Fighting for Change
15 June 2015 at 11:47 am
In 2004 Rodney Croome founded Australian Marriage Equality and almost every day since then he has been fighting for changes to the Marriage Act. Croome is this week’s Changemaker.
?Croome told Pro Bono Australia’s Xavier Smerdon that if and when Australia allowed same-sex marriage, his organisation would cease to exist, a day he was very much looking forward to.
Croome founded his organisation in response to the Howard Government changing the Marriage Act to explicitly exclude gay couples.
Previously voted one of the 25 most influential gay Australians, Croome said that while he was not prepared to predict exactly when Australia would change the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples, he felt the shift in momentum meant it was likely to happen before the end of this year.
Croome told Pro Bono Australia News what it was like to be unable to marry his partner of 10 years and what inspires him to advocate full time for other gay couples.
What was it that pushed you to found your own organisation? Are you in a same-sex relationship yourself or did you just not like seeing people being discriminated against?
Both actually. I’ve been involved in advocating for gay equality for many years, chiefly in Tasmania. I was involved in the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in Tasmania and to put in place better anti-discrimination and relationship laws.
Taking up the issue of marriage equality was a natural progression. It’s an issue that’s important to me because I am in a same-sex relationship and I don’t want same-sex relationships to continue to be stigmatised. I put a very high premium on inclusion and belonging and as long as same-sex partners are excluded from such a key legal and social institution then it’s harder for us to make our claim on inclusion and belonging.
We’ve seen in the last couple of weeks a real push for marriage equality. Has the workload for your organisation increased immensely?
Yes, since the Irish Referendum there’s been a lot of attention on marriage equality in Australia, rightly so. That has meant an increase in work.
We’ve been doing a lot more work with the media and with politicians but of course that’s welcome because it’s clear that we’re moving forward.
Do you see this issue as being resolved sooner rather than later? Are we going to finally see marriage in equality in Australia soon?
I think the Irish Referendum has moved things forward. I’m not willing to predict when marriage equality will be achieved. I hope that it will be before the end of the year and there’s certainly concerted efforts in parliament to make that happen, both from Bill Shorten from his newly introduced Bill, and from the Liberal Party, who I think are also looking to introduce the exploration.
So I’m hopeful that we’ll see it before the end of the year but I’m not willing to call it.
Have you been encouraged by what’s been happening lately?
It’s the first time that the leader of a major Party in Australia at a Federal level has introduced marriage equality legislation. It sends a strong message that this is a serious issue both to his party and to the Parliament. It initiates a conversation about marriage equality in Parliament that reflects the conversation that’s already happening in the community.
So you said the organisation started in 2004, what happens when we do see the laws change? Will your organisation still continue in some form?
Our organisation has one goal and once that goal is achieved it will cease to exist.
You’re probably one of the only leaders of an organisation that wants to see it shut down then.
Yep. The sooner that AME closes down and I’m out of a job, the better.
Do you mind if I ask you how long you’ve been in a relationship with your partner for?
No, I don’t mind at all. It’s been a decade now.
You obviously come from the advocacy side of the issue a lot of the time, but how does it feel personally to know that your own relationship isn’t really recognised?
Well it isn’t at all recognised. I’m very aware of being in a relationship that the law still regards as second best and not full equal. I mentioned earlier how I put a high premium on inclusion and a sense of belonging, so I feel the exclusion from marriage quite strongly.
I also feel that is effectively saying to my partner and I that we don’t know what’s best for us, that it will decide who we marry and not us. Obviously it thinks that we should marry women because that’s what the Marriage Act says, if you want to marry it has to be someone from the opposite sex.
I find that quite offensive that the Government tells me what it thinks is best for me. I know what is best for me and what is best for me is to marry the man I love and not to be told by the Government that it’s the wrong choice.
One of the interesting things I got from Bill Shorten’s speech on his marriage equality Bill was that by changing the laws would send a message, especially to young gay people, that they are respected and they belong. That's obviously something you think we need to keep in mind.
Well marriage is a legal and social institution, it provides us with a universal language of love, commitment and family. To be excluded from that sends a message that you are not equal and your relationship is second best. Younger people already have a hard enough time with it without being sent the wrong messages by the law.
This law is the final official refuge in Australia of prejudice and discrimination against gay people and a lot of prejudices, stereotypes and myths and homosexuality hide behind it. And that’s why it should be removed, because as long as the discriminatory aspect of the Marriage Act is there, it continues to be a refuge for these prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes.
What would you say to someone who still holds those views? What is the statement you would like to make to really change the way they think about marriage equality?
No one’s going to stop anyone else holding particular views, but those views should not be enshrined in law.
It’s not the role of the law to enshrine prejudice, discrimination, myths or misconceptions about any group in society.
It’s also not the role of the law to enshrine religious values whatever they may be.
The Marriage Act is a civil law and it should include all Australians without prejudice.
You founded the organisation in 2004. Have you seen a big change since then in the way the community thinks about marriage equality?
There’s been a huge shift in public opinion. Public support for marriage equality has basically doubled since 2004 and that reflects two things. Firstly, increased discussion about the issue. I find when people talk about gay rights issues, the simple act of discussing it with others will often soften even hardened attitudes.
Also, more Australians in that decade have met and become familiar with same sex couples and their families, and that’s the biggest driver of change on this issue.
It must have been a difficult role to play in 2004 when you had to approach politicians about the issue.
Politicians didn’t even want to talk about it let alone take it seriously, but the Australian community was willing to talk and we’ve had that discussion for a decade now.
The community is definitely ready and the community debate is over. The overwhelming majority of Australians support this and what to get on with it, the politicians aren’t quite there yet though.
So is a referendum the answer then?
No, we don’t need a referendum because there’s no constitutional barrier to marriage equality in Australia.
In Ireland the Constitution explicitly banned it so they needed to change their constitution to move forward.
In 2013 the High Court of Australia interpreted the word marriage in the Constitution to include same sex couples, so there’s nothing to have a referendum about.
We could have a plebiscite in the way that we had one about the national anthem, but I don’t see that as necessary either. It would cost many millions of dollars, it wouldn’t occur until the next election and I think we can get this through Parliament before then.