The onward march towards equality

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(Image via @Aqua_Man_Om)

The marriage equality battle seems all but won, but the fight for equality in many other areas goes on, writes John Passant.

What a magnificent and joyful result! With a 61.6% vote for marriage equality, the "Yes" vote has won handsomely. The overwhelming "Yes" vote shows Australians want an end to the discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people in the 2004 amendments to the Marriage Act.  

This was a victory that neither Malcolm Turnbull nor, unbelievably, Tony Abbott could claim. It was a victory for those activists who have worked hard over many generations to win equality in all its forms for LGBTIQ people. 

The No forces campaigned on issues not relevant to changing the Marriage Act. Evidently Western "civilisation" – whatever that is, other than bloody and genocidal – could collapse. Alleged threats to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, parental rights, and a radical gay agenda in schools were just part of their arsenal of subterfuge.

The forces of darkness could not campaign on the substance of the issue and so had to resort to a campaign of fear based on misinformation. Theirs is an argument for discrimination dressed in the cloth of "freedom". The privileged want their privileges to continue.

Their fabricated concerns have nothing to do with equal love. Same-sex marriage does not threaten freedom of religion or speech, nor does it mean that pre-teens are being or will be taught how to use sex toys. This nonsense, however, may have scared some people into voting "No", or reinforced them in doing so. 

The fight is not yet over. The reactionaries’ fall-back position in the face of an overwhelming rejection of their case has been threatening to introduce a number of amendments to the less than perfect Dean Smith bill, which undermine the "Yes" vote. Again, freedom, and parental rights and other furphies are at the forefront of their arguments. Religions are already exempt from many of the anti-discrimination provisions in various Federal, state and territory human rights legislation.

Now that Senator James Paterson has withdrawn his Australian Christian Lobby drafted bill, Cory Bernardi will take up the fight on the floor of the Senate with amendments that mirror the ACL Bill. He has already introduced motions on abortion and White Ribbon among other things that have split the Liberals, including seeing Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Women, voting for the motion condemning White Ribbon for providing funding for late-term abortions (to rape victims among others.)

The dark side of the machinations of the "No" campaign is captured in an interview with Kevin Andrews on Sky News. In response to a question from David Speers, he said that Jewish bakers could deny cakes to Muslims and, he added, vice versa. 

Andrews tried to qualify it with the explanation that this was about religious beliefs to do with marriage. But some religious groups think the others are, for example, Satan’s spawn. Does that give Northern Ireland Unionist bakers in Australia the right to refuse service to Catholics?

The argument that my religion says it is okay does not hold water. No one is forcing priests to marry gay couples. Marriage is a state-run institution. In a secular society, you do not eliminate discrimination by allowing it.

One of the drivers for anti-discrimination legislation was to enshrine the free market in society in all its aspects, including services to customers. Religious exemptions for mythical bakers undermine that. As Michael Bachelard persuasively argues, religious groups running commercial enterprises are carrying on a business, not a religion.

Given the history of anti-Semitism and its horrific consequences, let’s also reflect quietly on Andrews’ "vice versa" to highlight the slippery slope (in the words of Mo Elleissy in the Herald Sun, of all outlets!) Andrews might set in train.  

It is acceptable in Andrews’ world for Muslim – or indeed any bakers – to refuse to serve Jewish customers for sincerely held religious reasons — such as, for example, opposition to same-sex marriage. So, can we expect soon to see signs saying "No Jews, gays, blacks, Asians, Muslims, Catholics, Irish [and so on] allowed"? All you have to do is justify it on spurious (or not) religious grounds.

Exemptions in some states and territories for the purposes of employment in religious schools, hospitals, aged care facilities and the like currently allow discrimination on the basis of sexuality. We are already on the slippery slope.

Miranda Devine appears, for example, to be arguing for the right of beauty salon owners to deny a booking to gay people for their wedding or honeymoon.

The words of the reactionary Right could encourage some to action against symbols they find offensive and perhaps, eventually, against people they find offensive.

As well as trying to delay and possibly to undermine marriage equality with state-sanctioned ‘freedom to discriminate’, Bernardi is also trying to build an active and fighting coalition of Christian conservatives out of the standing army and "the amazing base" they already have from the "No" campaign.

Bernardi is talking about ten or 12 Senators reflecting this new coalition. The only problem is that it is not a coalition, let alone a movement. 

An unemployed or underpaid bakery worker in the Western suburbs of Sydney has nothing in common with the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, who contributed $1 million of his Church's funds to the "No" campaign, except perhaps their religion. And therein lies a lesson for the Right and the Left.

Just 17 of 150 electorates voted "No". The reactionaries are looking to build among those communities. But in understanding why they voted "No", the Left should not fall into Islamophobia or anti-religious feelings more generally. 

The working class people who voted "No" are not our enemy. Our enemy is the organised forces of ruling class reaction like the Australian Christian Lobby, the leadership of the Christian churches who campaigned for a "No" vote, and the politicians who led the "No" vote — and even those who imposed this hurtful survey on us.  

Just as the Right is trying to organise, so too should the Left. Equality is equality, no matter who is striving for it.

There are currently 20 gay men on Manus Island who cannot be sent back to their home countries because they would be imprisoned or executed. In the name of equality bring them here, and bring the others on Manus Island and Nauru here.

The Western suburbs of Sydney has large sections of what liberal commentators call low socio-economic areas. Let’s fight to end the poverty that capitalism creates. Let’s join the fight to increase among other things wages by a large amount, and social security payments and pensions to the minimum wage.

Many of the communities in Western Sydney suffer daily discrimination. How can we join with them to fight racism and bigotry?  

There is another fundamental inequality and injustice that we must address. With the victory of marriage equality fresh in our minds, let’s join with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait brothers and sisters and fight for recognition of the genocide on which this country and economic system was founded, and for a treaty or treaties that brings economic and legal justice to the most oppressed group in our society.

The fight for equality continues. 

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016) are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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