on mardi gras and the PM
In a move that undoubtedly had the Prime Minister proudly patting himself on the back, Malcolm Turnbull stepped out amongst the Mardi Gras revellers to celebrate a night of pride and equality, with his legally recognised spouse by his side. Turnbull made headlines and risked backbench backlash with his attendance, becoming the first Australian Prime Minister to do so. Leader of the opposition Bill Shorten and his acceptably heterosexual and lawfully acknowledged wife also joined the Prime Minister. What a step forward for the parliamentary recognition of queer rights in Australia; we may as well dip the constitution in glitter and shout every Member of Parliament a Cosmo from Stonewall.
Turnbull has also written a message for the festival guide, calling Mardi Gras ‘a celebration of Australia’s diversity’. ‘The hard work and commitment of Sydney’s LGBTQI community has seen this event grow to a festival drawing visitors to Sydney from around the world,’ Turnbull wrote. ‘However, we cannot forget the history of Mardi Gras and the ongoing need to promote inclusion and deliver equality for all Australians,’ he said in the message.
Shorten said he was delighted to be attending Mardi Gras with his wife, kids and Labor Party colleagues in support of marriage equality. He says that he will introduce a bill to legalise same-sex marriage within the first one hundred days of being elected. ‘We’re on the cusp of achieving marriage equality and for me there’s never been a more exciting time to attend Mardi Gras for the first time,’ he said. ‘Mardi Gras is a fantastic celebration of LGBTI culture, and a powerful demonstration of the ongoing fight against discrimination. Marriage equality is a simple, overdue change to Australian law that could be made a reality today if Malcolm Turnbull would just grant his MPs a free vote.’
Mardi Gras CEO Michele Bauer said Shorten’s participation was significant. ‘It means a great deal,’ Ms Bauer told Sky News on Saturday. ‘The fact that our issues are being taken seriously, the fact that we are being accepted fully into the community, that our voices are being listed to.’
But are these “issues” being addressed with the degree of seriousness necessary to make any verifiable change? Turnbull has continued with former Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s decision to hold a plebiscite regarding same-sex marriage. This is in spite of him having previously advocated for a free vote in Parliament. With marriage equality still a fractious issue for the Coalition, many believe that Australia has remained on the wrong side of history for too long. It should be noted 21 other countries around the world have recognised same-sex marriage since 2001 (though they did not simultaneously enact legislation).
A prominent American politician has even lashed out at Australia’s stance on gay rights as ‘increasingly’ behind the rest of the developed world. Barney Frank – who was a US congressman for 30 years and is a long-time campaigner for marriage equality – also described Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s support for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage as ‘laughable’. ‘Having said he was for same-sex marriage and encountering political resistance, decided the best way to deal with that was to do what we in America call, “ducking the issue”… meaning that “I don’t want to make a tough choice”,’ the former congressman said. His comments come amid increasingly heated debate about marriage equality and LGBTI issues in Australia.
Fairfax Media recently reported on leaked pamphlets due to feature in an upcoming campaign against same-sex marriage that suggest children of gay and lesbian parents are more likely to be abused and neglected. It also comes as the government conducts a review of LGBTI anti-bullying program, Safe Schools, amid concerns from conservative Members of Parliament and the Australian Christian Lobby it is inappropriate for young people. It is therefore safe to say that the fight for the equal rights of LGBTQI Australians is far from over, with increasing attacks from right-wing conservative officials making the battle even more difficult. The issue here is not so much concerning the irony of our Prime Minister flaunting his legally acknowledged partner at a gay pride festival, but about the attacks being launched at the acknowledgement of a basic right owed to Australian citizens; no matter their gender, socio-economic standing, or sexual preference.