The road to marriage equality in Australia was filled with dirty tricks and homophobia. How did the LGBTI community build a movement strong enough to overcome it all?
CORY BERNARDI: Now despite marriage been based in accordance with millennia of lived experience we are now facing the 16th attempt in the last 10 years to redefine it to mean something it is never meant and it’s been done in the names of rights and equality.
HOST: That was Cory Bernardi, a senator for the Australian Conservative Party speaking in 2016.
Around that time, Australia was in the middle of a national debate about marriage. Should lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people be allowed to get married?
The journey was not easy, especially for the LGBTI community. In fact, as one gay friend of mine put it, it was a pile of shit.
Today on Changemakers, we’re in Sydney. My hometown. We’re exploring how the LGBTI community across Australia built a powerful marriage equality movement that changed a nation. This wasn’t just a long campaign but one filled with dirty tricks and shit pile of homophobia and transphobia from the other side.
HOST: I’m Amanda Tattersall, welcome to Changemakers, the podcast telling stories about people changing the world.
We are supported by the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney. They break down barriers between researchers, policy makers and community campaigners so we can build change together. Check them out at sydney.edu.au/policy-lab.
HOST: When I got married to my lovely, good-looking husband — who happened to help write this script — there was a line that the marriage celebrant had to say before we were allowed to get married.
In front of everyone, the celebrant was required by law to proclaim that the definition of marriage in Australia was between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others.
It was quite a nasty little sentiment to have to have inserted on a day of celebration, especially for all our gay and lesbian friends, some of whom were in much more stable and robust relationships than us.
The reason this bizarre, nasty little snippet of exclusion was required, was because before 2004, marriage in Australia was probably, sort of, kind of open to anyone.
Adam Knobel was 18 years old in 2004.
ADAM KNOBEL: I had just started university so I was on campus and kind of realising my sexuality and realising who I was.
HOST: In some ways, being on the verge of coming out in 2004 was a lot better than a decade or two earlier. By 1997, the last of the laws outlawing homosexuality had been eliminated in Australia. I know — 1997.
And by 2004, overseas, there was a growing recognition that everyone – regardless of your sexual or gender identity – should be allowed to get married. Things were looking up.
And then our Prime Minister — a nasty, conservative little man, named John Howard, changed the marriage law in Australia, specifically to shut the gates on the LGBTI community.
ADAM KNOBEL: When the legislation was put through by the then Howard government and it was a tough thing to sort of witness.
HOST: Even the major party from the progressive side of politics – the Labor Party – backed in the new law.
I was not yet out to my family or the way I was out to my friends and that kind of watching that legislation pass. Watching the government kind of say who you are and who you love is not equal. There’s a very difficult thing to experience.
HOST: At the time, Howard was praised for nipping the issue in the bud. It wasn’t even particularly controversial. Most people didn’t support marriage equality. It was a quick fix that made the issue go away.
But not for Adam. That law had genuine lasting impact on him.
ADAM KNOBEL: It meant that I didn’t tell my family who I was for a number of years until a number of years after that even though I had come to that realisation myself being at university.
HOST: This hostile legislation presented the LGBTI community with a pretty big question: how should they respond?
There were a lot of different opinions. Alex Greenwich is a co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality.
ALEX GREENWICH: So I think there was a cohort of people who said look if you have a look at the numbers in the Federal Parliament we ain’t gonna be getting marriage equality across the line anytime soon. Let’s focus on the other areas of law where we can actually have an impact.
HOST: An understandable calculation. After all, a lot of people in the LGBTI community weren’t even that into marriage.
But for other leaders, they believed you just needed to make a start. So they set up a phone hook-up. Very soon, they identified their key weakness.
ALEX: Where was our community, where was the voice for those people who actually wanted to get married and who were LGBTI? So in this void they sort of thought yeah there needs to be a group of people have a voice in this.
HOST: Power abhors a vacuum – so they filled it by founding a group called Australian Marriage Equality.
First step — they had to work out how to talk about the issue.
