A/N: Major Essay written for PLT210 – Contemporary Issues in Australian Politics – Race, Nation, Class and Gender.  Received a Credit.


Author’s Note

I would like to take a moment of your time to reflect upon this question and my personal attitudes towards it before reading this essay.  I would first like to bring up a point which made this essay quite difficult for me to write, I was raised in an environment to see people for their actions, not the colour of their skin, their disabilities or their sexual orientation.  How do you argue an answer to a question that logically in my mind should not even need to be asked?  After extensive research into this topic, I have a new found respect for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, transgender) community and the struggles that they have had and continue to endure over the years.  Although I do not have any personal experience in this topic I hope I have represented it in a rational, honourable manner and ask that readers forgive me if I have been ignorantly offensive in any way as that is not my intention. A special thank you to all the people who responded to my forum discussion, you shall remain anonymous but you have my gratitude for sharing your experiences with me.


 Introduction

All humans, gay or straight, black or white, woman or man should be treated as equal.  Furthermore, everyone should be entitled to the same rights.  Sadly, if history has taught us anything, this is not always the case.  History has seen black liberation and women’s liberation, people have fought and died to obtain rights equal to that of ‘whites’ and ‘men’.  What of the simple rights of allowing two people who love each other to marry?  This essay aims to investigate this through looking at the history of the Gay and Lesbian Movement, being Homosexual in today’s social environment and same-sex marriage in Australia.  The history of the Gay and Lesbian Movement will explore the progression of the movement in Australia and how this has affected modern interpretation of homosexuality.  In today’s social environment the Gay Rights Movement has achieved equal rights in many areas, being Homosexual in today’s social environment will examine personal experiences and statistics to determine further public opinion.  Finally, this essay will consider same-sex marriage in Australia and why we have not achieved this very simple act of allowing same-sex couples the rights that opposite-sex couples have.

History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement

Rights movements begin with people lobbying together to achieve change.  The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights movement in Australia began in 1970 in Sydney with the formation of a group called CAMP (Campaign Against Moral Persecution) (Willett, 2000).  Within months of the birth of the Sydney branch, CAMP had branches in most states and over 1,500 members (Willett, 2000).  CAMP’s first action was seen in the form of a letter to the press, it outlined that the aim of the organisation, ‘to represent the interests of homosexuals and to promote homosexual law reform and greater public tolerance of homosexuality’ (Willett, 2000).  The first demonstration CAMP completed was in October of 1971 in front of the Liberal Party headquarters located in Sydney (Kaplan, 1996).  A right-wing Christian fundamentalist stood against Tom Hughes for pre-selection, Tom Hughes, who was the federal Liberal Attorney-General, had spoken out in favour of limited homosexual law reform, so the rally was mounted in support of him (Kaplan, 1996).

In September of 1973 the first national celebration, Gay Pride Week, began.  It was used to target ‘all the institutions of our oppression: the police, courts, job discrimination, the bigoted churchmen and politicians, the media, the psychiatrists, the aversion therapists, the military, the schools, the universities, the workplaces’ (Willett, 2000).  In each state of Australia Gay Pride Week was a rather light-hearted affair, really just based on getting people’s attention.  Unfortunately, Sydney suffered a barrage of arrests which tainted what should have been a liberating time, for some months after this event the gay rights movement quieted to a milder representation (Willett, 2000).  Thankfully the Australian LGBT community encountered a massive success in 1973 as well, homosexuality was deleted as a psychiatric disorder in the Australian Medical Association’s database, no longer a ‘medical illness’ this was an incredible step towards social tolerance the founders of CAMP had hoped for (Kirby, 2003).

500 people marched down George Street in Sydney to protest in Martin Plaza in June 1978.  Activists organised this as a part of homosexual solidarity day to demonstrate against sexual repression in Australia and other countries (news.com.au, 2008).  This event has occurred annually since then, becoming the Mardi Gras most of us are familiar with today.  This event caused a stir provoking police to deny the marchers access through Hyde Park, despite the organisers having done the correct thing by obtaining a permit (Willett, 2000).  The protesters made a break for Kings Cross, the police responded by sealing off the roads and making arrests.  A violent riot broke out among police, protesters and even bystanders, and by the conclusion of the night fifty-three people were arrested (Willett, 2000).  To make matters even worse, many of these people had severe violence inflicted upon them while in police custody; the icing on this bigoted cake was when the Sydney Morning Herald published a complete list of names and occupations of those that were arrested on June 24th 1978 during the riot (Willett, 2000). Over the course of several months the charges against the fifty-three protesters were dropped, some as early as October of 1978 (Willett, 2000).

The year 1994 saw another big change in LGBT history. The Commonwealth passed the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994 – Section 4, legalising sexual activity between consenting adults (in private) throughout Australia (Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act, 1994). It was not until 1997, however, that the entirety of Australia was in consensus about the law.  The Tasmanian law prohibiting gay male sexual conduct was repealed following the Toonen versus Australia case in which the courts overthrew the Tasmanian law bringing Australia as a nation into compliance with the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994 (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2010).

