Some reflections on the Sydney rally for marriage equality

Rally for Marriage Equality, Sydney Town Hall – Photo by Billy Haworth







Today I attended the rally for marriage equality in Sydney. It was the first ever event of this kind I’ve attended. Even as a long time supporter (even if not in public demonstrations) of equal marriage rights, I found it quite emotional at times. Some of the stories told during a number of speeches, such as that of the struggles of a long time champion of LGBTI rights in Perth who took her own life just last week at the age of only 20, were quite hard to swallow. There were chants, words of inspiration, a march up Oxford Street, a re-chalking of the famous rainbow crossing at Taylor Square (the original was removed as “a matter of road and pedestrian safety“), and even a bit of confrontation with an opposing Christian group damning us all to hell – the “I say bigots, you say Fuck Off!” chant was particularly punchy in this instance. I don’t want to go too much into the ins and outs of LGBTI struggles in Australia as this blog isn’t really the place for it, and quite frankly that would make for a damn long article. But I do want to mention a couple of thoughts I had during today’s events.

First, if Australia is such an ‘advanced’ nation, why does it feel we are so far behind other parts of the world on this issue? Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and some sub-national jurisdictions in Mexico and the United States. Of course, each of these places experienced their own struggles along the way, and these haven’t always ceased just because legislation allowing equal marriage has passed (see the recent backlash against same-sex marriage and adoption laws in France). It seems so obvious to me sometimes that Australia should be on that list, particularly as a country without the strong dominance of Church power that other nations face as an obstacle. Is a long run of conservative governments on this issue the reason why we’re so far behind? With a federal election in just 6 days this could be the time that changes. In terms of major parties, The Greens have supported marriage equality for a long time, and the Labor party now says if they are re-elected into power they will act on the issue too. But a Liberal government in power would see no change and no equal marriage rights for LGBTI people (at least for some time to come). The prospect of the latter is a sombre thought.

The second observation I want to comment on is the notion of place and power. A space in the CBD of Australia’s largest city normally reserved for cars and buses was today taken over by a few hundred passionate people with something to say walking all over this space. Oxford Street, a place long-associated with the LGBTI community, the Mardi Gras parade, and gay rights in Sydney, today became the site of a real power shift in the city; from the dominance of convention and the motor vehicle to the (somewhat still controlled) free reign of rally-goers marching and chanting to make their voices heard on an issue they believe in. The crossing at Taylor Square was ‘reclaimed’ with the marking of the rainbow. The everyday function of this place and the identity of the place are very different things, and the shift from the dominance of function to a dominance of meaning and identity was interesting to be a part of. A big aspect of any movement is power, and showing ones power, and having places of power – often through aligned identity of the people and the place. Recent evidence suggests that gay residents and commerce are gradually abandoning the area around gay Sydney’s most visible and central streetscape, resulting in its gradual ‘degaying’ (See Brad Ruting, 2006). Today, Oxford Street and Taylor Square once again became crucial and powerful places for LGBTI identity, and for the present and long-running struggle for equal rights in Australia.
 
Chalking the Rainbow Crossing, Taylor Square – Photo by Billy Haworth
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