Marriage Equality Came Six Months Too Late For Veteran Activist Peter de Waal


Veteran LGBTIQ activist Peter de Waal has spoken of his disappointment in former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the one year anniversary of the “yes” vote for marriage equality.

The majority “yes” vote was announced on November 15 last year, and same-sex marriage finally passed through the Australian parliament last December.

Since then, 5420 same-sex marriages have been registered in Australia, including 1094 in Queensland.

But de Waal’s partner of 50 years, Peter “Bon” Bonsall-Boone, sadly passed away just six months before they could realise their long-held dream of a marriage certificate.

“It was one of the dreams we had, in our almost 50 years of activism,” de Waal told SBS.

“He missed out by dying – and of course I missed out as well.”

Peter and Bon were among the activists to bolster the movement for LGBTIQ marriage rights in 1970 with the establishment of one of Australia’s first gay rights organisations, the Campaign Against Moral Prosecution (CAMP).

They appeared on ABC program Chequerboard in 1972 and broke ground at the time by sharing a brief kiss on television, costing Bon his secretarial job at his church.

In 1973, the couple established Phone-A-Friend – now the NSW Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service – at their home to offer support to other gay Australians.

‘We never got a reply’

De Waal told SBS the couple sent a letter to then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that was met with “absolute silence”.

“The coalition government were talking about a plebiscite, which later became the postal survey, and we didn’t want any delay,” he told SBS.

“We knew how poor Bon’s health was, so we thought we’d write a very short note to Prime Minister Turnbull, saying it was in his hands and, basically, to hurry up.

“We posted it and faxed it to his electoral office, emailed it as well.

“There was only one federal politician who showed any public interest in our case – Greens MP Janet Rice.

“She hand-delivered the note along with an article to the Prime Minister’s office, just to make sure he couldn’t say that he never got it.

“We never got a reply, not a phone call – nothing. It was a struggle, at a personal level, that lack of support or acknowledgement.

“There was absolute silence – that was a hard moment.”

But despite the negative postal survey process, de Waal said he believes Bon would have been “very happy and excited” with the “yes” result.

He told SBS the money spent on the postal survey could be better spent on community developement to help LGBTIQ people living “in isolated areas and country towns,” including those electorates that voted “no”.

“Their lives aren’t as easy as ours,” he said.

“It would be wonderful if the federal government had used all that money and put it into community development in isolated areas and country towns.”

Tonight, de Waal will appear in a documentary chronicling Australia’s decades-long journey to marriage equality, Australia Says Yes, screening on SBS at 7:30pm.