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Lessons from America

By Rodney Croome - posted Friday, 16 November 2012


The US election was a victory for marriage equality.

The first US president to publicly endorse marriage quality was returned. For the first time in US history a vote of the people delivered a pro-marriage equality result, in not just one but four different states.

Compare this to Australia where a left-of-centre Prime Minister continues to oppose marriage equality and only a third of federal MPs are willing to vote for it.

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This is despite the fact that polls show support for marriage equality to be consistently 10% higher in Australia than in America. Why is the US moving ahead of Australia so quickly? What lessons does Tuesday's vote have for our country?

For Julia Gillard the message is pretty simple. Supporting marriage equality was an electoral plus for Obama. Traditionally socially conservative constituencies like blacks, Hispanics and white industrial workers flocked to Obama regardless of his stand. White women, young people, and of course the five per cent of the US electorate that is gay, donated, canvassed and voted for him, in no small part, because of it.

One reason Obama's support for marriage equality had widespread appeal was because he expressed it in terms that included same-sex partners in family and community life. By contrast, Gillard's most recent statement on the issue excludes same-sex couples even further from the mainstream:

We should find other ways of recognising the value of other relationships.

If Gillard wants to replicate Obama's success she must follow his lead by personally and inclusively endorsing marriage equality.

The lesson for Tony Abbott is also obvious. Mitt Romney was locked into a hard-line anti-marriage equality stance by Republican Party ideologues which made it much more difficult for him to appeal to female, young and independent voters. For many of these voters there was an uncomfortable gap between Romney's rhetoric about individual freedom and his support for the government telling people who they can wed.

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Meanwhile, the Bush (and Howard) strategy of using marriage equality to mobilise evangelicals and wedge the centre left simply failed to deliver.

If Tony Abbott wants to improve his chances at next year's national election he must move now to soften the Coalition's wholesale opposition to marriage equality, and show he is sincere about Liberal principles, by allowing a conscience vote on the issue.

For advocates for marriage equality the message out of the US election is about how we do our job. Marriage equality carried the day in four states because advocates focussed on couples and families, not rights or entitlements. For most people marriage is less about 'equality' than it is about commitment, sacrifice and re-inforcing inter-generational ties.

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About the Author

Rodney Croome is the National Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality and was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003 for his gay rights advocacy. He is co-author of Why vs Why: Gay Marriage.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Rodney Croome

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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