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“If marriage equality isn’t achieved this time round, it WILL happen.”

Australia is in the middle of a public debate on whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry. The results of the voluntary, non-binding, postal survey won’t be known for over a month. It will be even longer before the full impacts of the glorified opinion poll become apparent, regardless of the outcome.

However the short term effects are already becoming realised as state-sanctioned conversations on the worth of LGBTQI Australians and their families dominate social and traditional media, enter homes through mail, phone calls and texts, and are reduced to snappy slogans on billboards and signs around the nation.

There are so far 23 countries which allow same-sex couples to marry. And in all but one, negative consequences have been non-existent. However a recent study of Ireland; the only country to put marriage equality to a popular vote, showed that a majority of LGBTI people were negatively affected by the NO campaigning, experiencing heightened feelings of anger and distress as a result of the referendum.

Given the nature of the NO campaign in Australia’s unnecessary faux-vote (in which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has already defended homophobic hate-speech as part of the “democratic debate”), it is likely similar results will be found in our own communities.

Counselling services have already seen increases in their need; over 20% increase at LGBT phone-counselling service QLife since the plebiscite was introduced, and a 40% increase at BeyondBlue since the announcement of the postal survey.

Now, with the personal lives of LGBTQI people and their families thrust into the spotlight, personal stories of hope, understanding and support are more important than ever.

For Ben van Tienen, the current situation offers an opportunity to share his journey, from Catholic schoolboy, raised in rural Tasmania, to a musical theatre conductor based in London, and touring the world.

Ben is gay. Yet, as he so honestly explains, growing up in a deeply religious family in a small community, he “didn’t know gay people existed”. While he was oblivious to the media storm building up to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1997, his naivety did not protect him from the deeply embedded homophobic attitudes prevalent in society.

At the time, Ben did not know or understand what may have motivated the bullying he experienced every day from when he was 8 until 16. “That’s not an exaggeration. It was, legitimately, every day,” he says. He was called “poofter”, “faggot”,and “fairy”, and while he did not know what it meant, he took it to heart that “being different in any way was not okay.”

The Church provided Ben with an introduction to music, which ultimately gave him with a sanctuary of sorts. As he became more involved in the music and theatre communities, he learned to “relish his differences”, but it did not make it any easier getting through the “slog, every single day,” of school.

His passion for music and the friends he made in the broader community helped to cushion the abuse he experienced. Over time he took it less to heart, and his reaction to it has now changed. Yet Ben says that the behaviour of others has not changed over time; the “bullies are still using the same words, still trying to push me out, still threatened by their own fragile gender-constructs, still frightened by other-ness.”

However much has personally changed since Ben’s childhood in Cygnet. He was nearly 17 by the time he realised he was gay. “It was like a light being turned on after years of being in the dark. It was that quintessential ‘last piece of the jigsaw’ moment; it was literally like a hundred bells inside me going ‘ding ding ding’ at once.”

Ben recalls with amusement the reaction of his friends who “definitely already knew” he was gay, joking, “why didn’t y’all tell me?!” It was around a week after his own realisation, that he told his parents. He was prepared for the conversation to be more difficult with his family and acknowledges that one of the problems when he first came out, was being able to “articulate about anything yet, let alone respectfully/compassionately field any questions or accusations.”

As Ben has grown older, he finds it easier to talk about what it means to be gay, and his search for love, belonging and connection. He believes it was a challenge for his family to reconcile his identity with their faith, but is proud of how open they have been in their journey of understanding.

He recounts an early conversation with his parents, which demonstrates how love and respect for family took precedence:

“I’m just worried that when the time comes, and I want to bring a partner home for Christmas, that you won’t be ready to deal with it.” And they looked at each other and took a breath and said, “We’ll make sure we’re ready to deal with it.”

Ben’s own belief in the Christian faith ended abruptly on coming out. He had been brought up so firmly in the belief that “God made me in his own image,” and to suddenly be “seemingly told that that was no longer true was a massive shaking” of Ben’s world. He very quickly became “violently, defensively atheistic.” However in the last two years Ben has returned to spirituality as a concept and a way of life.

The national survey on marriage equality has added an urgency to navigating the complexities of identity and societal acceptance. The campaigning has thrust into the public sphere deeply personal conversations which would otherwise have time to grow naturally among family and friends.

