As the Australian Bureau of Statistics closed its doors on Tuesday evening, campaigners on both sides of the national marriage survey took a moment to congratulate their allies before bracing once more.

Assuming a yes vote is returned on Wednesday next week, the public campaign will shift to a behind-closed-doors lobbying effort as each side attempts to shape the resulting legislation.

But whatever the outcome on Wednesday, the campaign has put political wheels in motion that will keep turning long after the first same-sex wedding bells chime. Both sides have been battle-hardened, though to whose long-term advantage is unclear.

If you believe Tony Abbott, the non-binding postal survey has forged the bonds of a new conservative movement.

“The campaign for marriage in my country has mobilised thousands of new activists and created a network that could be deployed to defend Western civilisation more broadly and the Judeo-Christian ethic against all that’s been undermining it,” the former prime minister said during a speech delivered to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that fights against the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton made remarks to the same effect yesterday evening.

“Win or lose, your commitment has helped shift the debate in this nation,” he said in a statement to campaigners. “Win or lose, there will be a positive legacy from this campaign thanks to you.”

Does the warm and fuzzy stuff from Lyle — he called the No campaign a “bonding experience” — actually mean a more effective lobby?

Shelton also noted the No campaign had fundraised “more than $6 million” but the ACL did not respond to inquiries from Crikey about whether its own coffers had been boosted, or whether it experienced a fundraising increase. Similarly, another potential beneficiary of the battle, Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, declined to comment on any impact on membership.

Monica Doumit, a spokesperson for the combined No campaign group Coalition for Marriage, said 20,000 people had made financial contributions to the campaign and that “thousands” had volunteered.

“The Coalition for Marriage began from a standing start, launching publicly less than three months ago, and in that time, tens of thousands of Australian supporters have signed up to our mailing list, and tens of thousands more have supported us on social media,” she said.

On the other side, LGBTI rights and support groups have emerged from the first stage of the survey bruised, toughened and exhausted.

Organisations large and small told Crikey they had not necessarily seen a blossoming of new supports for LGBTI rights during the campaign so much as a deepening of sentiment among previous backers.

In the short term, the impact is mixed. The massive and lengthy national focus on marriage drew resources form other campaigns and increased community need for support services — while also helping bolster fundraising and membership numbers.

Three LGBTI support and advocacy groups — the NSW Gay and Lesbian Lobby, PFLAG, and Twenty10 — told Crikey their donations, membership and engagement had increased over the course of the marriage survey.

“In the face of adversity this community does know how to rally together for one another,” Twenty10 co-executive director Jain Moralee said.

Lauren Foy, convener of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, says the survey had forced other priorities — like the expansion of NSW’s anti-discrimination laws — had been sidelined.

At the higher echelons of the Yes campaign, the survey has further tested and honed major progressive organisations like GetUp.

“GetUp as an organisation and as a movement of volunteers have learnt how to run a kickass “get out the vote” campaign,” Sally Rugg, GetUp’s marriage equality director, said. “Tactics like direct peer-to-peer contact, repetitive visual affirmation (for example, selfies with a post box) and front-loading the campaign around the first week are all lessons we’ll likely apply to our enrolment campaigns before elections.”

As has been noted elsewhere, the record voter enrollment spurred by the survey is likely to benefit GetUp and its progressive political allies.

Crikey also understands that GetUp provided the technology for the Yes campaign’s voter-calling system, with the Yes campaign making over 1 million calls. This marks a major scaling-up of GetUp’s previous use of the technology.

Rodney Croome, a Tasmanian campaigner and former head of Australians for Marriage Equality, said fighting the campaign had left some young LGBTI activists with new confidence and changed the mindset of some straight supporters.

“Young heterosexual Australians have seen, many for the first time, just how deep anti-LGBTI hate and prejudice can run,” Croome said.

That, Croome believes, is an understanding many will take with them through life: from the boardroom, to the federal bureaucracy, and into other halls of power.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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