Marriage Alliance Binary Australia
Sophie York, Marriage Alliance spokeswoman (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

The activists formerly known as Marriage Alliance — a shadowy group of opaque membership and indeterminate funding, formed to oppose marriage equality — have yanked one the key subtexts of their marriage campaign and run with it.

They are now a specifically anti-trans group called Binary Australia, which “aims to promote and celebrate the inherent differences between boys and girls, men and women”.

In the case of their raison d’etre, marriage equality — and most areas on which they campaign — Marriage Alliance failed miserably. But, depressingly, they and associates like the Australian Christian Lobby, despite routine failures in the marketplace of ideas, have a knack for getting traction. 

Who are they?

It’s worth noting off the bat that the supposed “grassroots movement” has strong ties to the mainstream Liberal party. Marriage Alliance was founded by former ACT Liberal president Tio Faulkner, has former federal Liberal president Ashley Goldsworthy as a director, while CEO Damian Wyld ran for election for the South Australian Liberals.

When the organisation first launched, spokesperson Sophie York bragged in her promotional leaflet about her links with Tony Abbott, John Alexander and Paul Fletcher, among others. York used these contacts to email the NSW Liberal party membership anti-marriage equality leaflets back in 2016. 

Remember the marriage equality ‘debate’

Apart from campaigning on the dangers of marriage equality — using talking points that frequently had nothing to do with marriage — and, presumably knowing the issues wouldn’t go away, they argued in favour of a plebiscite on the matter. The plebiscite was Tony Abbott’s policy and Malcolm Turnbull, uncharacteristically, went against a firmly held belief and acceded to it when he took over as prime minister. 

Apart from their various ads, Marriage Alliance had their talking points parroted by powerful backers in the media, and the sympathy of several prominent politicians and influential political figures. They still failed.

Equal air time win

A major Marriage Alliance complaint, before and after the plebiscite, was that the media was biased against their views (in one case, Media Watch even agreed). And, wouldn’t you know, during the survey it got hurriedly written into law, via the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017 that broadcasters must, if they “give opportunities for one side to put their views, must provide the other side with reasonable opportunities”. 

Of course, when they lost, they still blamed media bias.

Safe Schools 

Woven through the majority of their anti-marriage equality material was fear mongering about “radical gender theory” in schools, and this has remained their target after that battle was lost. In October 2016, the federal government announced it would not renew funding for Safe Schools.

It does still exist in scattered state schools, particularly in Victoria — where the Labor government who supported it just trounced a Liberal opposition promising to scrap it

“Religious freedom”

As Bernard Keane pointed out in these pages, No campaigners had to perform a somersault in presentation after losing the marriage equality vote.

Before last Wednesday, in their view, the religious Right were the silent majority of Australians. Now they claim minority status instead, and bid for victimhood and protection against secular persecution…

Marriage Alliance made a huge song and dance about what marriage equality would mean for freedom of religion, and again, the Turnbull government delivered for them, appointing a panel to look into protecting religious freedom in Australia. Happily, like marriage equality and the Victorian election, this turned out to be an own goal.

When the report revealed that religious schools could expel gay students and sack gay teachers with impunity, there was public outcry and Prime Minister Scott Morrison eventually heeded calls to close that loophole.

This fulfilled the major theme of Marriage Alliance and their associates’ contribution to public life. While they are able to extract major concessions from those in power, when their talking points are put to the public, they inevitably fail.

However, they have a history of keeping harmful, hateful rhetoric in the public debate — and it’s worth noting that, just as Tony Abbott shared their views on marriage, our current prime minister has some questionable views on trans issues. Binary Australia may not achieve any lasting change, but they can still do a lot of damage. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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