ALEX” It it was called gay marriage then same sex marriage.
HOST: And those terms weren’t working
ALEX: It put a label on it that was unnecessary. We were not talking about something that was any different. There is no difference between the love and commitment. Conflict and stress of of same sex marriages.
HOST: They also needed a language that was inclusive of the whole LGBTI community – not just homosexual couples. This is Anna Brown, eventual co-chair of the Equality Campaign.
ANNA BROWN: It was also important because it was inclusive of all of the different and beautiful population groups that make up our community. Lesbian Gay Bisexual people but also transgender gender diverse and intersex people. So the words gay and same sex exclude some of those people and communities. So it was really important as a movement that we were inclusive of everyone that was excluded by the current law.
HOST: So they settled on the term marriage equality. Doing this had an immediate impact on the LGBTI community. They weren’t that interested in marriage. But equality. Now that’s something that people could get behind. People like Wil Stracke, a union leader and LGBTI woman.
WIL: For me it was less the marriage part and more the equality part. So my view about this is that. The laws of civil law should apply the same to everyone and this marriage ultimately is a civil law. So my view was that we needed to achieve equality.
HOST: Locking in the language allowed a series of strategies to unfold.
The first was storytelling. Several brave LGBTI couples began talking publicly about their desire to be married.
The second was good old fashioned organising. Australian Marriage Equality started encouraging people all across the country to set up local groups to begin a local conversation about marriage equality.
ADAM: The campaign did extend past the LGBT community. Parents and grandparents of LGBTI people were active in the marriage equality campaign from very early on. And in fact some of the leading regional campaigners are just mothers of gay or lesbian children who wanted to see their son or daughter marry the person that they love.
HOST: And slowly, public opinion started to shift.
ADAM: Within a couple of years it had flipped to a majority.
HOST: The movement was growing, but how was this impacting politicians? You know, the people who would have to pass marriage equality legislation?
In 2007 a progressive Labor Government was elected and it was opposed to Marriage Equality. Labor’s policy was shaped by some powerful players that had strong positions on so called ‘moral issues.’
The marriage equality movement needed to be strong enough to pull the party in the opposite direction.
A group called Rainbow Labor formed inside the Labor Party. Australian Marriage Equality pushed hard outside the party. And slowly, more LGBTI people and supporters of marriage equality became elected as Labor Party politicians.
In December 2011, the Labor Party held its National Conference in Sydney. It was time for Rainbow Labor to shine. A motion to change Labor policy in favour of marriage equality was moved by a senior LGBTI political leader, Andrew Barr.
ANDREW BARR: I was greatly honoured to move the motion on behalf of the rainbow labor network. It is a culmination of years and years of struggle. Its significant to thousands and thousands of Australians. And to every mum or dad who has a gay or lesbian son this is for you.
HOST: The motion passed. The Labor Party was now on side. It wasn’t perfect, MPs would be given a free conscious vote, which annoyed some. But it meant that the Parliament was far closer to being able to win a vote on marriage equality.
HOST: But just as things were looking up, they changed again. In 2013, a highly conservative politician, Tony Abbott, was elected Prime Minister.
But even on the conservative side of politics, there were a few glimmers of hope.
ALEX: People like Sue Boyce, Warren Entsch had been a long term supporter and others outside to be really prominent voices.
HOST: By 2015 Warren Entsch had been working on a piece of legislation to amend the Marriage Act.
He had noticed that most politicians across both sides of politics were personally in favour of marriage equality. The problem was that in his party they were all bound to support the conservative position.Warren Entsch realised that if he could secure a free vote on the issue of marriage equality from his side of politics then it was likely, with the support of Labor, that it would pass.
But those opposed to marriage equality had another idea.
In May 2015 Ireland held a referendum on marriage equality. They were forced to have a referendum because they needed to amend their constitution to redefine marriage.
The idea of a national vote on marriage equality appealed to some conservatives in Australia. But our constitution didn’t need to be changed. So, they thought, instead of a referendum, why not a plebiscite.
