On January 1 2010, with little or no fuss, some important new Victorian laws came into effect. The lack of fuss was perhaps a surprise, given that these have been “hot button” issues for conservative politicians and shock jocks alike. They included equal access for single women and lesbians to fertility services, and legal recognition of same-sex parented families. Their passing, a year earlier in December 2008, was very much due to the efforts of a grassroots community group, the Rainbow Families Council, with support from the Reichstein Foundation.
Rainbow Families Council is a volunteer-run organisation that advocates for social and legal recognition of LGBTIQ parented families and prospective parents. The Council and its predecessor, the Fertility Access Rights Lobby, began working for these reforms in 1998, when Victoria had some of Australia’s most discriminatory laws for same-sex parented families and prospective parents. Yet bad laws have never stopped people from creating loving families. As a result, prospective parents were engaging in expensive and stressful “reproductive tourism”, or less-than-ideal informal arrangements, and thousands of children’s relationships with their non-birth parents were completely unprotected by law.
In 2002, the Victorian Government referred the matter to the Victorian Law Reform Commission. The Fertility Access Rights Lobby, and later the Council through our ‘Love Makes a Family Campaign’, worked hard to engage our community in the Commission’s four consultation rounds. We spoke to community groups, collected personal stories for our submissions, and provided training and resources to encourage people to make their own. As a result, that enquiry received more submissions than any in the Commission’s history. It was also in 2006 that Rainbow Families Council was established, taking over the role of FAR.
On December 14 2007, the government announced that they would implement almost all of the enquiry’s complex raft of recommendations. We knew the vote would be tight, so the campaign got busier than ever. We had always combined more traditional advocacy methods – letter-writing, public forums, stalls, media, lobbying and alliance-building – with use of email lists and electronic newsletters. We held an advocacy training day, extended our visits to community groups in regional Victoria, and created the key tools in our campaign: the Rainbow Families Council website, e-groups and information kit.
Through all these means, we encouraged and supported families and prospective parents to visit their local MPs, and send them emails and family photos. Hundreds of people who had never before engaged in political campaigning told their personal stories, and got their parents, friends and workmates to do the same. That was our strategy: to show that this was about real children and real families.
It worked! On October 30 2008 we called a ‘Prams and Grans’ community gathering on the steps of Parliament which was attended by about 100 people and children who had braved the rain to be there. After the rally about 40 parents and our children went to watch the debate in the upper house, and met MP Robert Smith in the foyer. It was an important chance meeting, as he said in his speech supporting the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Bill: “The impact it had on me — not confronting but meeting these women and their children face to face — was profound. It drove home to me the fact that we are dealing with real people and real children, here and now. They exist. Are they treated fairly and equally in society through birth certificate registration et cetera? The answer is no. Should they be? My view is yes, they should.”
On December 4 2008 the Bill passed by one vote. The law is not perfect, and some issues remain outstanding. Yet it was an amazing community effort, a wonderful human rights victory, and proof that grassroots, community-led campaigning really does work!
Since 2008 Rainbow Families Council has continued to advocate for rainbow families in all different shapes and sizes across Victoria. We continue to work develop our website as a resource for supporting and empowering rural, regional, and socially isolated rainbow families. The second edition ‘Who is in your family’ poster continues to be distributed to kinders and Maternal Child Health centres. We have been active in the marriage equality campaign since 2006 and write submissions to inquiries such as the Royal Commission into Family Violence and to the ABS on data collection and our families, among many others. In 2015 we co-coordinated the successful Adoption Equality campaign that will see same-sex adoption commence in Victoria on September 1, 2016 – a victory 14 years in the making!
Rainbow Families have always had to be advocates for ourselves and our children. And many of our children are growing up to be powerful advocates in their own right, for themselves and others. Participation in the Love Makes A Family campaign – and watching the debate and passage of the law – was a profound and empowering experience for many who took part. Rainbow Families Council will continue to engage our community in creating ongoing legal, institutional and social change – in creating the future we want for our children.
Felicity Marlowe, August 2016