The history of LGBT rights movement has been no doubt a colourful and difficult struggle of people who only want to be accepted as they are.  If we are to examine the historical timeline the rights movement has been successful thus far in slowly gaining the tolerance and acceptance of the heterosexual community.  But what is stopping the Australian government from legalising same-sex marriage?  Is it the people? Are the Australian people against same-sex marriage?

Being Homosexual in Today’s Social Environment

With any successful rights movement, no matter how marginal, a change must occur.  In Australia today, sexual orientation is no longer seen as a disease, a perversion or ‘wrong’.  We no longer see such blatant discrimination against the LGBT community.  That is not to say it does not exist, but rather Australia has accepted homosexuality as one of our many cultural aspects.  So we understand the basic history of the LGBT community but how do people feel?  What have they experienced during their life, do they feel comfortable identifying with their sexual orientation in Australia in today’s social environment?

Experiences differ greatly from person to person.  This author has examined responses to questions posted on a discussion board, and complied them here in order to provide personal experiences (please note, all responses are anonymous, to protect the privacy of the participants).  Unfortunately, there seems to be a general consensus of fear when discovering sexual orientation;

‘Was I scared? F**k yeah I was terrified! My parents are Christian and we’d been going to church our whole lives.  Love is between a man and a woman, I wasn’t supposed to be looking at men the way I was.  I felt like there was no one there, I felt alone.  I told my brother first, I remember closing my eyes and waiting for the punch on the nose.  Instead he hugged me and told me he loved me no matter what.  I cried my eyes out, told him everything.  We went to my parents together, I remember Mum smiling and telling me she knew, my Dad was never one for emotion, slapped me on the shoulder and smirked asking if I was going to quit playing football.  I laughed and told him no, he nodded and said ‘I’m proud of you son that took balls.’ The relief felt incredible like someone had taken the 50 kilo weight off my chest.’ (Anonymous 1, 2015).

Most respondents expressed the same amount of trepidation when ‘coming out’ to family and friends, however, most stories end in acceptance and relief, unfortunately there are others that are less lucky;

‘I remember it clear as day, as if it was yesterday, even though it happened 3yrs ago.  I was 26 at the time, I’d been with my girlfriend for a year before we decided to tell my parents.  The look on Mum’s face, horror, disgust.  She kept asking what she did wrong, like there was something wrong with me.  Dad was supportive, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate him, especially when Mum began to yell at my girlfriend, cursing her for corrupting her little girl.  I still think I’m to blame for my parent’s divorce, Dad comes round every weekend for a Sunday BBQ, we don’t talk to Mum anymore.’ (Anonymous 2, 2015).

Many people spoke of the community aspect of identifying as LGBT, while others stated it did not matter as much as others were making out;

‘We’re just normal people, we enjoy music, art, reading, movies, just like everyone else, we go to work and come home, it’s just when we do we come home to a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend or a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend, it doesn’t make us any different than a heterosexual couple.’ (Anonymous 3, 2015).

There are others who have funny stories to tell about their experiences, these helped other people who identified with negative experiences to work through them;

‘Ok so my best friend is gay, we’d known each other for years, I remember in high school we had to do this science project, we spent hours after school together.  This is hilarious, but one night after dinner my parents called us down, it was all serious, I remember T had paint all over himself and I had superglue in my hair, and my Mum says to me ‘sweetheart we want you to know we love you no matter what and if there’s something you want to share with us you know you can, no matter what it is you’re still our son’.  I’m all like; ‘Mum did something happen?’ and she stayed silent.  Dad rolls his eyes and steps forward, ‘It’s ok to be gay son.’  T and I took one look at each other and cracked up.  I remember saying to him, ‘right talk, wrong person’ which only made us fall about more.  We explained and my parents laughed right along with us, T’s parents had told them he was gay and because we were spending more time together than usual because of the project they naturally assumed.  So don’t worry, it’s not all bad, you gotta take the good with the bad, that’s life, not just for the gay community but all of us.’ (Anonymous 4, 2015).

The overall mood of the discussion was positive with many people experiencing positive reactions to their orientation, from the personal recounts, Australians are very accepting of the LGBT community, and certainly more so than fifteen to twenty years ago.

Looking statistically, we can see that over the last ten to fifteen years Australians have become more culturally accepting of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage (Phillips, 2010).  In 2004, only thirty-eight percent of the Australian public thought same-sex marriage was acceptable (Phillips, 2010).  This jumped to fifty-seven percent in 2007, then to sixty percent in 2009 and 2010 (Phillips, 2010).  In 2012 sixty-four percent of Australians were for marriage equality (Australian Marriage Equality, 2012).  2014 saw an incredible seventy-two percent of the Australian public for same-sex marriage (Reed, 2014).  This acceptance of the idea should move our federal government to consider our laws and why they have not been updated, if the people are happy to provide marriage equality why is our government dragging their feet?  The next section will cover the Australian government’s progression on this issue.