ANNA: A plebiscite is a non-binding vote conducted by of the Australian population or any population. … So we’ve had plebiscites about our national anthem for example. I mean these are really unusual processes for Australian political sort of traditions.
HOST: Unusual processes needed influential supporters. And the plebiscite idea had it backers.
ALEX: The concept of a plebiscite or referendum or national public fight on marriage equality had been something that opponents of marriage equality had been shopping around for a while it was what the Australian Christian Lobby wanted. That’s how they wanted the issue to be resolved. They knew that they could use it to build a base to create division to flex their muscle
HOST: I want to clarify – the Australian Christian Lobby is a fringe Christian group. It doesn’t represent mainstream Christian Churches – several of whom supported Marriage Equality.
But the Australian Christian Lobby became a convenient flank for conservative politicians who wanted to crush this rising social movement.
Because of them, the idea of a plebiscite was a live discussion.
Yet in August 2015, it looked like a plebiscite was dead in the water. Under Warren Entsch’s plan, it simply wasn’t necessary.
ANNA: Warren Entsch was bringing forward some draft legislation and wanted to bring forward the issue of marriage equality to be debated in the Coalition party room.
HOST: That’s when the Prime Minister decided to hijack the process. He called an emergency meeting of all the politicians in the Liberal-National Coalition.
ALEX: This famous eight hour party room meeting.
ANNA: Then what we got to everyone’s surprise after that … was the decision that the coalition policy would be to take to have to conduct a plebiscite on the issue of marriage equality.
HOST: It was shocking.
ALEX: My initial reaction was to be quite overwhelmed. We had been going so well. But things were brought to a head and we had a perverse outcome.
HOST: The marriage equality movement couldn’t let the plebiscite stand.
ALEX: It became very clear that the LGBTI community and a lot of supporters of marriage equality and a lot of people who are interested in parliamentary democracies were appalled by this concept and a strong campaign started on opposing … opposing a plebiscite.
HOST: And the it wasn’t just about democracy. It was about homophobia. This was an unprecedented way to solve a civil rights issue. LGBTI leaders were terrified that it would unleash reactionary forces and allow them free reign to use homophobic hate speech, under the cover of “debating the issue”.
ANNA: Some evidence was coming out from Ireland that despite the happy scenes at the end of that campaign that underneath all of that it was actually quite a horrific experience for families and for LGBT people and Rainbow Families that had to plot walks to school for example that avoided nasty signs and advertising just so that their kids didn’t have to see what other you know some parts of their country thought about their family.
HOST: So now the question was – how do you stop a plebiscite?
A plebiscite had to be approved by Parliament, so if they got enough politicians on side, they could stop it.
That meant that alongside some minor parties, they needed the Labor Party. But the Labor Party wasn’t making any commitments.
The conservatives weren’t having an easy time. Prime Minister Tony Abbott was deposed and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, who immediately announced that he would support a plebiscite.
Conflict continued into 2016 with parliamentary inquiries and politicians trading nasty, often homophobic, remarks.
The issue looked stuck.
It was also a difficult issue for the marriage equality movement. After all, a majority of Australians did support them.
ANNA BROWN: there were some people around saying well you’ve got this opportunity you’ve got an opportunity to achieve marriage equality why wouldn’t you just take it. So there was all this you know so much division.
HOST: By August 2016, the Turnbull Government began planning how a plebiscite would roll out.
Australian Marriage Equality would need to move the Labor Party fast. What could they do?
HOST: Welcome back. Before we explore how the Marriage Equality movement could shift the Labor Party, let’s just have a look at the idea of a plebiscite. To the movement, it posed an existential crisis.
ANNA BROWN:So when the plebiscite was announced I thought holy hell how are we going to win this thing. How are we going to marshall the support from the Australian public and generate the resources in what I knew was a field that was almost entirely populated by volunteer run advocacy groups compared to every other minority group we had the least funding. We had no national rights advocacy organization we had virtually just state state based volunteer groups. We had AIDS councils that didn’t engage in sort of law reform advocacy. We were not equipped to fight and run this thing.