For Ben, these conversations have been happening for sixteen years. However his passion for music, the unconditional love of his family and the support he has received from his friends in the broader community, has made the journey less difficult than it otherwise may have been.

Ben is reflective, articulate and honest. He describes himself as a yogi, “spirit junkie”, and activist. He is vegan, pro-caffeine and anti-gluten. He believes in love; “always crossing the street to get to the sunny side”. Ben’s brightness, compassion and enthusiasm for positivity shine strongly in the way he approaches life, and deals with homophobia.

He is now braver and more fierce in the face of it. He will hold hands with his date as he walks down the street. He will be brave in the face of people who stare or call him names. He will try to open-heartedly and whole-heartedly enter conversations where homophobia is an issue and do so in a “loving and inquisitive way”. This, Ben says, does not get easier, but he understands that if someone is directly homophobic towards him, it has absolutely nothing to do with him.

Ben’s attitude towards dealing with hate is enlightening and inspiring. He hopes it is easier now for LGBTQI children growing up, and that they can see that cisgender/straight behaviour is “just a small part of the greater kaleidoscope”. He cannot imagine what his childhood would have been like if the wider picture had been visible to him.

For young LGBTQI Australians now, experiencing a very public debate on their worth in society, while perhaps also struggling to understand themselves, coming out, and approaching difficult conversations, Ben has some kind words: “you are important, and you are not alone.”

He supports this with his paraphrased advice from gay, NYC, life-coach, Jordan Bach:

When you are in these conversations, I want you to imagine every queer person that has gone before you in this conversation – every single beautiful gay person asking for tolerance, love, acceptance. Imagine them standing behind you, around you, their hands on your shoulders, almost like your guardian angels. You are not alone in this.”

Ben now lives in the United Kingdom, where same-sex marriage is legal. He has noticed a “very subtle difference” in the way that he moves through the world. He now feels he has a place. He explains it is very easy to cultivate a subtle self-loathing in a society where the message is consistently reinforced that you do not belong. Ben also now knows more older male couples, who are now married, and he can see their “hopes, dreams, struggles and fears” and their “lawful, legitimised love deepen and grow”. This gives Ben hope, and makes him proud and excited about what his own future may hold.

Ben’s life is almost unrecognisable to the one he lived in Tasmania. He has conducted “West Side Story” at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris (with his proud parents in the audience). He has released an album with his best friend and completed a composition for the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, filmed Funny Girl for Sky TV and cinema broadcast and graduated from Brene Brown’s Living Brave Semester. He has also released “enough fear and shame to disrobe at a nudist beach!”

Ben is no longer so career-driven. He would still love to work on Broadway, but it is more important for him to “achieve with what I have, right now, in this moment”. He wants to be a better person than he was yesterday, and hopes he can answer yes to the following questions:

  • Did I touch someone’s heart today?
  • Did I help someone break through their threshold today?
  • Did my authenticity inspire someone today?
  • Was I as generous as I could be today?
  • Did I do my best to be wholehearted in every moment?

The questions Ben asks himself encapsulate his caring, compassionate spirit, and positive outlook on the world.

He has some final words for his friends in the broader community in Australia who are suffering during this public debate on their lives:

“All we can do is shine as fiercely and brightly as we can, and know that every time we can get one new person to share our vision, we must celebrate. And even if marriage equality isn’t achieved this time round, it WILL happen, and all we can do is keep trying.”


17 comments

  1. Harquebus

    Comment deleted by moderator.

  2. guest

    I see where Chris Mitchell of Murdoch media is claiming that MSM should get over complaining about the postal plebiscite now that polling indicates that the Yes vote is supported by more than 60%. But of course it does not stop Mitchell from complaining about Yes voters, especially prominent people who support the Yes vote on MSM.

    We have had this massive campaign against “loud-mouth rainbow Nazis” by the Murdoch media machine. Yet the marriage-is-between-a-man-and-a-woman crowd has been raging against LGBTIQ people for hundreds of years.

    Where do the LGBTIQ people learn their hatred? Is it because they have learned a certain definition of what marriage is in Sunday school or from Sunday sermons? Or from politicians who promote a particular definition? Or from the hoods in the burbs who specialise in bashing anyone they consider to be “gay”? Are they in fact fearful that they themselves are “gay”?

    There was the case in Adelaide in 1972 when George Duncan was drowned in the River Torrens when thrown in by men believed to be police officers – a common practice at the time. In 1975 a bill was passed in SA which decriminalised homosexuality, the first state to do so.

