With the proposed marriage equality plebiscite all but defeated, LGBTQIA+ Australians have been spared one particular round of tax-payer funded hate speech. The debate over marriage is far from over, however, and for those of us who are engaged and waiting for political will to match up to the majority opinion in Australia, marriage is very much on our minds.
And industry is booming. The Australian wedding industry is worth over $2 billion to our economy yearly, with the average couple spending upwards of $36 000 on a single wedding. It’s estimated that marriage equality would inject up to a further billion into the wedding industry: marriage is, pure and simple, big business.
Not all wedding providers are convinced that the cold, hard cash brought by future lesbian and gay marriages will be worth their while, though. We are told that some Christian cake decorators, florists, photographers and the like want the right to refuse service to same-sex couples to be enshrined in law. This would be a shocking perversion of Australian egalitarian values; some say it would be reminiscent of segregation and discrimination against mixed-race couples. There can be no direct comparison usefully made between homophobia and racism, except to say that in 2016 only a vocal minority seem to think it’s a good idea to legally allow either. As Ben Winsor recently asked, “Is religion an excuse for discrimination which would otherwise be illegal?”
The Irish Court of Appeal would appear to say no. It found this week that a bakery’s refusal to make a pro-gay marriage cake in 2014 amounted to unlawful discrimination against a gay customer. The message is clear: when same sex marriages become legal, Australia must make sure that LGBTQIA+ couples are protected against discrimination in order to keep up with the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, the discussion over the impact of marriage equality is still hypothetical here. Nobody is going to be making any cakes for legal gay weddings any time soon in Australia, and therein lies the real fight.
Obscured in the debate about what homophobic business owners should do is the fact that, as you read this, there are bisexual bakers piping roses onto wedding cakes for straight couples and gay fashion designers edging the lace on intricate bridal veils. There is a transgender photographer carrying a tripod around a vineyard to capture the perfect angle for the bride and groom. There are gay wait staff pouring champagne to charge toasts before going home to their boyfriends, whom they can’t marry. The multi-billion dollar wedding industry is propped up and supported by LGBTQIA+ people, our families and our businesses.
Without our participation in an industry which excludes us, and sometimes hurts us, the money couldn’t roll in as rapidly as it does.
So what would happen if we suddenly declared that, actually, we’re too queer for your straight wedding?
It can be done. In 1979 the Swedish gay and lesbian community decided to enact a mass strike, and called in gay for work. As we’ve seen this month with the protests for abortion access in Poland, when a large sector of the community is prepared to stand together and make and economic impact, governments will listen.
Right now, in Australia, some heterosexual people say they don’t even want our money. They don’t want us smelling their flowers or eating their cakes. Their labour, they say, is too good for us.
So why isn’t ours too good for them? A queer strike would hit the heart of the industry. As Benjamin Law puts it, without LGBTIQ people the wedding industry would be vastly diminished, “the only wedding services left would be heterosexual ones, like the wedding singers who only perform Bon Jovi ballads to backing tapes.” Frankly, I think that’s a state of affairs that Australia deserves after falling so far behind the rest of the English-speaking world on this issue.
With our virulent opposition to the plebiscite, the LGBTIQ community has shown that we have the capacity to work together and to speak back to power. The least we can do is highlight how our talents and labours are exploited to prop up social and economic institutions. Those who wish to see us continue to be relegated to the position of second-class citizens and lesser human beings, ironically, rely on us more than ever at the moment of celebrating their own marriages and those of their children.
Let’s stop baking the homophobes’ damn cakes and see how they like it.