HOST: They got some advice.
ALEX GREENWICH: There was a meeting of various LGBTI organizations and key politicians who got together in New South Wales Parliament and Don Harwin and who is the current Minister for the Arts in New South Wales and someone who has run effective campaigns previously said to us you need a purpose built professional vehicle to run a national public vote campaign. The implication there was clearly that that’s not what Australian Marriage Equality was.
HOST: It would mean change. So even while they were trying to stop the plebiscite they started preparing for one, just in case.
ALEX: And that was certainly hard for some people to take for my co-chair Jennie Middleton and I it really sunk in. We knew that we needed to scale up very quickly. We knew that we needed to be engaging in fundraising and hiring professional staff. We knew the importance of the volunteer grassroots nature of the campaign but it couldn’t fall on the shoulders of that relatively small group of people because we could lose. So we worked with with people like Tom Snow with Anna Brown with key politicians as well to begin drafting out a structure for what a national professional campaign organization.
HOST: They quickly moved from concept to reality — Australian Marriage Equality and Australians for Equality created the Equality Campaign. They began to hire staff.
Adam Knobel, who had been so affected by John Howard’s 2004 decision about marriage, was the second person the campaign hired.
The goal was simple, even if it wasn’t easy.
ADAM: To kind of start preparing a campaign machine that could win a citizen vote if one was forced upon us. How do we take this majority support which is based on polling and is proven to be right and take that support and turn it into power. How do we get those people taking action so that the parliament has to listen.
HOST: But like any start up – it was a mix of the glorious and inglorious.
ADAM: We were working in a little tiny tiny tiny space above a bookshop on Oxford Street of course and something to kind of review where Australians for Marriage Equality was at, where their power was kind of doing an analysis of all the things that we would need to prepare in order to win a citizen vote or hopefully stop it stop the citizen vote from going ahead.
We were also building our computers and speaking with the tax department and registering business names and putting furniture together and doing all these kinds of things that you would do in a startup environment figuring out how to pay ourselves. And so it was really kind of chaotic and fun and thrilling in those first few months as we sort of built a new sort of organization you campaign to kind of step things up quite significantly.
HOST: First they needed to connect with their supporters.
ADAM: When we started Australian Marriage Equality had … regular on and offs on their supporter list and and we’re sort of sitting around 40000 people. And within 12 months we had dramatically increased that by nearly 100 that by over 100000.
HOST: But they also needed to activate those supporters offline. They needed a national field campaign. Who could do that?
The answer – the union movement.
Unions! Yep. I know, it might be surprise to some from other countries, but its not a total shock in Australia.
Especially in Melbourne, where the central body for the union movement – called the Victorian Trades Hall had been working on marriage equality for many years. Wil Stracke is their assistant secretary.
WIL: So the trade union movement in Victoria would pride itself on being progressive and on standing on the principle of equality as one of the core principles of trade unionism. But it’s also that we know that there are LGBTIQ workers and there are LGBTQ trade unionists and so this is a question of solidarity. This is about saying we stand for improving the lives of our people and so that means standing in solidarity when people are under attack.
HOST: Wil was the perfect person to develop a field campaign.
WIL: So what would it look like if we actually had to get tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people out on the ground doing things in their communities what what would that look like and what resources would you need and how would you train them then how would you do that. They brought me in because we were already doing that but on a smaller scale.
HOST: The goal was to have neighbours talking to neighbours, all across the country
WIL: The most persuasive thing you can do is to have a face to face conversation. And really if if I want everyone in my street to vote yes for that. The best thing I can do because they know me and I say me every day in my jammies putting my bins out whatever it is to go up and down the straight and to have a conversation with everyone in my street and if you want to multiply that out that’s how you engage with and bring community along with you.
HOST: Then scale out that kind of action to the whole of Australia.
It sounded amazing, but also pretty ambitious.
To get ideas, they were using tips from overseas movements.
ADAM: It was the time of the US primaries. We were looking at peer to peer texting and decentralised phone calling and all of those strategies that were going on during the primaries.
