What do you do when you feel like you don’t belong in your country?
I ’m a white male, highly educated and working in a white collar job — the most privileged group of people there is — but I’m gay, and this has impacted not just on my day to day life, but also on my sense of what Australia really is…
I’m a born and bred, dinky-die, true blue Aussie — or so I thought…
The marriage equality debate has shown me that Australia isn’t the country it claims to be — we’re not fair, we don’t (on a whole) believe in the fair go and we don’t really believe in mateship…
But we can.
There’s currently marriage equality legislation before a Select Senate Committee and you can make public submissions in support.
The current legislation will allow celebrants, both religious and non-religious, to refuse to marry same-sex couples for both religious or other reasons… this is simply not good enough.
So I wrote to the Select Senate Committee:
Dear Committee Secretary,
Thank you for the opportunity to express my support for marriage equality for all Australians.
It is important to consider the question of marriage equality in context, and to exercise empathy for both those in support and those opposing the change.
Firstly, considering the context of this debate helps to make clear the motivation of the LGBTI community in pursuing marriage equality. For centuries, many LGBTI people (although this term is anachronistic) have endured persecution at the hands of our straight families and peers. This persecution has taken many forms, ranging from physical violence or mental/verbal abuse to public humiliation and degradation.
Often, this violence and abuse has been either sanctioned by the State or the State has played a critical role in sheltering those perpetrating this violence against us through legislation allowing for excuses such as ‘gay panic’.
Sometimes the abuse has taken other forms, such as neglect. For instance, the impotent and contemptuous response of the Bjelke-Petersen government to the AIDS epidemic, which led to untold suffering and death for hundreds of LGBTI people.
Another guise this abuse has taken can be seen with the thousands of men and women who were forced to endure medical treatments to ‘cure’ them of their unnatural same-sex attraction. These range from mild to experimental, with drugs or electro-shock therapy being prescribed by medical professionals — treating men and women as lab-rats on a medical wild goose chase.
Despite these challenges, the LGBTI community has continued to thrive in the face of adversity. This has helped us to gradually improve our lot in life to be closer to that of our straight peers through lobbying governments, organising ourselves to make our needs clear to those in power and by working hard to reverse centuries of stigma.
However, State sanctioned discrimination is still the norm for every LGBTI Australian. While hurtful, LGBTI Australians have grown thick skins and (with the support of our community) we are able to endure almost any form of abuse hurled at us. We can endure the hate-speech from religious leaders, from the far-right, from almost any group you can think of — but not from our government.
It is difficult to describe the sense of futility one feels in participating in a system of government that does not afford you with the same rights as your brother. It fosters a sense of despair and erodes one’s sense of Australian-ness… of one’s sense of national identity.
In this context, it is plain to see why the Australian marriage-equality debate has come to symbolise more than just the union of two people.
It represents an opportunity for the State, who for so long has forced us to remain separate from the whole, to welcome the LGBTI community into society.
It represents a point where Australia can reaffirm the values that we so readily tout as being fundamental to our national character — a fair go, mateship, equality before the law and the rule of law.
Those opposing marriage equality argue along three main lines:
- Marriage equality devalues the institution of marriage in general.
- Marriage equality threatens the nuclear family unit, which is the basis for society.
- Homosexuality is unnatural and against religious instruction from various source-religions.
While these positions are valid in the context of a society that believes in the right to freedom of thought and speech, they are misguided. I will address these arguments directly below.
1. The idea that marriage equality would devalue the institution of marriage is predicated on the belief in the inherent difference between men and women, as well as their value. If more people are participating in the institution, logic dictates that this would strengthen it, not weaken it. However, if you consider that men have inherent and different value to women, then you can see why the union of two people of the same sex would be a concern. Denying marriage equality reinforces this belief that men and women are different and have different value. This belief has been proven erroneous countless times by people with far greater intellect than me.
2. Marriage equality would in fact strengthen the family unit by ending (in many circumstances) the isolation endured by LGBTI Australians. By moving towards the end of LGBTI-stigma, marriage equality would not only allow us to formally make our own families, it would encourage families to stay more closely knit. Currently, many Australian families are torn apart by the revelation of a child’s sexuality….or of an uncle or aunt that isn’t spoken about and doesn’t come to Christmas. Marriage equality would help end this abandonment.
3. While religious beliefs are a valid way to organise the way in which one approaches life, the Australian system of government is predicated on the separation of Church and State. Advocating for the denial of marriage equality on religious grounds undermines this fundamental principle of our way of life and system of government.
Considering these points, the current legislation’s inclusions of provisions for both civil and religious celebrants to be able to discriminate on the grounds of religion or other belief undermines not just marriage equality, but the institution and the Australian government itself.
Marriage equality should be just that, equal…
The current draft enshrines discrimination and provides yet another haven for the abusers, with which LGBTI people are so familiar, to hide under government protection.
I believe the time has now come for the Australian government to take a stand and uphold the principles on which it was founded.
Will government continue to allow abuses to occur or will it use the opportunity to welcome the LGBTI community into the fold?
Originally published on Medium as Losing my Australian-ness — marriage equality