Australian people and companies led the way on marriage equality, and now it’s time for parliament to deliver

Photo: James D. Morgan/ Getty Images.

Editor’s note: Alex Greenwich is the Co-Chair of the YES Campaign and Independent Member for Sydney in the NSW Parliament. Janine Middleton is the Co-Chair of the YES Campaign and CEO of the Pinnacle Foundation.

Change can appear slow until you pause to reflect just how far you have come. The campaign for marriage equality in this country, over a decade long, has been one of persuasion and positive conversations. Over time, it has found that Australians understand and respect that their LGBTI brothers and sisters deserve full equality under the law.

The results of the postal survey on same-sex marriage reflect this firm belief in equality. A resounding majority of Australians have come together to say YES to a fairer country for all.
Throughout this journey, we have seen immense leadership from all corners of our brilliant and diverse society. Millions of Australians, including faith leaders, farmers, mums and dads, and sporting legends, have come together to deliver an unequivocal mandate to Federal Parliament: pass marriage equality now.

As the marriage equality movement gained momentum many years ago and politicians were dragging their heels, corporate Australia was all too ready to join the charge, showing that it was prepared to fill the leadership void left by Canberra.

This goes back to 2008 when, frustrated by the inaction from Federal Parliament, leading corporations took moves to recognise staff in same-sex marriages as being married and to extend equal employment benefits to them and their spouses. Clearly, these corporations recognised that marriage equality mattered to all sectors of Australian society.

Move forward to 2015, when Australian Marriage Equality hosted a CEO breakfast that saw 200 executives participate. This led to us being able to run an advertisement in national newspapers showing 50 corporate logos in support of marriage equality. This received incredible media attention, as did the second advertisement two weeks later, which featured 153 logos. The message from Australia’s most trusted brands, which serve millions of customers, was clear; marriage equality was a mainstream issue that everyone had a responsibility to help achieve.

Business leaders knew this wasn’t about politics; it was about shaping Australia as a better place that truly reflected our national values of fairness and equality. They also knew how important it was to create work environments where staff felt supported and protected regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious or cultural background.

The early supporters faced strong opposition from some church hierarchy and were ridiculed by Government Ministers. Several CEOs were even singled out and targeted. Regardless, they all remained resolute and unwavering in their commitment.

As more and more companies signed on to support equality, they were joined by sporting codes, unions, councils, civil celebrants and universities. From multinationals to tradies, 2,144 groups from across the economic and geographical spectrum of Australia came together to support their staff, employees, customers and suppliers. This added significant weight to the campaign, not through donations, as our opponents would have people think, but from the leadership shown at all levels of management, from those who delivered the strong message that they wanted equality for all their staff and customers.

The success of marriage equality movement can be measured by the percentage of voter turnout and the size of the YES vote. However, there are other successes that are immeasurable.

Corporate involvement meant that conversations about LGBTI staff and marriage equality were held in boardrooms, management meetings and lunch rooms across the country, something that would have been unheard of ten years earlier. As companies signed on to support marriage equality, management were overwhelmed with messages of appreciation from their staff, receiving thousands of emails saying how proud they were that their employer had taken a stance.

The challenge of the postal survey meant everyone needed to do whatever they could to make sure YES was a success. Corporate Australia eagerly stepped up to meet this challenge, holding enrol-to-vote drives, setting up collection points for postal surveys, hosting fundraising events, doorknocking days and phone-banking nights.

Importantly, many corporations made sure that support was in place for LGBTI staff doing it tough while the nation was debating and voting on their equality. We’ve seen during this campaign that an open and supportive environment helps staff wellbeing and those who might be dealing with mental health issues. When people feel confident bringing their whole selves to work, the benefits are many.

Workplaces across the countries have helped to set the tone where people feel empowered to stand up for their LGBTI mates. This has resulted in Australians coming together like never before to answer one straightforward question with a big YES tick.

There is now one workplace left that urgently needs to get on board, and that is Federal Parliament. Of course there will be differing views expressed during the legislative debate, but let’s make sure politicians remember that they outsourced the outcome to us with the postal survey, and we said YES.

Their main KPI from now till the end of the year is to get a fair bill through, one that delivers equality, and doesn’t entrench or increase discrimination. Their employers – the Australian people who elected them – will expect nothing less.

Australia’s message? We did our job, now it is your turn to do yours.

Alex Greenwich and Janine Middleton are co-chairs of Australian Marriage Equality.

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