“Australia roared ‘yes’ back to parliament” - Irishman behind Australia's marriage equality campaign

More than 61% of Australian voters have backed same-sex marriage

“Australia roared ‘yes’ back to parliament” - Irishman behind Australia's marriage equality campaign

Tiernan Brady at the launch of the Equality Campaign in October 2016. Image via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

An Irishman who has helped lead the marriage equality campaign in Australia has said the people delivered when “politics was just not delivering”.

In an historic postal survey, 61.6% of voters supported Australia becoming the 26th nation to legalise same-sex marriage - after countries such as Ireland, the US, Canada and New Zealand. 

Tiernan Brady - who previously worked with GLEN and Ireland’s Yes Equality campaign - served as the director of The Equality Campaign in Australia, and he spoke to Sean Moncrieff about yesterday's result.

Tiernan explained: “I think in the last few weeks we definitely did [expect this]. We knew we had polled really well, and when we saw how high the turnout was we knew it was going our way.

“This was a postal vote, so we were never sure how many people would turn out to vote. In the end it was 80%... that’s just a massive turnout [...] You shouldn’t ever be complacent, but I think in the last few days we definitely felt we had it.”

Tiernan says there is a culture of voting in Australia compared to other countries, which helps explain the high survey response. He also suggested that the Australian people felt they needed to act as “the world of politics wasn’t able to find a way” despite a long line of polls showing public support for gay marriage.

He explained: “There had been 22 marriage bill in Australia, and every single one of them had failed. We had got to the point where they’d had more marriage equality bills in Australia than there were countries who had marriage equality. The world of politics was just not delivering - and I think people just went ‘we’ve got to break this logjam’... and boy did they step up.”

Unique challenges

Reflecting on his recent years on the side of the world, Tiernan observed that there are definitely similarities between Ireland and Australia, including the sense of community. But he highlighted three main differences the campaign faced compared to those tackled by Irish equality campaigners before the referendum here in 2015.

He told Sean: “One was there’s an awful lot of religions here - there’s a lot of evangelical religions here, there’s a lot of Buddhism as well. That’s a big difference from home.

“There’s a lot of ethnic communities here. There’s a million people in Australia who don’t speak English at home… that’s a lot of, mostly Asian, voters.

“I think the third one was the scale. Australia is just bigger than Europe, never mind Ireland. The biggest trick we had to manage in the campaign was… how do you get people in Alice Springs, and in Carnarvon, and in Adelaide to understand ‘there’s no campaign bus. You’re the campaign [...] When you do it, it’s more effective than anything the national campaign can do.”

He added: “People really stood up. Sometime in six months or a year, when someone starts writing a book about this… that’s what people will talk about - the volunteers and ordinary people who stood up at kitchen tables and workplaces right around the country who said ‘I’m here, and all I want is to be treated the same’.”

For Tiernan, one of the key challenges in a campaign of this scale is to “make sure you don’t blow it” when there’s significant public support for the cause.

He argued: “You’ve already won people over… you’ve got to hold their hand as they take the last step of the journey.

“Sometimes when you’re ahead, that’s the main thing you have to do in a campaign - rather than focusing on persuading people who you may not ever persuade, or who may be ten years away from becoming supporters.”

The future

In the wake of the postal vote results, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he hopes to pass marriage equality legislation by the end of the year.

Tiernan believes ‘there’s no reason in the world’ same-sex marriage can’t be legalised in Australia before Christmas, suggesting that “Australia roared ‘yes’ back to parliament”.

As for Tiernan’s own future? He observed: “I’ll definitely be home for Christmas. But I’m going to come back out [to Australia] in January. Myself and my partner are going to be doing a bit of thinking about it then.

“One of the peculiarities of running a campaign where you win is that you manage to make yourself unemployed the next day [...] I promised myself I wouldn’t think about it until we got this over the line.”