Gordon Smith

Finally: Why we should celebrate marriage equality, but not forget how we got here

It’s finally over. While those who supported marriage equality are now basking in victory, I feel that we should not forget the brutality that got us here.   

 

 

Finally.

After a battle that seemed endless, and fraught with hatred and division, Australia has at long last legislated for marriage equality.

For most Australians, it really doesn’t mean that much at all. Their lives will go on as they always have, maybe with a slight spring of pride in their steps, having seen their nation at last achieve a profound social evolution.

But for the Australians this change is for – the LGBTI Australians – it means so much more.

For most of my life, the question of marriage equality has been a point of heated debate.

From the time I came out in high school, through to my entrance into adult life, I have seen public opinion shift. I have watched the idea of marriage equality turn from an alleged fringe interest to a passionately-embraced human rights campaign.

I mean it with no exaggeration when I say that I struggle to remember a time when marriage equality – my civil rights – was not on a discussion.

Now, for the first time in my life – and the lives of tens of thousands of people across the country – we can step out of the spotlight.

Our civil rights are no longer a topic of debate: they are the law.

With that, goes a huge sigh of relief.

But, much as we may celebrate our victory, we must remember the farcical can-kicking that got us to this point.

Like the last kicks and screams of a tantrum-throwing toddler who knows they won’t get what they want, the parliament’s conservative rump subjected LGBTI Australians – many of whom no doubt watching the historic proceedings live – to an entire day’s worth of fear mongering and delaying for the sake of delaying.

For almost an entire day, MPs regurgitated the same old amendments, and parroted the same old confected outrage of “but what about my religion” in a debate that really has nothing to do with religion at all.

As if having waited years upon years was not long enough.

As if submitting LGBTI Australians to an eight-week campaign – marked by a sharp increase in assault and hate speech – was not cruel enough.

And, just as the survey gave free reign to even the most crackpot of conspiracy theories, all under the guise of “political expression”, the ad nausea repetition of amendments gave parliament’s own most cracked pot a final chance to beat their drums of hatred.

Bob Katter appeared to have finally broken a synapse, as his face grew red with rage, hammering on about the unnatural nature of homosexuality, of how no one in his electorate cares about the issues of “you people” who “stole the word gay and are now taking marriage,” and, most bizarrely of all, of how he believed gay men infected children with AIDS through blood donations.

None of this was true. Just as none of it had anything to do with marriage.

Liberal MP Andrew Broad ranted something about how his daughter liked to play electric guitar, and how without proper regulation, she could play guitar wherever she liked.

Similarly, without the right re-re-regurgitated amendment, LGBTI Australians would be marrying anywhere and everywhere, or something.

But these rants were quickly silenced, as their proposed changes to the bill were once more knocked down.

With filibuster after filibuster having been listened to, and after each and every increasingly desperate attempt at delaying the inevitable was rightfully and soundly defeated, LGBTI Australians felt an all too familiar sensation.

The tightening of the stomach.

The same anxiety we felt as we told our families who we are, every possible conclusion rushing through our minds. The positive, the neutral, the “I may not have a place to live after this.”

The anxiety mixed in with frustration, of an utter disbelief at having to convince our fellow countrymen of the worth of our relationships; the validity of our identities.


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After weeks that served only to identify our feelings of self-doubt and abnormality, well-honed after lifetimes of abuse, LGBTI Australians were forced to keep a stiff upper lip as our opponents trumpeted their tired old arguments one final time.

Yes, in the end, it was all for nothing, and marriage equality did indeed “sail through” the House as the Prime Minister had so often predicted it would.

And yes, there was much celebration, and some long overdue relief as this happened. But to say that this more than makes up for the needlessly cruel motions it took to reach this point understates just how much hurt the community has been put through.

Human rights should never be a matter of popular opinion. The extending of equal protections to a long-demonised subsection of society should never hinge upon the outcome of a survey.

Regardless of what that outcome was – regardless of any sloganeering of the nation “owning” that outcome, or of how such a result is a “big hug” to those whose lives have been voted upon – this should go without saying.

There has been a deeply bitter taste in my mouth in the months leading up to and now following this protracted survey.

It’s a taste shared by many within the LGBTI community, and the many more who support us.

It is a bitterness that comes after having your civil rights put to vote, like a contestant in a cringe reality series.

It is a bitterness that comes after having your Prime Minister give his tick of approval to lies, slander and hatred being blasted across your television screen night upon night, all in the name of “respectful debate”.

It is a bitterness that comes as a Prime Minister trumpets about marriage equality being his crowning achievement, and of something that his party can lay claim to forever, despite him really having done nothing at all.

After all, for all the support Turnbull pledged, and all the word count breaking speeches he gave of Australia being fairer for having thrown around the lives of LGBTI people as if they were no more than statistics, he never actually made a single change to the abomination of a “policy” he inherited from his predecessor.

If anything, he used his supposed rock steady support as a way to spruik his progressive, modern nature, and as a rouse to secure him the top job and the affection of the Australian voting public.

To Turnbull, we were a publicity stunt. Now, we’re a trophy.

Labor is not without blame either.

For all the years of inaction, and all the calls of marriage equality – the idea that all Australians should be seen as equal before the law – being somehow a controversial topic, the page has finally turned.

For that, we should be proud, and we should celebrate.

But we should not forget.

As a friend of mine – a very public face during all of this, and as such a very easy target of “respectful debate” throughout the survey process – put it simply: Australia has marriage equality in spite of Malcolm Turnbull, not because of him.

That’s not to say the battle for LGBTI rights is over. Nor to say that removal of this discrimination means the end of discrimination all together.

It is important to keep fighting, and not to leave our brothers and sisters behind after we walk down the aisles.

But it is to say that, for the first time in a long time, we can breathe a little easier, even if just for a moment.

Congratulations, Australia. You finally got the change you deserved.

 

Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the big wigs in government to account.

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