City Hub

Has queer Sydney sold out? Not at the CAAH Kiss in

Only weeks to go before Mardi Gras and 100 gays, lesbians and bisexuals livened up Taylor Square on St Valentine’s Day on February 14 for a group kiss-in to campaign in favour of same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, New Mardi Gras is under attack for excluding a queer animal rights group for being “not gay enough”.

Kiss-in co-organiser Ben Cooper, 22, from Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), told the Hub that the message to the Government was that “we are still not equal”.

“Although we have de facto rights at a federal level, we still don’t have marriage, and we still don’t have adoption on an equal basis.  We still have a long way to go,” he said.

Among the Valentine’s Day smoochers was Holly, 26, who had heard about the kiss-in from a friend at work and came because she wanted to stand up for equality.  “I’m from the UK and we have civil relationships there and I can’t see why people can’t have equality with heterosexuals,” she said.

Same-sex marriage
A majority of gay and straight people now want same-sex marriage.  A September 2009 Queensland University study found that more than half of gay couples living together wanted marriage.

A Galaxy Omnibus study in the same year found 60 per cent of Australians believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry – a figure that has been steady for several years. As would be expected, those under 25 were the most supportive (74 per cent) and the least supportive were those over 50 (45 per cent). Even 50 per cent of Coalition supporters said they approved of same-sex marriage.

Gay marriage has been legalised in several European countries, South Africa, Canada and several US states.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has rejected same-sex marriage and ignored the survey evidence, saying it was “not what the Australian people want”.  Perhaps Rudd sees it as a wedge issue: those voting for Rudd will do so regardless, while waverers may not vote for Rudd if he is seen as too pro-gay.

This conservative strategy could backfire badly for Labor:  it strengthens the appeal of the Greens in culturally rich areas such as Newtown, Darlinghurst and Bondi, reinforcing the Greens as the most gay-friendly party.
Rudd may be letting his religion get in the way of public policy: he has refused to give his personal views on gay marriage but has repeated that being against gay marriage “remains Labor policy…and will remain so into the future”.

And let’s not forget that Labor backed its words with deeds by supporting an amendment to the Marriage Act that banned gay marriage in 2004.  Before the ban, it was open to a future High Court decision to redefine marriage in a gender-neutral way, in line with similar courts in other countries.

Meanwhile Mardi Gras is in the shit
While the St Valentine’s Day kiss-in was a success for grassroots activism, New Mardi Gras has refused permission for a queer animal rights’ float to join the parade.

Sydney Queers for Animal Rights have marched in Mardi Gras for 14 years and were nominated ‘Most Creative Float’ in 2006.  But now they are banned, while floats from ANZ, Ikea and Virgin Blue are allowed, prompting the charge that New Mardi Gras is giving preference to large commercial interests.

A spokesperson for the group, Lynda Stoner, said: “We feel marginalised and discriminated against, and that’s really quite distressing, especially coming from Mardi Gras, which is all about making a stand against discrimination.”

New Mardi Gras co-chair Steph Sands has refused to comment about the exclusion.

There are many who now argue that Mardi Gras is losing its subversive spirit and becoming increasingly superficial and commercialised. But radical action continues at the grassroots level with kiss-in activists and others now busy campaigning for same-sex marriage rights.

A rally and march, organised by a wide coalition of groups, is planned for Sydney Town Hall at 1pm on March 20.

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