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John Passant

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August 2009



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

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Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

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The fight for same-sex marriage in the US

Where celebrations should be taking place, instead are rallies, protests and marches. At a time when we should be planning our wedding, we are planning a resistance. Instead of writing our vows, we must write speeches. Instead of standing at the altar we are forced to stand for our right to be at the altar.

Statement by Brian and Michael from the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality.

Forty years after the Stonewall riots in New York that kick-started the gay liberation movement, the American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement is again taking to the streets.

The rallying cry of the new movement centres around the demand for same-sex marriage, but has quickly begun to encompass a broader range of issues of LGBT rights.

Any understanding of the newly-charged movement must begin with the victory of anti-marriage forces in California, November 2008.

The infamous Proposition 8 – the repealing of same-sex marriage rights that had been granted by the Californian courts – was passed by the slimmest of majorities.

This was the first time that equal marriage rights had been won, only to then be taken away.

Rather than succumbing to despair, LGBT people and their supporters have been protesting and organising in a way which activist and socialist author Sherry Wolf describes as “not merely another stage in the struggle, but the single greatest advance of LGBT civil rights since Stonewall”.

The explosion of activism across America began immediately after Proposition 8 passed.

November 15 2008 saw protests in over 300 cities against the banning of same-sex marriage, with LGBT people and their supporters recognising that, just as a victory anywhere helps the struggle everywhere, similarly a defeat in any state aids the bigots of the right in their attempts to hold back equality.

In Seattle, a 21-year-old gay Mormon who had never been involved in protests before organised a demonstration, and with the help of the local LGBT community he hoped a few hundred people would turn up. In the end, 10,000 came to the protest.

Alongside the more radical section of the emerging movement, groups of a conservative hue have been organising around a court challenge to the legality of Proposition 8.

Their arguments did not focus on the homophobia of the ban, and the way it denied LGBT Californians their civil rights, but rather upon the constitutional processes of any such ban.

This strategy reflected the focus of community groups before Proposition 8, of employing coded references to LGBT relationships as part of their campaign against it, but refusing to hit the streets, or to proudly and openly declare their campaign as being for LGBT rights.

On May 26 the Californian Supreme Court voted to uphold the ban on same-sex marriage. Its only concession towards equal rights was to allow the 18,000 same-sex couples who had married in California before Proposition 8 was implemented to maintain their marital status.

The protests in response to this heinous decision encapsulated not just the anger, but the growing sense of militancy among the new generation of activists being drawn into the movement.

Fifteen thousand people took to the streets of Los Angeles in response to the decision, chanting “Gay, straight, Black, white – same struggle, same fight”, and “No justice, no peace – equal rights now”, protesters held rainbow flags emblazoned with the slogan, “These colours don’t run – they fight”.

Activists also held a five-hour long sit-in at the San Diego County Administration Building after a gay couple were refused a marriage license.

Among chants of “Obama, Obama, let mama marry mama” and “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido [The people united will never be defeated]”, they passed around literature they found to be inspiring and relevant to the cause.

A particular favourite was an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, a tract in favour of civil disobedience to attain civil rights.

The new wave of militancy has thrown up a whole layer of new activist groups embracing politics of solidarity and struggle. One Struggle, One Fight is such a group, advocating for marriage rights and for a broader spectrum of LGBT rights.

By joining the battle for marriage rights, they have begun to see the necessity of demanding not just marriage and the 1,049 Federal rights that go with it, but also rights for LGBT workers and for immigrants.

On their website, they argue:

We believe that our struggle for LGBT equality and civil rights is part of a larger struggle for peace and for social justice… This is a Movement of Movements, because we have incredible power when we stand up for and with each other.

This perspective is a political advance compared to previous LGBT organising that, riven with identity politics, drew a stark delineation between LGBT people and everybody else, and was often openly hostile to the struggles of other oppressed groups, and of workers.

