By Erin Steele

In March 2012 I sat in on a marriage equality forum in Melbourne held by Equal Love, one of the groups leading the campaign for equal rights. I was nervous as hell and didn’t really know much about marriage equality beyond the fact that we didn’t have it.

I joined Equal Love that night and haven’t looked back for one minute. My reasons for joining were numerous, some more noble than others.

Having recently returned from the UK, where I had come out of the closet, had my political interest piqued, and been following the infuriating yet heartbreaking spectacle of two of my closest male friends (one American, one British with dual Australian citizenship) jumping through every available hoop to marry and live in the US.

After 18 exhaustive months of sworn statements, extensive documentation of the relationship and visits to immigration, my friend’s US visa was not granted.

Despite needing to live in the US due to familial responsibilities, they were forced to settle for a civil union in the UK, which would allow them to live and work as a de facto couple. They spent every spare penny they had on travelling to Australia and then the US to visit their respective families. 

Returning home, I couldn’t get on the internet fast enough. “I’m gay!” I thought. “This affects me! And people I know! And it’s bullshit!”

I searched for the term “marriage equality Australia” and clicked on the first website I could find (well, the first that didn’t require a special set of prerequisites to join), “Equal Love”.  I had never heard of the group, or of Ali Hogg (the group’s convener and leader), who I’ve come to know as one of the warmest, fiercest, bravest and hardest working activists I could have hoped to meet. 

Admittedly I joined Equal Love knowing little to nothing about politics, queer culture or whether this would ever really be relevant to my life or interests. Frankly, it was just an issue I felt strongly about, but I also just wanted to meet some other like-minded queers and protest against a system I don’t agree with on the whole. It definitely wasn’t personal.

Two years on, however, I feel a little differently. Six Melbourne rallies, three regional rallies (at one of which I spoke on behalf of EL), dozens of events, fundraisers, meetings, working bees, posters, flyers, social media campaigns and three different T-shirt designs – this has become more than a little personal. 

Be it Liberal or Labor, there has been a revolving door of politicians who have overseen ten years of legislated discrimination, some with vehement opposition and gross bigotry, some with an apologetic shrug at the withholding of our civil rights.

This is my problem. Not because I’m queer. Not because I’m a leftie. Not even because I particularly want to get married. But because I’m a human being and civil rights belong to everyone. It is the principle of the thing.

I now understand and can speak fairly authoritatively on legislated discrimination, the anti-gay lobby, the Marriage Act and how it operates within the Constitution, what is required in parliament to achieve our objective and the larger agenda at work in continuing this legislated bigotry.

This year marks 10 years of action for marriage equality. Yes, I am disgusted. And yes, it is personal. I’ll be at the next rally to keep up this fight. Will you join me?

Article first published in Red Flag.

Equal Love's next March for Marriage Equality in Melbourne is on May 17 1pm, State Library of Victoria. Click attending on facebook.

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