HOST: If they couldn’t stop the plebiscite – they were ready to fight it.
HOST: But back to the Parliamentary fight about the plebiscite.
By August 2016 the Labor Party began to take a different strategy on the Plebiscite.
The mass movement had heated up and the lobbying campaign against the Plebiscite was strong. There were lots of groups like the digital campaign group GetUp who were running a very clear anti-Plebiscite campaign and it was getting some traction.
As the Government released details of how they would run a plebiscite, concern inside and outside Labor increased.
To make a decision the Labor Party’s leader, Bill Shorten, decided to take the conversation from Parliament to the community.
ANNA: Labor Party’s decision to … engage with the discussion and conduct its own consultation with the LGBT community actually meant that there was a public conversation … that actually allowed the Australian public who didn’t know much about these processes to think about and unpack all of the negatives involved in this sort of way of making laws. So actually I think the Labour Labour strategy was quite clever in that regard.
HOST: Face to face Labor politicians heard communities fears. The concerns about homophobia, the mental health strains.
In October, the Labor leader Bill Shorten announced what he would do.
BILL SHORTEN: Having listened to their stories I could not in good conscious recommend that the Labor Party support the plebiscite on Marriage Equality.
HOST: The plebiscite had been defeated.
ANNA: We got the result we wanted but it wasn’t a victory. We were still back to square one.
HOST: So much energy to stand still. Anna and others were wondering what would it take to actually win?
HOST: The hope was that the dirty tricks campaign might be over.
ADAM: And so and I think many people thought it would be and that we would find a parliamentary solution to marriage equality.
HOST: In late 2016 and early 2017 huge amounts of energy went into developing a Bill that might be able to pass the Parliament.
Even before the plebiscite was lost, Anna and other marriage equality advocates had successfully put pressure on the Attorney General to release a draft marriage equality bill.
ANNA: So already we had the potential for a genuine piece of legislation that could be supported from multiple sides of Parliament. So this was really exciting and it was Labor actually that suggested we have an inquiry into that bill.
HOST: Senate inquiries are rarely fascinating, but this one was vital.
ANNA: We could have this Senate inquiry process and actually it was the most comprehensive and rigorous examination of these competing issues of achieving equality but also protecting religious freedom because of course that is the main issue for many of the opponents of marriage equality. This was what was brilliant about this was that it was opponents of marriage equality and proponents of marriage equality all came together supported a report that provided a roadmap to develop legislation that achieved this historic consensus about these competing rights
HOST: The inquiry produced trust. And once a consensus was achieved, something special had changed.
They had a draft of a bill. It was close.
HOST: But not there yet. The marriage equality movement had killed off a plebiscite. But for some, the hope of a mass vote was not yet dead.
Early on in the plebiscite debates, back in late 2015 during a Senate Hearing, a question was asked about whether a postal survey rather than a plebiscite could be used to run the vote.
A postal survey is a population wide survey that is sent out using the mail system. That’s right, using snail mail. It seemed like an antiquated method in 2016, but it had strong support amongst the ancient conservatives who still clung onto the idea of a plebiscite.
The postal survey came up again in early 2017. The Equality Campaign quickly tried to stymie the idea.
ANNA: We had thought the idea wouldn’t get traction. I mean we were taking it seriously as a threat but our approach was to develop arguments as to why it would be inappropriate.
HOST: That worked initially.
But in response to the momentum being built by the prospect of a Marriage Equality Bill with genuine cross-party support, the postal survey idea got stronger.
A postal survey would allow the government to do its national vote without going through Parliament.
You see, the Coalition parties were stuck. By now, many conservative members of parliament supported marriage equality. When the plebiscite was alive they could – sort of – say they were doing something about it.
They weren’t able to get support for a free vote in parliament and a few were getting so frustrated that they quietly threatened to cross the floor if there was a parliamentary vote.
Meanwhile their leader – Malcolm Turnbull – kept saying that having a plebiscite was still the party’s policy, without being able to make it happen.
