Michael Burge

Michael Burge

Journalist at No Fibs
Michael is an author and Guardian Australia journalist who lives on Ngarabal country in the NSW Northern Tablelands. He was was born at Inverell into a farming family with New England roots deeper than most. His debut novel Tank Water is out now from MidnightSun Publishing.
Michael Burge
Michael's articles about writers, performers, artists, creative rebels and the writing process are available at his website.

After you’ve done all the lobbying, it seems what you have to do in Australia to achieve LGBTIQ equality, is wait.

MARRIAGE Equality will be legislated in Australia no sooner than 2019. I know many will fly into a rage about that assertion, but let’s get real for a few moments: the current Coalition will never independently instigate a change to the Marriage Act allowing equal access to same-sex couples. Even this week, Malcolm Turnbull told us it’s a plebiscite or nothing, and despite the fact that he has no money for a public vote, he means it.

Before you lose your shit at me, you need to acknowledge that the majority of the Australian LGBTIQ community are okay with that. When the largest ever group of this demographic was recently polled on whether we’d be happy to wait for another government to hold a parliamentary vote instead of a plebiscite almost 60 per cent of us said yes.

We killed the Coalition’s unpopular ‘ask the people’ approach, but history tells us that pioneering same-sex equality law reform in Australia only ever occurs under Labor governments.

From South Australia’s decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1975; the first legislation recognising same-sex de-facto relationships in the Australian Capital Territory in 1994; the first same-sex adoptions in Western Australia in 2002; the federal amendment of 100 pieces of discriminatory federal legislation in 2009; the enabling of any adult to choose to identify as male or female in 2013, and the first same-sex marriages in the ACT in 2014 (overturned by the High Court less than a week later), the ALP can be relied on to get LGBTIQ equality started, eventually.

The notion of “eventually” is the key. We read it often in the media, and I’ve heard a hundred friends and pundits offer it as a panacea to tough times: “Eventually, it’ll happen,” they advise, probably wishing I’d just shut up and stop reminding everyone that we still don’t have federal civil unions for same-sex couples in this country, let alone marriage.

But honestly, I accepted this unwelcome advice years ago. Why would any informed observer not, when we compare our lack of reform with the equality wins of our closest cultural and political allies?

Marriage Equality passes in New Zealand’s parliament.

Australia’s decriminalisation of homosexuality lagged thirty years behind the United Kingdom’s and Canada’s, and a decade behind New Zealand’s.

All three of those nations passed civil unions over a decade ago, and same-sex marriage duly passed in all three – Canada in 2005, New Zealand in 2013 and the United Kingdom in 2014.

After you’ve done all the lobbying, it seems what you have to do in Australia to achieve LGBTIQ equality, is wait.

Some commentators bravely attempt to name the date. I’ve often quoted Guardian Australia journalist Gay Alcorn’s courageous prediction that reform would arrive by 2014-2015, but only because her remonstrations about being tired of the debate were delivered ten years after the start of the main game. Sorry you’ve got marriage equality fatigue, Gay, but hopefully you joined the end of the queue and got someone to share a pillow with you.

Waiting stinks, and progressives don’t like it, but when you force a nation to wait, strange things happen.

Waiting hijinks

This week has seen many classic absurdist hijinks that are the result of an immature Coalition putting the brakes on reform.

Aussies are known to imbibe a few rounds at the pub whenever there’s time to kill, and this week the fermented amber beverage was put to good use in ‘that’ corporate video produced by the Bible Society of Australia.

MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie debate marriage equality.

In the absence of anything practical to do about marriage equality during the current political impasse, Coopers beers were raised by two Liberal Party MPs in the name of civil debate, and merry hell was raised across the social media in the fallout.

Many couldn’t see the issue with (yet another) debate on reform that is already supported by the vast majority of Australians in any poll you’d like to pick; but just as many raged at the flippancy of “keeping it light” where delayed civil rights are concerned, and the attempts to fit the whole boring exercise into a hashtag for marketing purposes.

But I can understand why Tim Wilson MP needed some confected progress on marriage equality, because even he, with his enthusiasm and the ear of the PM, cannot get Malcolm Turnbull to pick up any existing bill and vote on it in parliament.

Lobby groups are also coming to terms with the delays.

You only have to look at and/or participate in Mardi Gras to see what fun can be had while we wait for equality, and letting off steam collectively helps many, but the event is no more or less sponsor-soaked than the Bible Society’s video, which is why key LGBTIQ lobby groups aren’t pointing the finger at the Society or the Liberal Party for forging a strategic alliance with Coopers Brewery: the bills have to be paid while the timeline for reform stretches out.

Happy to wait

As a solution to being forced to sit tight, the CEOs of more than thirty companies sent a letter (a letter!) to Mr Turnbull, demanding marriage equality be legislated. That ought to fix the problem, right?

Wrong. It’s yet another distraction in the waiting game. If Turnbull was going to deliver marriage equality as a conservative Prime Minister in the same manner as New Zealand’s John Key and the UK’s David Cameron, he would already have done it.

His hands are not tied, he’s just content to wait. It’s what conservatives do best.

An astute LGBTIQ community – and our supporters – shouldn’t be blamed because Australian pundits are bored.

Victim blaming

In the glut of social media after Coopers apologised and supported marriage equality, and the Bible Society pulled its video, plenty of impatient pundits engaged in victim-blaming of equality advocates. It was as eye-opening as always, seeing those who should know a lot better accusing people of shutting down debate if we boycott a commercial brand, or congratulate those who do, but it’s just the confused commentator’s way of dealing with the delays in reform.

They’re sick of twiddling their thumbs and we feel their pain. As worldy-wise, global thinkers, they’re embarrassed Australia is being shown up by a growing list of countries that have no problem legislating for marriage equality, but an astute LGBTIQ community – and our supporters – shouldn’t be blamed because Australian commentators are bored, ashamed, or just don’t get the Coalition’s problem with marriage equality.

Back in 2004, when John Howard and Mark Latham enthusiastically united Australia’s parliament to alter the Marriage Act and exclude same-sex couples, 2019 seemed an impossibly long way off. These days, this pivotal election year looms larger for Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition than anyone else in the country. Ironically, I can’t wait.

Check out Michael’s Book Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love.