Anna Brown
Anna Brown, is the CEO of Equality Australia

Anna Brown, is the CEO of Equality Australia, and was Co-Chair of the Equality Campaign during the marriage equality campaign. Here Anna shares her thoughts

Two years on, we have learnt that nothing can be taken for granted  

I still remember the jubilation and relief two years ago when the Australian Parliament passed laws to make marriage between two people legal.

I was in the chamber hugging MPs and crying happy tears at what we had achieved together, as a campaign, a community, and a nation.

The following Monday, I returned to the office and was confronted by the reality of the challenges before us. While I’d been focussed on the marriage campaign, the cases had been piling up – I had elderly gay men with historical convictions for homosexual offences, trans teenagers facing rejection at school, and conversion ‘therapy’ survivors that needed our help. Yet the LGBTIQ community was exhausted and emotionally battered, campaigners were on well-earned holidays, people were writing their histories, and mostly Australians just wanted to move on from a difficult time. There was a collective sense that we’d ‘solved’ LGBTIQ equality through this historic win. But I knew that our opponents were well resourced and more determined than ever reclaim ground after their monumental defeat. I knew the fight wasn’t over.

And so one year ago as we celebrated the first anniversary of marriage equality.

As the parliament failed to pass laws to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in religious schools despite a multi-partisan consensus about the need for such laws, we founded Equality Australia. Built from the successful YES campaign, we are Australia’s first national legal advocacy and campaigning organisation dedicated to achieving equality for LGBTIQ+ people. And we have work to do.

Faith based service providers, including schools, can lawfully turn away LGBTIQ+ people and fire LGBTIQ+ staff, even when they receive government funds to deliver crucial welfare services. Trans and gender diverse people face unreasonable and unnecessary barriers to update their identity documents. Infants and children born with variations in sex characteristics are subjected to ‘normalising’ treatments and surgeries before they can ever give consent. So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is still happening inside religious communities that see gay, bisexual and trans people as sick and broken, instead of human and whole.

And on some fronts the fight has only intensified, as the NO campaign continues to try and extract a price for the equality we achieved back in 2017.

The ‘religious freedom’ agenda has unleashed itself, spearheaded by the Australian Christian Lobby and fed by the same misinformation and scaremongering we saw in the No campaign. Despite Phillip Ruddock’s review not identifying any real threat to religious freedom. The Marriage Alliance has rebranded and re-purposed itself to specifically stigmatise and marginalise some of the most vulnerable young people in this country – transgender young people. All the more shameful when you consider that 1 in 2 of these young people attempt suicide.

We cannot walk away from the battlefield of the marriage equality campaign and let the most vulnerable in our community fight alone. We stand together and we stand proud because no one deserves to be treated as less-than for simply being who they are. And through that strength we have seen reform and positive change. In 2018, we saw three state and territory governments commit to enacting laws and policies to tackle the harm caused by conversion practices. We were proud to support the passage of laws in Victoria to allow trans people to be recognised as the gender they live as, which followed a similar ground-breaking win for Tasmania earlier in the year. These wins, as all wins do, demonstrate what is possible when we work together.

But we remain fearful that the federal Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill will hand a licence to discriminate to people with harmful religious views.

Let me be clear – this Bill presents a much bigger threat than not being able to legally marry. This Bill will stoke division, undermine inclusion and set us back decades – in access to health, in workplace inclusion, for LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disabilities and minority faiths.

They say the first year two years of marriage are the hardest. Relationships take work and cannot be taken for granted. Well, we have plenty of evidence that we cannot take marriage equality for granted. We cannot afford to be complacent in the face of threats to what we achieved together – the legacy that we created when love had its landslide victory back in 2017.

We must unite as we did during marriage equality and ensure our laws reflect the values of equality and fairness that we know bring Australians together. Otherwise, things you take for granted, get taken from you.