5000 attend Melbourne rally for same sex marriage

15 August 2010

Written by: Jean Kemshal-Bell

‘I don’t agree with budgie smugglers but they’re legal’

So proclaimed a sign at yesterday’s same sex marriage rally in Melbourne.  Rally organisers liked the sign so much they awarded its holder a prize. Other stand-out contributions included ‘Geeks for gay marriage’; ‘The only threat to marriage is divorce’; ‘How much further behind do we need to get?’ and ‘Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one.’

While the prize-winning ‘budgie smuggler’ sign was clearly targeted at Tony Abbott, the crowd was equally unimpressed with Prime Minister Julia Gillard. In the midst of this afternoon’s speeches, a paper mache effigy appeared…

Here comes the bride

For all the humorous undertones, the estimated 5,000 people gathered outside Melbourne’s State Library were serious.  There was also no mistaking their message: ‘if you deny us gay marriage, we’ll deny you our votes.’

Yesterday’s rally was the third and by far the largest organized by activist group Equal Love as part of their ‘2010: Year of Action for Same Sex Marriage’ campaign.

The timing of the event was no coincidence.  Yesterday, 14 August 2010, marks six years since the Howard government passed the Marriage Amendment Act, officially ruling that a marriage is strictly ‘the union of a man and a woman’. The 2004 act was the work of the Coalition government yet Labor also threw their support behind it. In 2010, both parties still stand by this declaration. Only last week, the PM reiterated on ABC’s Q &A that her position and that of Labor is that ‘the Marriage Act should stay in the same way that it is now’.

This history was undoubtedly on the mind of the crowd today when Labor candidate Cath Bowtell took to the stage. Little could be heard of Bowtell’s speech as the crowd heckled and shouted ‘Shame!’ In stark contrast to Labor’s reception, the Greens’ Adam Bandt was greeted enthusiastically. Signs saying ‘This time, I’m voting Greens’ were waved as Bandt urged the crowd to ‘go proudly into the ballot box’.

TV presenter Ruby Rose was also given a loud welcome. Her comment that ‘It’s 2010 guys!’ highlighted an embarrassment shared by the crowd: the knowledge that Australia is behind the times. The Netherlands, Sweden,  Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa and now even conservative Argentina, have all legalized same sex marriage. It’s an embarrassment that voters will certainly be keeping in mind when they head to the ballot box next week.

For all the political talk, a quick glance around the crowd gave an instant reminder that it’s not only votes at stake here. Among the crowd were many families with two Mums or two Dads. When Anthony Bendall of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby said of his partner of 16 years that ‘he is my north, my south, my east, my west, but the Australian government says he can never be my husband’, couples in the crowd nodded and shared his frustration.

As the crowd marched through Melbourne’s city centre, the words on one straight-talking sign summed up the afternoon’s mood best: ‘I can’t believe we’re still protesting this shit’.

Sarah Green is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University and a member of the upstart editorial team.

Also on upstart: ‘Walls aren’t always made of concrete’ – Luke S. H. Raggatt’s feature about the obstacles that remain to gay marriage.