In 2004, Prime Minister John Howard tabled the Marriage Amendment Act 2004, which banned gay couples from marrying or having their overseas marriage recognised by Australian law.
Fitzroy local Anthony Wallace’s interest in marriage equality peaked when he sat outraged and perplexed with his partner at Prime Minister Howard’s decision in 2004.
Over nine years later, Mr Wallace is the campaign manager of Equal Love, the Victorian arm of a nationwide campaign to achieve marriage equality in Australia.
“I was walking down Smith Street and saw a poster for a same sex marriage rally. I asked if there was anything I could do to help,” says Mr Wallace.
After attending his first marriage equality rally with a CD player in hand, Mr Wallace saw enormous scope for improvement in the staging of Equal Love’s rallies.
Addressing the crowd with a megaphone was simply not going to cut it.
Although at a busy time in his life, between performing as an actor in stage shows and finding his feet in the bar ownership caper, Mr Wallace took on a more prominent role with Equal Love.
As campaign manager, one of his greatest achievements is the staging of a rally in conjunction with the Sydney based Community Action Against Homophobia.
“It remains the biggest march for marriage equality in Australian history,” Mr Wallace recalls proudly.
“When I joined the campaign, public support for marriage equality was as low as 23 per cent. We can champion this until we are at 99 per cent, but the government has to act.”
Remaining motivated to campaign for marriage equality is easy and it is people like Peter and Bon who inspire him to do so.
Peter de Waal and Peter (Bon) Bonsall-Boone are two men who have loved each other for over 50 years.
Recently featured in a video on the Equal Love website, they have become well known to Mr Wallace and Equal Love.
Bon recently lost his battle with terminal cancer, with his final wish to be legally married to his partner Peter going unfulfilled.
Mr Wallace recalls the story of Peter and Bon to me, his tone changing from optimistic to outraged.
It is beyond his belief that these two men aren’t married, despite the tenure of their relationship and the love they have for one another.
It is clear in Mr Wallace’s exasperation that Peter and Bon’s story, and many others like it, are what keeps him fighting for marriage equality.
“Until you get what you are entitled to, you keep fighting for it. We won’t give up. I won’t give up. I’ll tire, but new people will come in and join the fight,” he says.
“We know what the word husband or wife means. That is a significant person in someone’s life. Nothing compares to that,” he says.
Mr Wallace angrily describes the marriage equality issue in Australia as “embarrassing” and “shameful”.
Recent remarks by former tennis great Margaret Court only served to incense him further.
Mr Wallace and his Equal Love comrades protested Margaret Court being the keynote speaker at a Liberal Party fundraiser in Melbourne on the 22nd of June this year.
“The Liberal Party endorsing Court as their keynote speaker was worse than broadcasters airing her views. It was more endorsement for her,” he says.
Ali Hogg, convenor of the Equal Love campaign describes Mr Wallace’s involvement as “lifesaving.”
“He organises a lot of the sound and stage aspects of our rallies. His background in event management has helped us tremendously with our campaigns,” Ms Hogg says.
His expertise in sound and the stage was cultivated in his teenage years, where he chose to forgo admission to the prestigious Melbourne High School in favour of the performing arts focused Northcote Technical School.
“I did my orientation at Northcote Tech and fell in love,” he says.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Performing Arts from Ballarat University, he worked as an actor in stage shows and created a children’s touring theatre company, Jumpin’ Theatre.
As work in the performing arts dried up, he opened the 86, a cabaret bar in Fitzroy.
“I shook a lot of cocktails in my time, but had very little cabaret bar experience,” he chuckles.
Nearly six years later, the 86 is the holder of a Guinness World Record for the staging of the longest non-stop Drag Queen and King stage show in the world at 36 hours, 36 minutes and 40 seconds.
“88 drag queens performed, with a drag queen on stage the whole time,” he says gleefully.
When Ms Hogg was asked to use three words to describe Mr Wallace she said, “he’s passionate, he’s driven and he’s opinionated.”
Passion, drive and opinion have been the ingredients to Anthony Wallace’s success and long may it continue.
The next Equal Love rally for marriage equality is on the 26th of August at the Victorian State Library, a Mass Illegal Wedding commemorating 13 years since the amended Marriage Act was legalised.
Written by Nicholas Nakos