Why I’m looking forward to my first gay marriage
I’m a celebrant and I love performing weddings.
You meet people at such wonderful and exciting times. Performing their wedding is always a privilege and a joy for me. Often the couples I marry remain friends on Facebook where I keep up with their lives and families, and they mine.
Today one of my friends Nathan Despott posted this picture on Facebook with the words: “hey peeps. could you vote yes please? i wanna marry this galah.”
So touching and so human. Not about two men at all. Not about sin nor deviance. Just love. Except for that wall, that bloody wall. In giving his permission for me to share his post and photo in this article wrote “You know, I survived 10 years in the ex-gay movement, and that i still have my faith!” My response; “Thanks Nathan. Better than me.”
With so much noise from conservative Christians about the sky falling, which thankfully the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader don’t share, I find it increasingly hard to share a faith that seems so blind and so narrow to humanity and that focuses so much of its efforts on opposing the rights of yet another minority.
Yet this has happened before on other issues.
Every generation, every ethnic group and every village has them. The Walking Dead, those who are not a part of us, but definitely apart from us. They live among us and are the cause of our shame because we build walls to separate them from us and force them to live in virtual Ghettos.
Obviously I’m not talking about solid walls like the Berlin Wall, or the Wall built by the Israelis in Gaza, or perhaps the Wall that a certain American President longs to build on the Mexican Border. No it is a wall of words, a wall of prejudice inspired by our religious or cultural beliefs. We build them and then claim they are not ours by words like: “I’m not racist but …”, “I’m not homophobic but …”, “I’m not prudish but …” “some of my best friends are….”
To the excluded though the walls are painfully real and they have to find solace with their own in the Ghettos we hate them for but which our attitudes create.
It becomes worse when Governments recognise our walls and begin building them too by providing the mortar whilst we provide the stone.
John Howard’s Government added some mortar to the Marriage Equality wall when it felt that our wall of division was starting to weaken. You see, there were some in our society who wanted to treat these people as human beings like us. To recognise, horror of horrors, their right to family and the commitment of a loving Married relationship that is available to ‘normal’ people, heterosexuals.
Many Commonwealth Civil Celebrants – like me – hate with a passion John Howard’s legislating, without Referendum or Postal Survey, that the “Monitum” (Latin for warning) be read at every marriage we perform:
“Before you are married in my presence and in the presence of these witnesses, I am to remind you of the solemn and binding nature of the relationship into which you are now about to enter. Marriage, according to the law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. (italics and emphasis added).”
I always add “and some of us are looking forward to the day when the Act is rewritten to be more loving and accepting and less forbidding.” The couples I marry all seem to agree with me – in fact some ask that they be acknowledged in the statement because they find it so offensive to their LGBTI family or friends at their celebration.
Of course many couples may not have noticed the statement. Perhaps their celebrants don’t draw attention to it or perhaps they are married in religious services where the statement is not required.
The Monitum is certainly part of that wall.
So too is the belief that Marriage Equality is not really needed when a Civil Union – a separate style of non-marriage – would provide all the protections and privileges required. No, that simply is another way to exclude and indeed shun a whole community of people and keep the Wall in place and “them” on the other side.
The loudest arguments against Marriage Equality seem consistently to come from those who claim a religious faith and quote their scriptures and their traditions to support their arguments. I have to say that as a Celebrant, and a Christian, I am so tired of the tedious long dissertations of people determined to prove not only how wrong I am in the stance I take, but how sinful are those on the other side of the wall who keep trying to climb over and be part of us.
I remember those who left the men’s group I started from my church because we dared to include then Baptist Minister Matt Glover as a speaker after he was ousted from his church because he gave a spiritual cup of water to people from the GLBTIQ community. A couple more left the second time Matt came. I have been told that I have no right to attend my church because I’m prepared to marry same sex couples. Fortunately the view is not shared by the church pastor or leaders.
Let’s be clear; Marriage Equality is not about sin. It’s not about religion. It is about treating all members of society equal before the law.
Some of us would like to think that you can pray the gay away, that sexual attraction that is other than the majority experience, or claim to experience, is somehow deviant. Some still argue that this is a choice, a preference that can be healed or turned away from, but it flies in the face of modern science.
The Catholic Church, so good at forbidding marriage for whole classes of people, nuns and priests, is officially part of the No campaign warning of the dangers of changing the tradition of Marriage. As recently as 20th August this year an article with the catchy title “Married Sunday, Fired Monday” featured in Fairfax media.