In this leadership vacuum the postal survey idea was getting traction. A leading conservative – Peter Dutton – became a persistent advocate for a “postal plebiscite.” He said to would allow the government follow through on its plebiscite promise.
But he was stuck too. He was given legal advice that the idea was almost certainly unconstitutional. To maintain its independence, the electoral commission was constitutionally restricted from doing things at the whim of politicians.
That is, until a bright spark in the Attorney General’s office had the idea that the ballot could be a survey run not by the Electoral Commission but by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
It wasn’t just a fix for the plebiscite idea, but a fix for all the splits that ran across the conservative coalition government.
Once the fix was in, things moved quickly.
In July the postal survey idea went to Cabinet and in early August it was announced with a plan to start in only a few weeks time.
HOST: The speed added to the devastation in the LGBTI community.
Wil Stracke remembers.
WIL: Well I heard about it on my way to work in the car and I got to Trades Hall and I parked my car in the undercover carpark and sobbed. I think I cried for half an hour just racking sobs at the thought at the kinda a sense of total disempowerment the idea that not only was the question of my equality in the hands of a bunch of people along way in Canberra but that they were now such shitheads that they were going to abrogate their responsibility to do this properly and they were going to just do this voluntary postal service. With all that that entails I felt sick to my stomach.
HOST: Part of the pain that everyone was feeling was that they had been snookered. Despite years of explaining how a massive vote would be so damaging – it was going ahead anyway. And it didn’t need a parliamentary vote. It was happening whether they liked it or not.
At the start it was hard to not focus on the injustice of it.
ALEX: We did a number of interviews. Number of press conferences saying you know how terrible the idea was. Made it clear we’d be challenging in the High Court along with other activists. There was talk of a boycott of the postal survey.
HOST: But soon, across the country, this group of leaders began the fight.
AMANDA: Where did you go next.
WIL: Well I walked into my office and like the secretary of the hall was here. And he said How you feeling. And I explained that I was not feeling fantastic. And he said All right. How about you and me, and we get a couple of the organizers into a room this afternoon and we’re going to nut add a plan for how we’re going to win this.
HOST: This was literally going to be a fight for their lives.
HOST: While they were caught by surprise, they weren’t totally unprepared.
ADAM: By the time we get to the postal survey there was almost an alotment of just kind of pulling out the old and eroll to vote strategy pulling out the old like lists of tools we contacted and dusting off and going. What’s the situation now [00:51:08][15.8]
HOST: But the postal vote wasn’t identical. This was a voluntary vote through the letterbox. It would require some new thinking and fast.
At campaign headquarters, the strategy was to call in all the skills, the muscle and the talent from the broad based movement that they had been building – and build a team.
ANNA: So the next morning we had to start immediately putting steps into place to scale up the campaign so you have to remember we were we’d really die down to quite a modest level of operation and a pretty small tame and all of a sudden we were we had the fight of our lives on our hands and the first step really was to recruit a campaign director Tim Gartrell. Gartrell had run dozens of national election campaigns most notably the Kevin 07 campaign that had swept Prime Minister Kevin Rudd into power in 2007.
HOST: An experienced campaign director was key – because there were a lot of moving parts in this campaign.
ADAM: Within a fortnight we would … move pack up and move to a new office and start opening offices all around the country and go from that small team of 12 to become a team of 85.
HOST: If they are to make Wil’s vision come true – and have neighbours talk to neighbours about this issue – they need to connect with people online while also having lots of people who can coordinate volunteers all around the country.
The goal was simple.
ADAM: The campaign now becomes about getting out the vote. We know that we have majority support in Australia. The risk of this that people would tick yes and then put the survey in their bag or under the football or on the work desk and not post it. So our strategies therefore start to become about turning out the vote.
Amanda: how many votes do you need to turn out
ADAM: We ended up settling on a goal of 60 percent yes and 60 percent turned out.
HOST: When you are wanting to “get out” a large vote in your favour, the first thing you need to do is make sure as many of your supporters are on the electoral roll.