Other groups such as the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME) have also been drawing links between the LGBT movement for civil rights and other struggles.

A particularly notable example is the boycott of Doug Manchester’s Hyatt Hotel. Manchester donated $125,000 to the “Yes on 8” campaign against marriage rights, and also subjects his hotel’s workforce to disgusting working conditions.

As one SAME activist argues:

The connection has been incredibly powerful between labour and the LGBT community, because it brings attention to both issues.

Added to this solidarity is a new sense of urgency. Activists are no longer content to wait for political leaders to hand down some piecemeal reform. Unlike many of the LGBT lobby groups, activists are demanding change now, and are prepared to kick up a stink to get it.

David McElhatton from One Struggle, One Fight conveys this mood when he says:

We’ve been too polite for too long. We can’t be afraid to step on toes anymore, we can’t be afraid to ruffle feathers, we have to get in people’s faces. Really good behaviour means staying in the closet, and I don’t think that anyone here is willing to do that.

This refusal to be silenced has had a tangible effect in the campaign for equal marriage.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found an increase in support for same-sex marriage, alongside other progressive issues.

49 per cent of respondents said that same-sex marriage should be legal, and 46 per cent that it should be illegal. In 2006 58 per cent supported the banning of same-sex marriage and only 36 per cent supported its legalisation.

A recent Harris poll found that 89 per cent of the population is for ending discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace, a stunning display of solidarity and support, particularly as many who oppose equal marriage would by these figures support LGBT rights at work.

In the wake of the emerging social movement, same-sex marriage has been gaining ground in other states.

On April 3, the Supreme Court of Iowa declared the state law limiting marriage as being between one man and one woman unconstitutional, and now equal marriage rights have been implemented in that state.

Iowa is one of the more conservative states in America, and as LGBT campaigner David Twombley said:

I think there’s been a perception that it couldn’t happen here. … There’s something about that, about it happening in the heartland, that has got to accelerate this process for the whole country.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and Vermont have all instituted equal marriage rights, with Vermont being particularly notable as the first state to grant same-sex marriage through the legislature rather than the courts, and having to override a veto from the Republican Governor to do so.

Even former Vice-President and war criminal Dick Cheney has stated his support for state-based same-sex marriage.

The most stunning act of hypocrisy is from former President Bill Clinton, who introduced the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) which banned same-sex marriage and disbarred LGBT couples from the rights it entails. Clinton said:

I think it’s wrong for someone to stop someone else from doing that [same-sex marriage].

It is impossible to predict in what direction the emerging movement for LGBT civil rights will develop, but the signs are promising.

October 10 this year will see a march on Washington – the first national LGBT march since 1993 – demanding that Obama sticks to his campaign promise to repeal DOMA.

And activists in California are busy collecting the million signatures required to once again take the issue of equal marriage rights to the ballot in 2010.

The big political test for the movement will be how it relates to Obama, who has promised on LGBT rights, but delivered nothing.

In fact Obama’s Justice Department has defended DOMA against the first federally filed case for same-sex marriage, and in the process equated same-sex marriage with incest and the marriage of under-age children.

The development of a movement that will not wait for approval from the likes of Obama and his cronies, and that will not be silenced or forced back into the closets, is the beginnings of a movement that can effect radical change in society, and win not just marriage, but also equality at work and a whole range of other rights for LGBT people.

In Australia this year we mark the fifth year of our own DOMA, the amendment to the Marriage Act in 2004 that bans any and all recognition of same-sex marriages.

Rudd’s Labor is maintaining this ban, while masquerading as the champion of equal rights, telling us that we can be separate, but equal.

We need to take a leaf from the book of American activists in our struggle here, and to take to heart the message learnt through many years of hard struggle for equality by Dr Martin Luther King:

For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait!’ has almost always meant ‘Never’. We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.

This article, by Liam Byrne, first appeared in the monthly magazine Socialist Alternative.



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Time August 17, 2009 at 10:27 pm

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