    But homosexuals are still being bashed, whether literally or metaphorically, especially if they complain about being bashed. And even when they do not complain.

  3. guest

    Thank you, harquebus. Your attitude that mention of LGBTIQ people is just a “distraction” illustrates the point that LGBTIQ people do not count for anything according to some. Yet there are also people who want to tell us that SSM would mean the end of the world. You should take heed of what these people say, harquebus. They share your misery – just a variation of it.

  4. Peter F

    Yesterday I had a conversation with a couple who I had considered would be well informed. They did NOT know that the law gives rights to couples who are married which are denied those who are not. This friends thought that a de facto relationship gave the same rights to the partners as a marriage certificate does. ‘This has not been explained” They said.

  5. Eva Cripps

    @Harquebus. Thanks for contributing to the “respectful debate”. I can assure you that the only thing threatening humanity’s existence is the fear, hatred and division constantly perpetuated by those who seek to deny basic human rights.

  6. diannaart

    Thank you, Eva, for another hopeful article – the world needs more thoughtful people like yourself and Ben.

    Irrespective of what the LNP does with the postal poll – equal rights remains a goal to strive for – without a fair and equitable future, any action on the many issues facing humanity may well be unsolvable.

    Written before reading Eva’s comment above

    Great minds 🙂

  7. Michael Taylor

    Thank you, Eva. Such a wonderful post.

  8. Blind Venetian

    A wonderful story about this young man and his struggles through life…. thank you!!

  9. wam

    Did god make ben and women in his own image?

    If so why is it men who make the decisions in the church?

    Why is it the men saying no?

    Why is ben worrying about the words of church men?

    Listen to bishop tutu

    ps
    The women of palestine and israel are marching

  10. madeleinekingston

    Thanks Eva and others

    Great article and thanks other posters. May I warn that brevity is not my strength.

    I can add much more including technical detail and clarification, subject to reader and moderator tolerance. So the community is diverse and has diverse skills, limitations and contributions to make. I have been taken to task for deficiency in brevity skills and so post with some reluctance. We are all bound by the limitations of our own conditioning parameters; which general reflection may or may not be considered to be topical given the views expressed by the South Australian Law Institute (SALRI) in tis audit resulting in legislative amendment in 2017 (more follows)

    For me as an unaffected party, as a happily married woman without reservation I have posted a YES response to the ABS voluntary non-binding survey, which seems to have been the subject of targeting by vested-interest parties seeking to replicate that initiative

    Despite legislative packages in 2005 and 2008 there are significant detriments for all de facto couples, regardless of gender mix. There are redress accessibility barriers; discrimination by superannuation companies, next of kin issues
    This topic has been recently covered in recent articles such as the one below first appearing in The Conversation; SSM The Facts; 7.30 Report and Four Corners Program re retirement village practices

    http://www.smh.com.au/video/video-news/video-national-news/samesex-marriage-the-facts-20161003-4leoa.html

    http://www.smh.com.au/comment/tony-abbotts-wrong-de-facto-couples-dont-have-the-same-rights-as-married-ones-20170921-gym5s9.html\

    Bleed them till they die

    http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2017/06/25/4689969.html

    http://www.theage.com.au/comment/this-is-why-i’ll-be-voting-yes-tosamesex-marrage-20170903

    The detriments to de facto couples. The claims being made by the naysayers to marriage equality principles are being challenged in the media. These include:

    discrepant State provisions in place over and above the Federal provisions
    the requirement to repeatedly “prove” the authenticity of a de facto relationship
    waiting periods for Centrelink payments and government recognition;
    reduced Centrelink benefits where applicable compared with married couples
    difficulty accessing financial records by surviving partner

    access as next of kin including hospitals; (numerous directly impacted persons, anecdotal)

    right to participate in funeral arrangements for surviving partner; (numerous directly impacted persons, anecdotal; lack of redress options of family members object to this or to attendance at funeral
    inheritance issues (apart from any risk to challenge to Wills); requirement to “prove” rights and validity of relationship);
    omission of name on of surviving partner death certificate even after decades of living together (listed as informant rather than partner
    discrepant decisions made by superannuation and insurance companies,
    discriminatory practices by retirement villages following death of a de facto partner, even if the property has been bequeathed to the surviving partner with demands to vacate property and rely only of proceeds of sale of same, resulting in partner been denied continued residence;
    Employment discrimination

    More if you have the tolerance. I warn. Detail is not for all. More importantly Just Don’t Let Apps Move You. Marketing Shenanigans.

