through determined, well-organised mass campaigns. In the US the battle was fought hard state by state and had many setbacks along the way. It is undeniable that thanks to these campaigns there has been a massive and rapid shift in social attitudes in favour of LGBTIQ rights.
The fact that now there is majority support for equal rights in those traditionally religious countries shows there is no truth to politicians’ claims that they are just listening to what voters want by holding back equality.
Unfortunately it is not just on the question of same sex marriage that politicians and their big business backers are holding society back. LGBTIQ people face worsening discrimination in many different aspects of our lives.
Many people would be shocked to know that in 2012 it became legal in Victoria for religious employers to discriminate against LGBTIQ people at work. While public money sustains many of these organisations and their running of key welfare services, they are free to hire and fire people on the basis of their gender and sexuality.
This is just the most overt example of laws actually going backwards in terms of LGBTIQ rights. Consistent cuts by both Liberal and Labor governments over the past decades to sexual and mental health services, women’s health programs, homelessness services and public, social and affordable housing have all disproportionately affected LGBTIQ people, who have a greater risk of homelessness due to homophobia.
To add insult to injury 60% of the homelessness services that remain are provided by religious organisations – the same organisations that are lobbying for the right to discriminate against LGBTIQ people!
While mainstream acceptance of LGBTIQ people is higher than it has ever been, there is still a long way to go to address structural inequality. The type of society we live in systematically attempts to marginalise and oppress LGBTIQ people and movements; a section of the establishment cynically uses the politics of division –the promotion of homophobia, but also sexism, anti-immigration sentiment and other prejudices – to divert attention away from growing wealth inequality.
We need to build a broader movement for equal rights and social justice that will unambiguously fight in our interests and isn’t afraid to fight around class issues like homelessness and rights at work. We also need to boldly fight for the needs of those LGBTIQ people facing the greatest oppression, like transgender people, and to link up the LGBTIQ struggle with other social movements fighting the destructive, divisive rule of the 1%.
We will never conclude this struggle unless we reject this economic system that fundamentally bases itself on oppression and inequality, relies on pitting working people against one another, and will never allow full equality.
As long as we live under capitalism, we will always be struggling against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. That’s why we must link the fight for LGBTIQ rights and liberation to the fight for a democratic socialist society based on collective ownership and decision-making from below.
In a socialist society the world’s resources and wealth could be used for the benefit of all. This would undermine the material basis of division amongst people of differing sexualities and identities.
By Chris Dite