ADAM: So one of the first things becomes getting young people particularly but I’m getting people to enrol to vote. We’re working with a whole bunch of stakeholders in the youth space like a Oaktree the National Union of Students. We’re working with Victorian trades hall council we’re working with get up we’re working with all of these partners to leaflet train stations to run digital advertising to call members of the organisation to send e-mails out team members and supporters of organisations to text message people to do whatever we can to kind of get people on the role and at the end of the process we ended up with the largest role in Australia’s history where nearly a million people enrolled to vote or updated their details.
HOST: So far so good.
The next step was to help to explain why this mattered.
ADAM: So we try and make the campaign as much about every yes voter in the country is the expert. Every yes voter in the country is the best person to speak in their communities about why they’re voting yes that they are the person who should face the campaign.
HOST: To do this, the Equality Campaign became a gonzo story telling agency.
ADAM: We’re putting up 141 videos of people sharing the story of why they believe in marriage equality about why they’re voting yes.
HOST: The people in those videos were really diverse. Many were from the LGBTI community, but not all. The videos shared a sense that everyone was standing together on this, that people have your back.
Everyone feels stretched, but it was under control.
ADAM: One of those moments where your stomach just drops and that is that the Postal Service landed five days early.
HOST: The campaign was caught off guard.
ADAM: So very quickly we had to kind of figure out how to respond to this and the digital team kind of huddled inside to work out what we were doing.
HOST: They made a decision.
ADAM: The best way to win this moment was to do what we had always done and make other people the voice of our campaign and empower other people’s other people to take action. So we sent an email to our supporters and said this is what’s happened. The postal surveys have arrived. People have started voting. When you get home you need to check the post. You need to if you’ve got a survey you need to open it. You need to tick yes you need to put it back in the envelope. You need to put it in the post in the post box right away that evening.
HOST: But most importantly they asked their hundreds of thousands of supporters to lead.
ADAM: And we’ve got another ask of you can you take a selfie at the post box shared on social media with hashtag PostedYes. And within two days two to three days of that I’m going out. And that moment heading posted. PostedYes trending on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. We had hundreds and thousands of beautiful photos of people voting shared online and that was really how we could kind of best take a moment and turn it into a movement. And I think that that was an incredibly powerful a very powerful moment for the campaign.
HOST: Meanwhile the campaign needed to work out how to contact as many likely yes voters as possible, across the country and fast.
The campaign was already connected to many of the best campaigners in the country. Lots of organisations were lending their top people to make it happen. Underneath them, they recruited volunteers.
ADAM: We have a a field operation that we start building we have seconded organisers coming from around the country that start to work with people who want to volunteer and be part of that process. Fifteen thousand six hundred people volunteer on the campaign.
HOST: 15 600 volunteers. One of the biggest turnouts Australia has ever seen.
Volunteers found their way to the campaign through community groups, but most were individuals connecting through the web, particularly online tools built by GetUp.
HOST: At the tail end of the 8 week postal survey the focus turned to getting any last minute votes in.
The results would be announced on the morning of the 15 November.
HOST: Large parks were set up with stages and live broadcasts where people could gather to hear the results.
The outcome was announced by David Kalish – the Australian Bureau of Statistics chief statistician.
HOST: He chose to be very thorough.
HOST: It made for a nail biting 7 minutes. Especially in Melbourne.
WIL: It was very tense because you know the screen went down like three minutes before. You know we call this the statistician general. He said his title anyway while he was announcing he was taking that you know 10 hours to get to the actual results. Talking about the rest of it the screen went down and you could feel like people were just going Oh and everyone was frantically looking at bay you know their Facebook and Twitter stream. And of course all of that was not loading because there was so many people trying to find out things at once.
HOST: But the screen returned and the result was in.
ADAM: We ended up with sixty one point six yes and seventy nine point five percent turnout.
ANNA: The announcement was made and you know it was just this incredible moment in the park in Surry Hills where all of these rolling hills filled of people just huge huge huge outpouring of emotion. And you had anguish and tears but you know happiness and joy.
