Hospo Voice

Why marriage equality and LGBTQIA+ rights are union business

August 2, 2021

How the union movement got involved in the campaign for marriage equality

Our primary function as a union is to help workers like you earn fair wages, make sure you have safe workplaces and improve your working conditions.

But traditionally, union movements have also been involved in campaigns that affect working people more broadly. Campaigns like land rights, climate activism and marriage equality.

Why is marriage equality union business?

As a union, we want to make a difference. We want to fight for what’s right, fair and just. We want equality for all and believe everyone should be able to enjoy the same rights and freedoms.

This is one reason we fought so hard for marriage equality.

In 2011, unions like ours joined a coalition called Unions for Marriage Equality campaign. The Australian Services Union (ASU) NSW and ACT branch secretary Sally McManus told the Star Observer at the time that the unions came together because they believe it’s a human right for anyone to marry the person they love.

Unions always fight to end discrimination against their members and every union has gay and lesbian members so we believe it’s our obligation to stand up for them, and this is an obvious area where discrimination is happening,” she said.

How the union movement got involved in the ‘yes’ campaign

When the concept of the marriage equality plebiscite was being discussed in 2016, the Australian Marriage Equality group knew they needed to scale up. They needed to increase their supporter base and activate those members.

So the unions got on board. After all, we’re experienced with big campaigns and we know how to motivate our members to affect genuine change.

By the time the postal survey idea came up in 2017, the supporter base had expanded dramatically. The goal of organisers was to get people talking with their friends and neighbours at a community level. TV ads and politicians would not change opinion, but personal interactions might.

When they announced the postal survey, the union movement was ready. We encouraged our younger members to enrol to vote and helped get over 100,000 extra people enrolled.

We door knocked, encouraged our members to attend rallies (and attended of course), we shared social media campaigns, we called our members and we put posters in shop windows.

Basically we did everything we could think of to encourage people to vote yes.

AND We won! So what’s next?

Of course, we all know that on the 15th November 2017, Australia voted yes. It was pretty damn impressive and a life highlight for many of us. Some stats were mind-blowing:

Then on the 9 December 2017, Parliament voted yes and the right to marry in Australia was no longer determined by sex or gender.

Of course, although we have marriage equality, there is still much more we can do to achieve genuine equality. We continue to stand up for LGBQTIA+ rights in the Australian workplace and beyond.

Unions like ours celebrate International Day Against LQBTGIA+ Discrimination on May 17 and encourage workplaces to celebrate it too. We have union floats in the Mardi Gras and support various pride parades.

Equality is union business and we are strong LGBQTIA+ allies. Our goal is for every workplace in Australia to be free from homophobia and welcoming of everyone, no matter who they are.

Join us at Hospo Voice to fight for equality in our industry and in our community.

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