    Madeleine

  11. Mick

    A decade and a half ago my wife was playing in a pit orchestra for a Hobart theatre production, each night she came home exuberantly singing the praises of a very talented young man, still in his teens, that was musical director of the show. She was in no doubt that he was going places and would be famous well beyond Hobart, well done BVT.

  12. madeleinekingston

    There are many like Ben who have been deeply impacted by the current debate. I have read and responded to some mainstream articles that are relevant. Readers may like to read the stories to Zoe Coombs and Nina Lord

    http://www.smh.com.au/comment/i-never-thought-it-would-be-me-zoe-coombs-marrs-emotional-reaction-to-the-postal-vote-20170915-gyi741.html

    This is a personal story by lesbian comedian Zoe Coombs Marr delivered to a mostly sympathetic audience and others seeking SSM, other supports and a few with entrenched ‘biblical beliefs/’

    This is a personal story by lesbian comedian Zoe Coombs Marr delivered to a mostly sympathetic audience and others seeking SSM, other supports and a few with entrenched ‘biblical beliefs

    Nina Lord is a 15-year old girl with two lesbian mums who is very positive about her upbringing in a same-sex family

    http://www.smh.com.au/comment/i-never-thought-it-would-be-me-zoe-coombs-marrs-emotional-reaction-to-the-postal-vote-20170915-gyi741.html

    There is no evidence at all that those raised by same-sex parents face detrimental parenting. Quite the opposite. Links available to academic studies and surveys

    Cheers, Madeleine

  13. Neil Aitchison

    Sin is still sin no matter what you call it.

  14. madeleinekingston

    Neil Aitchison, My Dear Chap

    Sin you say? By whose assessment? Subjective don’t you think?

    Personal distaste?

    Religious doctrine to a large extent man-made and dictatorial?

    Personal or institutional interpretation of the Holy Bible or other religious references?

    Did you know that the separation of State and Church (or equivalent) has already occurred and that this debate is solely about the secular law under civil provisions and possible amendment thereto? I suspect not since you seem to be bleating on about alleged sin.

    The law does not account for interpretations of what you label as “sin.” I am not a biblical person with much understanding of biblical doctrine, though I respect that may swear by these doctrines and are influenced by them and the interpretations placed on them by various institutions, whether of the Judeo-Christian/Abrahamic persuasion or not. I could direct you to some informative analyses of these beliefs, but that will not alter the fact that this is a secular legal civil matter. Fullstop. Sin has nothing to do with it, but I respect your beliefs. So dice, sorry. And that is the opinion of an unaffected heterosexual happily married woman.

    The principles of decency equality and justice demand marriage equality. There is no room for superiority of one group over another.

    Increasingly religious groups and individuals are rejecting the “traditional” interpretation of marriage being the province of religious doctrine. Providing marriage equality will have no impact on those wishing to retain their beliefs.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-07/religious-leaders-thinking-differently-about-same-sex-marriage/8878680

    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/catholics-defy-church-leadership-to-become-biggest-backers-of-samesex-marriage-poll-20170825-gy4

    http://www.smh.com.au/comment/im-a-baptist-minister-and-ill-be-voting-yes-for-samesex-marriage-20170817

    https://www.jewishnews.net.au/rabbi-speaks-sex-marriage/52477

    http://www.smh.com.au/comment/satire/the-top-10-reasons-i-m-voting-no-on-same-sex-marriage-20170925-p4yw43.html

    You may be surprised that many religious institutions and church-goes are rejecting this idea of sin, gloom and doom and supporting the marriage equality, decency and fairness viewpoint in preference to the condemnation position. I have provided a few non-exhaustive links:

    You have a good week though. Must be so stressful for you to come to terms with perceptions of “sin” in this context, which is in fact a legal and civil matter not on of religious doctrine or its interpretation.

    Cheers, Madeleine

  15. Johno

    Neil Aitchison… I feel sorry for the way you think. Your comment is a load of old bollocks.

  16. madeleinekingston

    Hey Johno

    Neil Atchison’s comment set me off too, and that as an unaffected party.

