• The campaign for marriage equality in Australia began as a grassroots campaign. (SBS)Source: SBS
'Australia Says Yes' goes behind-the-scenes of the marriage equality campaign in Australia a year on.
SBS Guide

6 Nov 2018 - 2:38 PM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2018 - 2:41 PM

On 15 November 2017, Australia said YES to legalise same-sex marriage. More than 7.8 million Australians, representing a total of 61.6 % of the total population took part in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey and voted in favour of marriage equality*.

Australia Says Yes documents the LGBTIQ+ rights movement from its beginnings in the 1960’s campaigning to de-criminalise homosexuality, through to the life changing results of the Marriage Law Postal Survey.

The film examines the critical time through key supporters of the marriage equality including Peter de Waal and Peter ‘Bon’ Bonsall-Boone, gay rights activists; politician Dr Kerryn Phelps and her wife Jackie Stricker Phelps, spokespeople for marriage equality; politician Alex Greenwich; actress Magda Szubanski; and, Edie Shepherd, founder of Blackfullas for Marriage Equality.

The movement for LGBTIQ+ marriage rights in Australia was kicked up a notch by Peter and Bon in the late 1960s as foundation members of one of Australia’s first gay rights organisations – Campaign Against Moral Prosecution (CAMP). “Back then, we were considered criminals and deviants,” said Peter. “We were second-class citizens”.

Decades later in August 2004, when then Prime Minister John Howard proposed the Marriage Amendment Act that prevented same-sex marriage in Australia, Jackie Stricker-Phelps strongly resented it. “I couldn’t believe that the Australian government had banded together to prevent people from being able to be happily married. It felt like war had been declared and I think that’s when the movement really started to swell.”

Australia Says Yes documents the LGBTIQ+ rights movement from its beginnings in the 1960’s campaigning to de-criminalise homosexuality, through to the life changing results of the Marriage Law Postal Survey.


In 2014, despite public approval reaching an all-time high, with 72% people supporting marriage equality in Australia, 16 different marriage bills had failed. “It is extraordinary that you can have 72% support from a population and the politicians won’t let it go through, that they would find any way to stop it from happening,” stated Magda Szubanski.

By 2015, 19 countries had voted for same-sex marriage and legislation was on the agenda around the globe. Supporters of the LGBTIQ+ community were campaigning hard for the Australian government to take a stand on marriage equality. In 2017, the coalition government announced the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.

Edie Shepherd immediately saw parallels between this survey and the 1967 referendum to count Aboriginal people in the census. She lamented, “We know what it is to have an entire country debate whether or not we’re people.”

With only three months to mobilise, marriage equality supporters had to build a nation-wide campaign almost overnight. Alex Greenwich, co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality, said, “We couldn’t stop the postal survey, it was going to happen. That meant we needed to ramp up like we had never done before. We were just going to hit the ground running and we did. When the postal survey arrived, it was 10 years of advocacy in an envelope and I thought: ‘This is what it’s come to’”.

Since, the law passed, over 4500 LGBTIQ+ couples have married in Australia, surrounded by the people they love.

A small grass-root movement exploded to over 80 paid staff and 15,000 volunteers, who reached out to hundreds and thousands of Australians during the course of this campaign.

On the day the survey results were made public, the emotional reaction of all those fighting for acceptance was a compelling illustration of the impact the country’s support had on many individuals. With tears of joy, Edie said, “It’s really overwhelming. There’s no greater gift in the world than to be accepted for who you are.”

Three weeks after the survey results – on December 7, 2017 – the Marriage Equality Bill was passed in the Parliament. Peter, who had lost Bon to cancer months before the postal survey was announced, mourned, “They could have done it long ago ... It’s the most bittersweet moment in my 50-years of activism.”

Since, the law passed, over 4500 LGBTIQ+ couples have married in Australia, surrounded by the people they love.

On the anniversary of this historic event, Australia Says Yes takes a look back at the highs and lows of making social and political change possible from the perspective of those that lived it.

Watch Australia Says Yes on Thursday, November 15 at 7.30pm on SBS and at SBS On Demand.