Since 2004 a successful campaign has been waged to shift popular opinion towards LGBTIQ people. The results of this can be seen in the high levels of support for the ‘yes’ vote and in other changes such as public support for Safe Schools and equality in adoption laws. We should seize this momentum and use it to extend the fight to all the other forms of discrimination that LGBTIQ people face.
For example, LGBTIQ people suffer a disproportionate risk of homelessness. Research suggests that LGBTIQ people make up 20-40% of the homeless population in Australia, but only 10% of the broader population.
In addition, young LGBTIQ people are six times more likely to struggle with depression and five times more likely to attempt suicide. On average LGBTIQ people earn 15% less than their straight counterparts, and still experience unprecedented levels of harassment and discrimination in workplaces and schools. Marriage equality will help undermine some homophobic attitudes but much more needs to be done to bring about real equality.
The homophobia that leaves LGBTIQ people homeless and struggling with health issues has its roots in an economic system that prioritises profit above all else. Inequality is an inherent part of a system where 1% of the population is extraordinarily wealthy, while the rest of us are exploited for profit.
In this unfair system the 1% need tools with which to divide and rule over the other 99%. Homophobia is one tool they use; racism and sexism are others. If we are fighting amongst ourselves, they reason, it will make it more difficult for us to unite and fight against them and their exploitative system.
Further to this, the system benefits immensely from a set-up where millions of hours of labour is done unpaid, in the home, by the family. Families carry much of the burden of cooking, cleaning and caring. The alternative to this is state funded services such as childcare centres and laundries paid for by increasing taxes on the 1%.
The 1% oppose this and instead promote the idea of the nuclear family as the cornerstone of society. For many people their family is a source of stability and emotional care. The profit system exploits this and cynically promotes ‘family values’ to save money. This is the primary reason that the 1%, and the major parties, resist changes to the makeup of the family.
In the 1970’s, many of the same people who oppose marriage equality today opposed no fault divorce. They calculated that more freedom for women would mean more economic responsibility for the government.
Today their concern is that marriage equality will normalise ways of living that do not fit their rigid nuclear family agenda – that it can lay the basis for people demanding more of the wealth that’s produced.
While some of the 1% now claim to support marriage equality, this does not stem from any real concern for LGBTIQ people. It is more a sign of shifting attitudes and the need for them to be seen as part of the mainstream.
For many companies, supporting marriage equality is a public relations opportunity. For others it is a chance to tap into the ‘pink dollar’. Their vague claims of support will not translate into equal pay and opportunities for LGBTIQ people, and will do little to cut across the day-to-day disadvantage that LGBTIQ people experience.
To really cut across homophobia we need to fight for a bigger share of the wealth. Equality for those who suffer disproportionately can only come with extra services like more public housing and a universal healthcare system.
Everyone has an interest in fighting for these reforms. They raise the living standards of everyone, relieving the burden from friends and families and lessening the strain on existing services.
The 99% of ordinary people – regardless of gender or sexuality – should fight alongside each other for these reforms. This will lead to an improvement for all and will help to cut across divisions that the 1% aim to sow.
Ultimately, while reforms can help lessen the burden and cut across discrimination, as long as the profit system remains intact, the economic basis for homophobia will continue.
Only socialism, where decisions are made democratically, can ensure that the wealth is shared equally and the basis for discrimination is removed once and for all. That’s why socialists have fought hard for marriage equality, but also why we take the fight beyond that, challenging the profit system itself.
By Meredith Jacka