POLITICS

Marriage Equality Campaign Says 'Real Victory Is Persuasion' For LGBTQ People

Tiernan Brady on red herrings, rural voters and resisting a 'mud fight'.

20/10/2017 2:34 PM AEDT | Updated 20/10/2017 2:42 PM AEDT
Fairfax
Tiernan Brady has taken his campaign around the country.

CANBERRA -- "We're not getting into your boxing ring. You can swing punches all you want, we're going to be at kitchen tables in Tamworth."

Tiernan Brady sits back in one of the many green courtyards of Parliament House in Canberra, sipping a scalding hot tea.

It's a sunny day, and despite being arguably one of the busiest men in the country right now, Brady is a kind type of guy -- friendly, smiling, good-natured and Irish down to his bones, from the broad brogue accent and light reddish-brown hair to the custom of ordering a cup of boiling water on a warm day and the cigarette smouldering down to ash in his hand.

Brady is the director of the Equality Campaign, the lead group pushing for a Yes vote in the marriage equality postal survey, and it has been his job for many months to visit towns and cities, large and small, nationwide to encourage voters to get behind the cause.

Judging from the latest polls, his side seems to be doing a good job -- a Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper on Wednesday, shows 59 percent of Australians have already voted yes, with several weeks still go run in the campaign.

"The turnout is really great. I believe that's a really good sign for us. We've got higher turnout than the American election now, we have passed the turnout for the Irish referendum on marriage equality," Brady told HuffPost Australia.

He worked on the Irish push as well, so he knows what he's talking about.

"I think the bigger the turnout, the more likely it is the result of the survey will reflect the will of the Australian people, and every poll for the last 10 years has told us that that will is 'everybody should be allowed to get married, the law should treat everybody equally.' It's a very simple principle and a very simple question."

Conservative commentators, critics and marriage equality opponents have poo-pooed the Yes campaign as focusing on so-called "cultural elites", as shunning the regions and small towns in favour of inner-cities, and claiming a "silent majority" of Australians want to keep marriage as it is. Judging from simple poll numbers alone, that last point seems far-fetched, but Brady said the claim that marriage equality supporters had ignored the regions was far from the truth.

"The reaction in general has been amazing. We spoke in packed halls in Tamworth, Armidale and Coffs Harbour, and right across the country. People actually wanted to know what they could do," he said.

"We've worked really hard over the last two years to get out right across the country. We've done hundreds of meetings, regional towns and small towns. We've sat in Cowra and Yass, because there are LGBTI people there and parents and supporters of LGBTI people there, and you've got to let them see they're incredibly powerful in those communities when they stand up. This isn't an inner city issue. LGBTI people live everywhere and the campaign had to reflect that."

With various polls showing Australian support of marriage equality at up to 70 percent, the Yes side probably could have campaigned solely in large cities and still won the vote -- Brady gives a grudging, accepting shrug when we suggest this -- but he said it was important for the campaign to reach out into all corners of the country. Brady said winning the vote was a huge step forward for LGBTQ people, but only one step of many to ensuring those people feel fully comfortable and accepted by all Australians.

"So much of the campaign is about allowing people to see the person who has been beside you all the time, you've just never seen them as LGBTI people and never seen that challenge of being unequal in the law had. It's pulling back this curtain... and that's as true in Cowra as it is in Potts Point," he said.

"Victory for LGBTI people isn't about defeating anybody. It's about persuading everybody. Persuading people, then the daily lives of LGBTI people change. We've already seen that in Australia, [support for marriage equality] was 30 percent in favour 15 years ago, now it's 65 percent in favour, and that hasn't happened because people were hit over the head. It's because people had conversations and people became supporters."

"The real goal, even after this, is to continue to persuade. Because the persuasion changes the daily lives of people. There's a real important difference we've struck in the campaign all the way through this, that winning isn't the same as beating somebody. We're not here to beat anybody, that isn't the real victory for LGBTI people. The real victory is persuasion."

But the most tangible victory will be the one announced on November 15, when either a Yes or No majority result will be delivered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Technically, 50.1 percent of the vote will be considered a win, but in recent weeks marriage equality opponents have begun talking up the idea that laws should only change if the Yes side scores a vote of 60 percent or more.

Brady said he considers any win a win, but that his side is pushing for every vote they can get -- not just for a stronger mandate to change the law, but as a gesture of greater support for the LGBTQ community.

"No government in this country has ever been elected with more than 56 percent of the vote. If this vote passes the mandate any government in the history of Australia has received, that's a big vote. That's a fair measure," he said.

"​​​​​We've gone to the bother of asking people their opinion, and what the world of politics shouldn't do now is start putting 'yes, but...' in front of that opinion."

"The best possible win is the best possible result. It will also be the one that makes LGBTI people feel the most included in the communities they're from and the communities they love. When the electorate in Toowoomba votes yes, which it hopefully will do, it sends a wonderful message of inclusion to LGBTI people, that you're part of Toowoomba, and Toowoomba supports you. The more electorates and the more states that vote yes, the more positive the result will be for the country."

Of course, while Brady said the campaign isn't about "defeating anybody", there is a second side to this debate, and one of them must win.

He accused the No side of red herrings through the survey period, including linking the vote to -- among a list of many -- political correctness, the Safe Schools program, cultural elites, bullying, free speech, gender neutral bathrooms and a loss of rights for parents. Brady said he had a grudging understanding of why marriage equality opponents took this path of trojan horse politics.

"The No side understand the Australian people are for marriage equality... so they made a very clear decision strategically to talk about everything apart from marriage equality. they have thrown out a red herring every day," he said.

"But of course it's about none of those things, and the discipline the Yes campaign had to have was to understand that these are red herrings and they're designed for us to go running down after them and have a fight about unrelated issues when this is a very simple question about whether civil marriage law should be open to every Australian.

"And what I think is amazing is that not just the campaign has done that, but millions of people have got that. There's a million LGBTI people out there and their parents and their friends and supporters and I think the real story of this campaign is how those million-plus people have shown such incredible discipline at not taking the bait, at not allowing themselves to become provoked and angry.

"I think they've shown a steely discipline and dignity that has won people over. They didn't allow themselves to be dragged down into a traditional political mud fight, they said 'we're not getting into your boxing ring'. You can swing punches all you want, we're going to be at kitchen tables in Tamworth.

"The one legacy of this will be looking back at the incredible dignity and discipline people have showed in not allowing themselves to turn this unifying moment for the country into some culture war brawl."

"They've resisted it and I think that's why we're winning."

Friday marks the last day for new postal forms to be requested, and one week before the ABS wants all the forms to be posted back.

Brady said many people had filled in their vote but forgotten to mail it back yet, and that the final weeks of the campaign would be about reminding people to visit the postbox and send their vote off.

"If it's not in the postbox, it's not anywhere. This is too important for people not to vote," he said.

"It's about real people's lives, it's about their dignity and their status in society, and that deserves the effort the rest of us can put in by simply marking a bit of paper with a Yes and putting it in the red box at the end of the street."

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