    There are numerous beliefs that are entrenched, often engineered by religious doctrine and political goals. Often there is a genuine conviction in the minds of those who suggest these things and assume that those convictions should be universally accepted by others as fact rather than belief or opinion.

    As to the myths, one of the articles that I especially like to cite is that by Dr Ron Levy, Senior Lecturer ANU long involved in the marriage equality debate, from a recent Fairfax article. I cite two of the seven myths that he explores:

    http://www.theage.com.au/comment/seven-common-myths-in-the-marriage-equality-debate-20170831-gy84vu

    Myth 7: God opposes marriage equality. There are many fallacies in this approach. But let us focus on just one: that even if I somehow feel with certainty that I know what God intends, in a Western liberal democracy it is inappropriate for me to impose my private belief publicly. While my faith can inform my private choices, it should never be used to coerce other people’s private choices. I must not insist that others follow rules based on my own beliefs, unless those beliefs can be publicly raised and debated as matters of arguable logic or fact. In our democracy, this is a fundamental principle. If marriage equality becomes a legal reality, this will allow everyone to make choices based on their personal convictions. Opposite-sex couples will be able to marry members of the opposite sex, and same-sex couples will be able to marry members of the same sex. That is how it should be.

    Myth 6: Marriage equality affects religious freedom. No, it doesn’t. It is clear that any marriage equality law passed in Australia will exempt religious celebrants from having to officiate same-sex weddings. A related myth is that legalising same-sex marriage affects the freedom of speech of those who oppose it on religious grounds. This is also incorrect. The fact that a law is on the books does not mean you are barred from disagreeing with it, any more than you are barred from disagreeing with the current law. The new law would affect only who can get married.

    Following this article John Birmingham wrote a parody article that also carried weight. I have included the link in my last post, but provide it again for completeness

    The ten top reasons why I’ll be voting no John Birmingham Fairfax Media

    http://www.smh.com.au/comment/satire/the-top-10-reasons-i-m-voting-no-on-same-sex-marriage-20170925-p4yw43.html

    Those of us who are not susceptible to religious doctrine or political manipulation have every right to live our lives as we choose and to support the general principles of equality fairness and justice. At the same time we have to coexist with those whose beliefs are all-consuming even if no reasonable argument can be proffered to show why the rest of the community must embrace personal beliefs as fact.

    There is not long to wait for the outcomes of this ABS survey, who publishes a weekly estimate of response rate, though the breakdown will not be published till 15 November 2017. After that the matter is most likely to return to Parliament for further debate and vote, which is what should have occurred in the first place. It is ludicrous that the public should be asked to make judgements on the private lives of others. As to the comments by Archbishop Anthony Fisher

    http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/sydney-archbishop-anthony-fisher-preaches-no-vote-in-mass-at-st-marys-cathedral-20171015-gz18sg.html

    that the government should keep out of the bedrooms of individuals since marriage is between man and woman and that is the only way that procreation can occur; I must disagree. The Marriage Laws are secular instruments and very much the business of government so that the legal status rights and entitlements of married couples can be established and delivered. These laws do not make any mention of the obligation or desirability or procreation. Governments would be laughed out of office if they stated to make such claims, though these wild statements are frequently made by those wishing to impose man-made doctrine on society as a whole. We have many friends who have chosen not to have any children; some who cannot for medical reasons or the timing of their heterosexual marriages;

    Australian marriage law is a secular matter, which says nothing about procreation. This is simply a matter of inclusivity and equality, principles we should all support. Those who choose the additional “religious blessing” are free to do so, but this is an optional extra and does not confirm the legality of a marriage unless State provisions are met and a valid marriage certificate lodged with the State. Sexual orientation, gender identity; intersex status or asexual status considerations were carefully and sensitively examined by the South Australian Law Institute 2015 taking into account those directly impacted by discrimination, resulting in changes to SA laws in 2017. Things are slowly turning around.

    https://law.adelaide.edu.au/research/law-reform-institute/documents/audit_report_lgbtiq_sept_2015.pdf

    There are millions of Australians right behind the groups that are most impacted. My husband and I are amongst them since inclusivity and equality are important principles to us.

    Sorry this is so long, but it upsets me when minority groups are picked upon without due cause simply because their lifestyles annoy others.

    Cheers

    Madeleine

  17. Johno

    Madeleine… could not agree more with what you say and it seems the no mob is in the minority as well, thankfully.

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