I’ve been working on campaigns since I was 14 years old, and have participated in quite a few victories (and some tough defeats, but that’s a campaigner’s life). Absolutely none of those wins mean as much to me as what happened on November 15.
What, what? You’re thinking, don’t I mean November 7? The Virginia elections, the Democratic come back?
Nope. In fact, what I mean is the announcement of the outcome of the public vote on marriage equality in Australia, which happened at 10 am Canberra time on November 15, 2017. It was a historic day in Australia and the world. Only the second time a country as a whole has gone to vote on this issue, the first being Ireland’s historic referendum in 2015. A whopping win for LGBTIQ rights specifically and human rights in general. Nearly 62% voted YES, with almost 80% of the voting age population participating in the mail-in vote.
Now to be clear, no one in the LGBTIQ community wanted this vote. Ultimately, marriage equality must be legislated by Parliament in Australia. Therefore, this vote was seen by many as a delay tactic and gave an opportunity to the “no” voters to have public discourse on the human rights of a part of the nation. It got beyond ugly, with families being ridiculed, children being attacked and just generally allowing space for derision and disrespect.
But it also did something else. It allowed supporters of marriage equality to have millions of conversations, door to door, about love and respect. In the end, over 15,600 people volunteered, many for their first-ever campaign. Australians made over 1,000,000 calls to get out the yes vote. These were real Aussies chatting with others about why they were voting yes. They knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors. Campaign groups formed around the country for YES. You can watch a video about the historic efforts here.
This is the most exciting part of the win – the fact that so many people participated. As political professionals, it is sadly easy to forget that at the end of the day, we are working to get people to vote, elect, campaign and participate in their democracy. It is about them, not us. I cried for many reasons when the results were announced. But it was in part because of that.
Before I moved back to the states to join the resistance, I had a hand in setting up the national infrastructure for getting out the YES vote. I served as Stakeholder Director for the Equality Campaign. I worked with the LGBTIQ community nationwide, bringing together strong voices in a unified way that helped propel the movement. I organized with unions who endorsed the campaign, with student groups and NGOs. We also worked with faith-based organizations and multicultural groups. This had to be all of Australia, not just the usual suspects.
I am proud to have had a small part in this huge victory. My colleague held up a phone livecasting me into the results as they happened, which was beautiful, but heart-wrenching. It is hard to watch history happen from afar.
For so many people, this vote is very personal. Earlier this year, I marched in Sydney’s Mardi Gras Parade. In a shiny red convertible as part of the Equality Campaign’s space in the parade, we had Peter De Waal and his partner of 50 years, Peter ‘Bon’ Bonsall-Boone, two of the original Mardi Gras “78’ers.”. A few months later, Peter lost Bon to cancer. One of Bon’s dying wishes had been to get married to the love of his life before he passed. Sadly, due the games that were being played in Canberra, this did not happen.
Now, we still have to face a rather dysfunctional Parliament. But all indications are that the resounding YES vote will turn into a law on marriage equality by December 7 of this year, the last sitting day for Parliament in Australia for 2017. A version of the bill is already being debated. Let’s hope, and think of Bon and Peter when this finally becomes law. For love past, and for love of the future.