Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have never loved at all? Such famous words are all too prevalent for some 27 same-sex Australian couples who legally married last year only to have their marital rights revoked just days later. Lend some support to the Australian LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex) community and discover the work Lush Australia is doing to campaign for the right of us all to openly love and commit to our partners, whatever sex.
Despite neighbouring each other, New Zealand and Australia are worlds apart when it comes to the issue of LGBTQI rights. In 2013, for example, New Zealand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise gay marriage, with the announcement inside Parliament prompting a spontaneous chorus of song from the public gallery. In contrast, less than a year later, the National Government intervened after the Australian Capital Territory, an internally governed territory, legalised gay marriage within the state. Only four days after the law was jubilantly passed, it was retracted, to the devastation of the couples married during this time.
In 2014, we launched an international Sign Of Love campaign, to draw attention to the plight of increasingly isolated LGBTQI couples in Russia, and this year Lush Australia launched a second LGBTQI-inspired Valentine’s campaign: ‘Any Two Can Love.’ The campaign ran in partnership with Mardi Gras to celebrate love of all kinds and support marriage equality with regards to the LGBTQI community. Staff member, Sarah, and her girlfriend, Ellie, puckered up to help create a window design for this important cause, and the image of them kissing was unveiled across all 27 Australian shops.
Lush Australia Brand Communications Manager, Natasha Ritz, explains that the campaign received an overwhelmingly positive response: “The customers seemed delighted to get behind our campaign and support a new look for Valentine’s Day. Our campaign post had hundreds of shares on social media by individuals and businesses, with the Facebook post alone reaching over 60, 000 people. The shop team were excited and happy to see that we had worked with a staff member in the creation and design of our window. There were even reports of gay couples looking, smiling and kissing directly next to the campaign window.”
A New Zealand native, herself, Natasha believes that despite her birthplace being a more progressive country when it comes to LGBTQI rights, the ‘Any Two Can Love’ campaign has demonstrated that Australia has widespread support for marriage equality. She says that “In metro areas it feels like there is a lot of support for marriage equality and the LGBTQI community especially when it comes to events such as Mardi Gras in Sydney with large corporations getting behind this event. One of our local banks ANZ creates 'GAYTMS' during Mardi Gras which are super colourful ATMS. It’s really fun.”
As things currently stand, eighteen countries allow same-sex marriage marriage (in date order these are the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain, Luxembourg and Finland). The United States currently allows individual states to decide on the issue and Mexico has court-directed provisions enabling same-sex couples to marry, although no laws have been passed to nationally legalise gay marriage. This May, Ireland could become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by a national, popular vote, a considerable feat when we remember that homosexuality was only decriminalised here in 1993.
Yet only across the border, Northern Ireland campaign groups are fighting a proposed ‘conscience clause,’ supported by the Catholic Church, which would allow people to refuse to provide professional services if they clash with their religious beliefs. The co founder of All Out (a non-profit organisation) Andre Banks explains that “The DUP’s anti-gay amendment would make it legal for businesses to refuse to serve lesbian, gay and bi people, just because of who they love.” Countries like Russia are also grappling with the issue of civil rights, after the Government enacted an anti-gay propaganda law in 2013 banning any positive mention of homosexuality in the presence of minors, including online. Even more shockingly, large areas of Africa and Asia still treat homosexual behaviour as illegal and even punishable by death.
Britain legalised same-sex marriage last year, with this coming into effect on the 29th March 2014 in England and Wales and on the 16th December later that year in Scotland. For Tom, a young professional who married his long-term partner last summer, it held special significance: ‘Getting married simply meant to us that we could celebrate our relationship without compromise. Being able to share in the same experiences as heterosexual couples is a huge step towards equality, understanding and acceptance.’ As Tom suggests, while legalising same-sex marriage does not denote the end of the battle for LGBTQI acceptance, it is certainly a significant step in the battle for equal civil rights, hence why it is such a hotly contested issue.
So is it likely that Australian couples will be able to share Tom’s happiness soon? After the devastating invalidation of same-sex marriages in the Australian Capital Territory, pressure for a decision (and one in favour of the LGBTQI community) is rising. A recent poll commissioned the Australian Marriage Equality organisation found that 72% of Australians were in favour of legalising gay marriage, while politicians such as Liberal Party member, Josh Frydenberg, have called for a free vote on the issue. As resolution nears, Lush Australia will continue to partner up with Mardi Gras annually, and hope to support more LGBTQI groups with Charity Pot funding (click here to discover more about Charity Pot). Engaging with the LGBTQI community via social media will continue to be a key aspect of creating conversation about life in Australia for non-heterosexual couples, and Natasha believes the campaign has helped to break down boundaries within the community. “We felt like we sent a clear message out in both Australia and NZ on our stance for marriage equality and LGBTQI rights. The partnership with Mardi Gras during the same time as our window really strengthened our message too.”