Same-Sex Marriage in Australia

While the Australian people, with the exception of a minority of citizens, have embraced homosexuality as a part our multicultural society, the same cannot always be said for our government.  When elected in 1996 John Howard and his government made it very clear that he was not in favour of the LGBT community.  It became clear that he did not support same-sex marriage; ‘the commonly accepted definition of a marriage as the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life…the definition of a marriage is something that should not over time potentially be subject to redefinition or change by courts.’ (Jennett, 2004).  His government did not support same-sex couples adopting children either in the same news report stating ‘we don’t agree with gay adoptions’ (Jennett, 2004).

In 2004 same-sex marriage in Australia was officially prohibited when the federal Attorney-General introduced the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill (Parliament of Australia, 2004).  The Marriage Act 1961 and the Family Law Act were amended in order to specifically define that marriage was to be between a man and a woman.  Amendments were also made to prevent the recognition of marriages conducted in other countries (Taylor, 2013).  There were many things that caused the downfall of the Howard government, but the axe that felled the tree for many was the Family Law (Same Sex Adoption) Bill, which sort to prevent same-sex couples from adopting children, fortunately this bill was scraped when the Howard government lost the election in 2007 (Sydney Morning Herald, 2007).

The Labor government in 2007 amended more than eighty Commonwealth laws to remove discrimination against same-sex couples and their children (Witzleb, 2011).  Government financial payments, such as family assistance, parenting payments and other partnered entitlements were amended to ensure same-sex couples would receive the same payments and amounts as heterosexual couples in the same circumstances (Witzleb, 2011).  Reforms made under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 ensured same-sex couples received entitlements that are equal to that of heterosexual couples (Witzleb, 2011).

With all the government has done in law reforms for the LGBT community the question that is a flaming topic in the media is; what is one more law?  If it was left up to the Australian people, this author has no doubt the law allowing same-sex marriage would have been passed years ago.  Our government is dragging their feet for reasons that are unfathomable to the public.

Concluding Remarks

While Australian laws and legislations do allow same-sex couples equal rights under a de facto relationship status, the LGBT community are still denied the right under the Australian laws to express their commitment to one another via a legally binding ceremony.  This law in itself is a discrimination, disallowing same-sex couples the right to marry in a legally binding ceremony, is equal to saying a person of African descent cannot marry a person of European descent.  The law is absurd and is one this author hopes in future will be abolished, allowing everyone in Australia equal rights, no matter who we are.  The Australian people are for marriage equality, bringing liberation to a long repressed group of individuals.  The question we have to ask our government now is, why are you denying it?


References

Anonymous 1. (2015). Personal communication. Received 12th November 2015.

Anonymous 2. (2015). Personal communication. Received 2nd November 2015.

Anonymous 3. (2015). Personal communication. Received 23rd October 2015.

Anonymous 4. (2015). Personal communication. Received  26th October 2015.

Australian Human Rights Commission. (2010). Sexuality under the ICCPR. Retrieved from http://www.humanrights.gov.au/human-rights-explained-case-studies-complaints-about-australia-human-rights-committee

Australian Marriage Equality. (2012). Public Opinion: Nationally. Retrieved from http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/who-supports-equality/a-majority-of-australians-support-marriage-equality/

Commonwealth Consolidated Acts. (1994). Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994 – Section 4.

Jennett, Greg. (2004). Howard rules on Gay Marriage. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2004/s1117638.htm

Kaplan, Gisela. (1996). The Meagre Harvest: The Australian Women’s Movement 1950s–1990s. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Kirby, Michael. (2003). The 1973 deletion of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder: 30 years on. The Australian and New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry, 37(6), 674-677.

News.com.au. (2008). Original Report – 500 March in the City. Retrieved from http://www.news.com.au/story/0.23599.23257207-5016087.00.html

Parliament of Australia. (2004).  Marriage Amendment Bill 2004.

Phillips, Janet. (2010).  Attitudes to Same-Sex Marriage.  Retrieved from http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/FlagPost/2010/November/Attitudes_to_same-sex_marriage

Reed, Jim. (2014). The Tides have turned on Same-Sex Marriage. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-31/reed-the-tides-have-turned-on-same-sex-marriage/5637770

Sydney Morning Herald. (2007).  Gay Couples Face Overseas Adoption Ban. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Same-sex-couples-face-adoption-ban/2007/08/02/1185648030026.html

Taylor, Luke. (2013). Getting over it? The future of same-sex marriage in Australia. The Australian Journal of Family Law, 27(1), 26-58.

Willett, Graham. (2000). Living out Loud: A history of gay and lesbian activism in Australia. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Witzleb, Normann. (2011). Marriage as the ‘Last Frontier’?  Same-Sex Relationship Recognition in Australia. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 25(2), 135-164.

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