Mobilise against homophobia and transphobia: A socialist feminist take on the Australian Marriage Law postal survey

The response in the LGBTIQ community to the unnecessary postal survey on marriage equality ranges from trauma and pain to white-hot anger. The community bitterly opposed, and defeated, an earlier proposal for a compulsory plebiscite on same-sex marriage equality — denouncing it as a ploy by the far right to derail the growing public support for equality. Unable to pursue its plan via parliament, the Turnbull government imposed a voluntary, non-binding, postal survey, on the community — at the cost of $122 million. This manoeuvre has given license to the far right, religious bigots and conservatives of every stripe to spew homophobic and transphobic bile.

Thirteen years ago, in order to prevent same-sex marriages conducted overseas from being recognised in Australia, the Howard government amended the Marriage Act. This homophobic measure sparked a campaign to strike down the new definition of marriage as being between a man and woman.

The early gay liberationists, led by working class butch dykes and trans women of colour who rioted outside New York’s Stonewall Inn in 1969, did not dream of marriage. Their goal was anything but the replication of the patriarchal family model. They were proud to be rebels and dared to be different as they painted a vision of a new society where sexuality and gender can be freely expressed. The movement today builds on the work of these pioneers who refused to conform to the status quo, recognised that their oppression was linked to sexism and raised the banner high for complete liberation and the end of capitalism.

Inspired by this brilliant legacy and understanding marriage as capitalism’s socio-economic mainstay, some LGBTIQ radicals are conflicted about supporting marriage equality. In contrast, the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women – with our loud, proud history as fighters for queer liberation and our careful theoretical analysis – have been leaders in the campaign from the beginning.

As socialist feminists, we take a dialectical approach. We support full equality and oppose marriage as a stifling institution that is a prison for women. Modern capitalism depends on marriage and the family to provide generations of workers, through women’s unpaid labour. This then excuses women’s lower wages on the job. There’s no place in this system for LGBTIQ people.

This feminist, radical analysis has been sorely absent from the discussion around the postal survey. The sickeningly respectable tone of the Vote Yes campaign, pitched to undecided voters, emphasises “a fair go.” Its images of attractive, young, white, well-to-do, able bodied, gender-conforming, happy, same-sex couples stoke the overwhelming feeling of alienation in the LGBTIQ community. Much of its diversity — especially those who challenge the gender binary – has been erased. This will have a lasting impact.

Defeating the bigots hell-bent on killing any chance of marriage equality is a must. But for many LGBTIQ people, other issues are higher priority. (See: LGBTI People Still Have A World To Win! Freedom Socialist Organiser, March 2014). We live in a country where 16% of young LGBTIQ people have attempted suicide, 33% have self-harmed and resources for mental health are woefully inadequate. These issues are especially pronounced for Indigenous LGBTIQ youth and those living in rural communities. The relentless demonising of the Safe Schools Coalition, designed to eradicate bullying in schools, has been a dominant part of the No campaign. Elders in the LGBTIQ community, many who bear the scars of years in the closet, are also suffering.

For those LGBTIQ youth without family support, issues such as the cost of higher education, attacks on penalty rates, affordable housing and access to an independent income are key. For trans and intersex people, gender reassignment surgery and hormones should be freely available, and the chronic levels of workplace, housing and medical discrimination must be eradicated.

Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party are fighting for complete liberation, and the campaign for marriage equality is a part of this much bigger struggle. When we take up this battle, our fight is not to embrace an oppressive institution. It’s to destroy the reactionary foundation upon which marriage is built. Earlier reforms to marriage — such as allowing women to own property and the introduction of no-fault divorce — have significantly undermined the institution. Winning same-sex marriage equality will contribute to knocking down this pillar of capitalism.

Our attitude to the Australian Marriage Law postal survey is also dialectical. While we oppose the survey, we advocate a Yes vote. Then we need to be ready to keep up the fight. The opponents of marriage equality have a clear ideology. They believe in the domestication of women for the reproduction of the capitalist status quo — thus marriage between a man and a woman.

As socialist feminists, we too have a clear ideology — liberation! There’s very strong support, including from the union movement, for marriage equality. Our task is to shift it from backing for single-issue reform to an almighty fight for LGBTIQ equality, in all its glorious rainbow diversity.

Like what we say? Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party would love to hear from you and collaborate.

Jointly issued by Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party
PO Box 308 Brunswick VIC 3056 - Phone: 03 9388 0062