INTERVIEW: Australian Marriage Equality is working for more than #5DaysOfEquality

While we celebrate #5DaysofEquality, the organization Australian Marriage Equality continues to work tirelessly to bring marriage equality to Australia. You may best know them for their "hand heart" gesture that has become the organization's signature logo. The organization is behind the "We're Waiting" campaign. One prominent supporter is Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who created a video with his Modern Family husband, Eric Stonestreet, calling on Australia to enact marriage equality.

Now, the organization is gearing up for 2015. They have launched a fundraising campaign that is over halfway to goal. They are lobbying the Australian parliament, to grow support for marriage equality among lawmakers. And they are waging even more public campaigns to raise support for marriage equality.

GLAAD got to interview Ivan Hinton-Teoh, the Deputy Director of Australian Marriage Equality. In addition, Ivan was one of the 31 couples married during December 7-12, until the Australian government nullified his marriage. We'll hear more about that later. For now, we focus on the work of Australian Marriage Equality. Read his interview and post a message on social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, and Tumblr, using the hashtag #5DaysOfEquality to wish Ivan, and the other couples a happy one year anniversary. Your message will be printed in paper cards to be delivered. 

What's the state of marriage equality in Australia right now?

While Australia is one of the last remaining English speaking countries that have not achieved marriage equality recent polls indicate that 72% of Australians support the reform and, consistent with the trend around the world, that number continues to rise.

The Federal Government’s resistance to marriage equality is seen as being entirely out of touch with the community with strong opposition to reform now collapsing to only 14%.

The good news is that support for marriage equality in federal parliament is also at a record high but while the current government prevents its members from having a free vote on the subject many supporters continue to be forced to follow party lines.

In the lead up to the last election Tony Abbott, now Australia’s Prime Minister, publicly committed to having a party room discussion on allowing his members a free vote if a bill was presented. In recent weeks Senator David Leyonhjelm tabled a Freedom to Marry bill in Australia’s Senate.

Because of this, in early 2015, it is possible that the government may allow a free vote for its members which will give Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry bill a fighting chance in parliament.

Tell us a little bit about Australian Marriage Equality.

 Australian Marriage Equality is the peak national lobby group established as a result of the 2004 amendment to the federal Marriage Act that limited marriage explicitly to man/woman relationships.

Our organization is operated by volunteers who are committed to achieving full marriage equality.

We are remembering the couples that were married one year ago, including you, Ivan. What's happened on the Australian marriage equality front since then?

 Last year the Australian community had an unprecedented opportunity to witness and reflecting on the meaning of this reform to fellow Australians; love, joy, family and inclusion.

We believe we’re now closer than ever, only 25 votes away from achieving marriage equality in the House of Representatives and a handful of votes needed to pass the Senate.

There have been a few times when it looked like marriage equality would be coming to Australia. What sort of impact does that constant change have on the LGBT population in the country?

I was on a panel for a recent UN Youth Conference and a young man told me that the passage of marriage equality laws in Canberra and our subsequent wedding gave him the confidence to come out to his family.  He gained hope that his future relationships would be more easily understood and respected by his family.

When the High Court overturned the laws he said, in a room of 200 other young people, he was devastated and asked how we had coped.

I explained that my strength came from the enormous support, encouragement and respect we received from the community, family and friends in those five days and an unshakable believe that, one day soon, we’ll look back on this experience as only a moment along the path to equality.

What do you think is holding Australian lawmakers back?

It was only 10 years ago that support for marriage equality was only 38% in Australia and both major parties voted to amend the Marriage Act to actively deny us the freedom to marry.  Many of those politicians remain in government today and are yet to publicly acknowledge that the amendment was wrong.  With the massive shift in public sentiment here, some are yet to acknowledge support is as strong as successive polling has indicated.

This is why our work in the community is vital in helping these politicians travel that journey to acceptance and we need to empower Australians all over the country to help our political leaders catch up.

What are you doing to get ready for 2015?

Australian Marriage Equality has commenced our most ambitious project to date.  With public support our volunteers are travelling to regions all over Australia to educate and activate local communities to raise awareness of marriage equality and place positive pressure on their elected officials to support reform. 

We have identified 50 electorates where we may be able to help the local Member of Parliament recognize both the importance of marriage equality and the significant support that exists for change in their own communities.

To prepare for 2015 we’re in the middle of a fundraising campaign to fund 25 of the 50 regions.  People should check out our #TeamEqual campaign, contribute, and donate.

Are there other groups working on marriage equality in Australia?

 We’re delighted to say that there are groups popping up all over Australia calling for marriage equality.  Every week we find another Facebook group has been established to lobby for change.

What can people from elsewhere do to help the efforts to bring marriage equality to Australia, after the #5DaysOfEquality are over?

If supporters would like to help us to educate our politicians they’d be welcome to send a tweet to our Prime Minister (@TonyAbbottMHR) to let him know how marriage equality is going in their country or state and let us know too (@AMEquality).  Even more simply people can tweet the PM photos of themselves making our hand/heart sign and asking him to become a part of #TeamEqual.

Of course, financial support for our Pozible campaign would be wonderful.  It will help us fund our biggest project for 2015.