While Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex & Queer (LGBTIQ) activists are achieving victories around the world, the struggle for same sex marriage rights is yet to be won in Australia. Despite clear popular support for equal rights, the ALP Government continues to refuse to pass same sex marriage legislation through the parliament.
Embarrassingly for the ALP even countries and politicians traditionally considered socially conservative are voicing support for or legalising same sex marriage. Prominent US politicians like Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and even the conservative leaders like David Cameron have all publicly supported same sex marriage. Last month New Zealand, under the conservative leader John Key, passed same sex marriage laws. In fact the American military is in some ways more progressive than Julia Gillard and the ALP on this question!
Importantly, ordinary people around the world are standing up to say that they won’t accept inequality any longer. People in Maine and Washington in the US voted to support same sex marriage in November. Voters in Minnesota rejected a ban on gay marriage at the same time. Polls across the US suggest that support for same sex marriage rights is rising. These polls put those politicians’ long overdue support for same sex marriage into context. The truth is politicians like Obama and Cameron have been pressured to change their position in line with community expectations.
In February French politicians backed same sex marriage and adoption by same sex couples. This came off the back of huge demonstrations in Paris and other cities. Fierce street clashes saw some women activists bashed by right-wing religious extremists. Yet hundreds of thousands of people marched for equality and against discrimination, demonstrating that a majority of people oppose homophobia, sexism and right-wing violence.
Reforms like equal marriage rights have been won in other countries by movements of people and signed into law only when politicians have been put under pressure. This shows that the focus of the campaign here needs to be on movement building with progressive parliamentarians playing a mere supporting role. Unfortunately this approach has not always been the thrust of the campaign in Australia.
The Greens have previously suggested that voting for them would be enough to win equal marriage rights. Far from winning anything the campaign has diminished under their influence. They have tried to divert the developing movement off the streets and into the ballot box. The results have been a dismal failure.
The focus of the campaign for same sex marriage needs to be on building a movement in our communities, in the workplaces, the schools, on university campuses and on the streets. As well as struggling for equal marriage rights we also need to recognise that this is only one aspect of the struggle for LGBTIQ rights.
Many of the people who have participated in the movement in the past do not in fact want to get married. They see the issue as one of discrimination – just like the other types of institutionalised discrimination that they face everyday.
LGBTIQ people are doubly oppressed in the sense that they are exploited in the workplace and suffer from all of the other issues that working people face. At the same time they are oppressed because their sexual orientation, identity or gender is seen as unacceptable by the capitalist system.
As well as not having the right to marry, LGBTIQ people lack adoption rights, are often subject to extreme bullying and in some cases it is legal for employers to discriminate against them. Often issues like cuts to health services impact on LGBTIQ people disproportionately.
The lack of affordable housing is also something that disproportionately affects LGBTIQ people. Queer youth are often forced out of their homes or out of school because of bullying and discrimination. With tens of thousands of people on public housing waiting lists they are often forced to live rough and are put in situations where they can be exposed to violence.
In addition to the sometimes daily homophobia and street violence facing LGBTIQ people there is also the problem of police violence. This was demonstrated recently at the Mardi Gras in Sydney. In the now infamous video of a young man being brutalised by a policeman, a witness questions what the police are willing to do in private if this is what they think is acceptable in front of thousands of people.
When the capitalist system itself portrays LGBTIQ people as something abnormal, it is no surprise that homophobic ideas flourish in the ranks of the police – the enforcers of capitalist ideology. Police raids on gay nightclubs are not uncommon. Because of this LGBTIQ people are often too afraid to go to the police about homophobic violence.
The mobilisation of several thousand people against homophobic police violence after the Mardi Gras incident in Sydney was a good indication that people are prepared to struggle about issues much wider than marriage rights alone.
So with the dangers facing the LGBTIQ community seemingly endless, how should we fight against these problems and direct this struggle?
Broadening the demands of the campaign to include issues like police violence, bullying and discrimination would help to draw more people into the movement – especially those not interested in marriage. But side by side with fighting against discrimination and for equal rights we need to recognise that it is the system itself that creates these conditions.
Capitalism is a system that prioritises profits before all else. The majority of people have very little say over how society is run. It is a system that thrives off inequality and exploitation the world over. Those who own and control the wealth use every trick in the book to divide and rule ordinary people to ensure that they do not fight together for a bigger share of the pie.
Only by having real democratic control of our day-to-day lives, and by sharing out society’s wealth, could the basis for divisions be undermined and truly equal society be built.
With this in mind the struggle for LGBTIQ rights in general needs to be a struggle that is linked to the fight for a different type of world – a socialist world.
The fight for same sex marriage is winnable. Appealing to capitalist parties to merely change the laws however will not be enough. Only the mobilisation of ordinary people will force through reforms but only the transformation of society along socialist lines will lock in these reforms once and for all.
By Chris Dite