They had won. Or … had they?
ANNA: Let’s not forget there’s a bill that needs to go through Parliament. So this idea that the legislation would automatically follow as a minor detail how I think it was something that was you know a bit of a myth or misconception in the public’s eyes in my in my view.
HOST: Lets get that straight. More. There was a need to do more. How many circles of hell would this movement need to endure!
Anna ended her day in Canberra. In parliament LGBTI leaders were about to take the next step in this long campaign.
ANNA: I knew I had to see Deane Smith that night and he was getting ready to introduce the Bill.
HOST: Deane Smith was part of the team of conservative Coalition party members affectionately known as the Rainbow Rebels. He was a member of the Senate where the Bill would be begin it passage through Parliament.
Anna had also talked to Penny Wong from the Labor Party. The conversation didn’t fill her with hope.
ANNA: Penny Wong who’s probably you know one of the most experienced Parliamentary tacticians in that we’ve got in Canberra and she was saying so this was really probably one of the most complex legislative problems.
HOST: There would be free votes on both sides, so it would be hard to count the numbers. Plus there were lots of crossbenchers. And there were a series of complicated amendments that had been put together by conservative Senator James Paterson.
ANNA:The overall thrust of these amendments was the premise that this bill represented a threat to religious freedom.
HOST: It was never easy. But the next day, Anna’s mood lifted.
ANNA: The next day in the Senate when you know the reality actually set in that we were doing this thing that was going to introduce this bill that you know it was really it was finally happening. That’s when I started getting emotional.
HOST: So many supporters and LGBTI leaders were in the Senate – Penny Wong, Janet Rice, Louise Pratt.
These people had built the legislation together in the Inquiry and in doing so came to really trust each other. It worked.
ANNA: The Senate debate was was the first test of the legislation. And I think we won.
HOST: But it wasn’t certain. The Bill still needed to pass the lower house.
It was the final sitting week of the year in 2017 and the House of Representatives would be a harder space. These politicians hadn’t done an Inquiry together, there wasn’t the sense of a cross-party team.
ANNA: I must confess I was a little nervous.
HOST: Still, the Rainbow Rebels stepped up to the mark.
ANNA: But having Trevor. Tim Warren Trent really prosecute the case for the bill and against the amendments.
HOST: As the debate continued an air of excitement grew. The broader Marriage Equality movement moved into Parliament House.
ANNA: So as all the activists and supporters were converging on Parliament House and running around putting up posters and it had these real energy and you know a sense of liveliness that you know even the Parliament House staff were commenting on it. It’s so lovely around here.
HOST: Almost every politician spoke. But the clock was ticking.
ANNA: And it was the last sitting day before Christmas. So the pressure was on to pass this legislation and you could almost feel the pressure rising in the chamber as the crowd was getting a bit impatient.
HOST: Final speeches were made. The house begins the process to vote on the amendments.
ANNA: Then this clerk actually said the words that we’ve been wanting to hear for you know all day this very Australian accent is very understated a typically dry and undecided way and then the whole chamber just exploded and it was the song happened and everyone was getting emotional and there was pride flags.
PLAY the I AM, YOU ARE WE ARE AUSTRLAIAN SONG
All of the politicians going up you know to cheer the people in the gallery that was really quite lovely and pay their respects to all of the activists and supporters that had you know some of them had been campaigning like Rodney Croome and the people that had brought the court case that led to the on how amendments back in 2004. All those people were there in the gallery.
HOST: It was done. Finally. Done.
Not long after, Wil – who’d been with her partner for 30 years and had already been married in the non-legal sense, had a legal wedding.
The choice to get married worked for her and her partner. She knows it’s not for everyone. It didn’t change things in their relationship. But there is one thing that has changed.
WIL: But it does mean now for instance on paperwork I got a letter in the mail the other day that said Dear Mrs. Strucke. And for the first time in my life I wasn’t going off cryin out loud they don’t know who I am, I was like literally like oh my god I’m Mrs. Strucke. That’s amazing.
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