This is an opinion piece by Sally Rugg, equality director at GetUp, an Australian community action group.
Australia has decisively and clearly declared a huge “Yes” to marriage equality. This historic moment is monumental for more reasons than one.
I, like the vast majority of Australians, will remember for the rest of my life where I was, who I was with and the tears that flowed upon confirmation this week that a whopping 61.6 percent of us voted to treat people like me as equals under the law.
That’s because this historic moment was about more than winning a campaign that’s been emotionally fought for over a decade. It was even more than the joy and happiness couples and their families across Australia are sharing, now that we will finally be able to marry.
"The campaign priorities were clear: get out the vote, and counter a 'No' campaign to remind people why marriage equality mattered."
It’s because in our millions, we took action for our friends, family members and neighbors who for too long have been treated unequally. Shoulder to shoulder, in towns, suburbs and cities across Australia, we stood up for the country we want to create together.
We were angry. We didn’t need a country-wide postal survey and hurtful debate. In Australia our marriage law can (and soon will) be very easily changed in our parliament and the majority of politicians in both houses of our parliament, including our current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have supported marriage equality for the last two years. What’s more, Australia’s support for marriage equality has been comfortably settled at around 62 percent for many years.
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We only had a matter of weeks to make sure millions of people were compelled to post a form (yes, snail mail). The campaign priorities were clear: get out the vote, and counter a “No” campaign to remind people why marriage equality mattered.
In Australia, voting is compulsory, so voluntary participation in a survey that came in the post was a totally different ballgame both for campaigners and for the national electorate. We needed experts in get-out-the-vote efforts. So, naturally, we turned to the United States for advice.
Our friends in the U.S. told us that the most important thing to do when you’re trying to get out the vote was for people to have conversations. So we asked people who supported marriage equality to join (and then host!) calling parties so they could talk on a personal level with complete strangers all over the country from the comfort of their own home. They asked those they talked to to commit to posting their ballot back the day they received it.
These conversations were primarily about encouraging people to post back their survey, but within days of calling parties launching it was clear that they were so much more. Ordinary people were connecting with one another across the country and talking about the country that they wanted to create together. And before we knew it, our volunteers had made over one million calls for equality.
The campaign was an incredible success.
Never before has Australia voted for something with such conviction. We saw it in the number of people who participated in the survey – at close to 80 percent, the turnout was higher than that in the Irish marriage equality referendum, the Brexit vote and the last U.S. presidential election.
More than seven million Australians voted “Yes,” and they are everywhere! Every state voted for marriage equality. The turnout and “Yes” vote were consistent across rural towns, regional centers, outer suburbs and metropolitan areas like capital cities.
"When that 'Yes' result was announced, LGBTIQ people felt - for some, for the first time in their lives - that the country they love loved them right back as equals."
But better than numbers, people were the heartbeat of the campaign. Nothing has ever mobilized Australians to take action on the scale we have seen these past few months. Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life, who would have never before considered themselves “activists” engaged with this campaign in unprecedented scope and scale. We rallied, we made calls, we knocked on doors, we opened ourselves up and told our personal stories. And we won.
While our politicians refused to deliver equality because of disgraceful factional politics within government, everyday Australians rolled their sleeves up and got the job done. And in doing so, we took back the power from the conservative elite who are holding our country back.
And when that ”Yes” result was announced, LGBTIQ people felt - for some, for the first time in their lives - that the country they love loved them right back as equals.
As a campaigner, as a queer woman, and as an Australian, that moment will remain one of the most precious in my entire life. That’s why I’m writing this, exhausted and numb. We didn't ask for this stupid survey. We didn't need it, and we knew that it would be a struggle. But we took it and made something beautiful. This victory is massive and it's ours.
GetUp wants to move Australia towards a more fair, flourishing and just tomorrow. Chip in by donating now.