“Australia’s Catholic church is threatening to fire teachers, nurses and other employees who marry their same-sex partner if gay marriage is legalised, in a dramatic move led by the country’s most senior Catholic.
“Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, speaking exclusively to Fairfax Media, pointedly warned the church’s 180,000 employees they were expected to uphold its teachings “totally”, and defiance would be treated “very seriously”.”
There is even a vote No coalition led by The Australian (Christian?) Lobby, the Marriage Alliance, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, and the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. It would seem that some Christian groups believe they own Marriage, which in reality is far from the truth, and in fact should be.
Changes in society views always come at great cost and pain. There are those who see the virtue and need for change and others who so fear it that they will argue to the death in preventing it. Those issues include among others: slavery, marriage and divorce reform, women’s and aboriginal rights, children’s rights and of course the right to vote.
Each one opposed vehemently and only won after long and painful debates, and now accepted by the majority as part of a modern just world.
No-one really likes Divorce but late in the 19th century of women still had very little rights before law as regards marriage and divorce in Australia. My Great Great Grandfather Sir Alfred Stephen was the third Chief Justice of NSW came to champion Divorce Law Reform late in his life after formerly opposing it. In 1884 ‘he argued that people who think that in spite of any law, marriage is indissoluble, had no right to force their views on other people. The question ought not to be mixed up with religion, for the law only recognised marriage as a civil contract.”
Even then, Sir Alfred, a faithful Anglican who is also recognised for the role he played in the establishment of Parishes in Sydney, clearly saw the delineation between church and state as regards marriage. Churches may claim the Sanctity of Marriage and the Blessing of God, but the State holds the legal commitment.
Just as there is vehement opposition to changing the law as regards Marriage Equality, so there was over Divorce when you would think that the much touted “Judeo Christian Ethic” would have demanded that Parliamentarians care for widows and orphans by giving Marriage and Divorce rights to abused mothers and wives. (i)
Sir Alfred’s uncle, James Stephen was a friend of William Wilberforce the great abolitionist and the lawyer who supported Wilberforce in his efforts to introduce reform that would abolish slavery. That battle lasted for most for more than 50 years and was vehemently opposed by churchmen and others in Parliament who recognised the huge blight on the economy of removing forced labour.
I’m passionate about bringing that wall down, that separates people in society. I know that only Marriage Equality is the answer until people have access to the same legal commitment that heterosexuals have there will still be opportunity for us to speak about “them and us”. There will be bullying of LGBTI people in schools because it’s OK to learn from the prejudices of mum and dad. And in offices, sporting groups and religious organisations there will be opportunities to speak about them behind their backs in ways that we wouldn’t to their face.
Late last night I read a heartfelt blog titled “Being Gay during the Same Sex Marriage Plebiscite”. It was written by a young man Chris. I reprint some of it with his permission.
“During the last few weeks I have had a few friends ask me how I am holding up during this same-sex marriage plebiscite. Each time, I’ve had difficulty answering.
“I wish I could express the feeling that comes along with the entire country ‘weighing in’ on my own equality. It’s a difficult thing to process. Every Australian is being given the opportunity to have a say in my equal rights, my future, the legitimacy of my relationships. I’d love to be able to show my heterosexual friends exactly what that feels like but I actually have no words that do it justice.
“As a kid in early high school I was explicitly taught that homosexuals were sinful deviants. I was told that ‘no one in this school is gay because God doesn’t make junk’. At church I heard that homosexuals were full of demons. Growing up hearing all of these things (and much more) about gay people, my deepest fear was that they were actually talking about me. I knew deep down that I was gay. I believed that I was demon-possessed. That I was junk. That I was innately and fundamentally disgusting.
“My society confirmed those beliefs by the way people acted when the subject of homosexuality came up, and in the unrelenting teasing of bullies at school. As I grew older, I learned that homosexuals didn’t have many of the rights that straight people had. Even government agencies like Centrelink didn’t acknowledge their relationships as legitimate. As a young teenage Christian, not only did I believe that God found me unacceptable, I knew that my own government and society as a whole found me distasteful.
“Fast-forward fifteen years and things are a lot better now. Many of the laws that kept us unequal have changed. It is slowly becoming more and more unacceptable to be homophobic. I have even managed to reconcile my faith and sexuality.
“Yet now the government has given permission to the entire country to give their opinion on my equality … and what I have heard so far from a lot of people tells me that perhaps not all that much has changed after all.
“This plebiscite hurts at a very deep level, where my fears about being rejected by a society that taught me that I was strange, feared, hated and unacknowledged are coming back at me all at once. When I open up Facebook or read articles online, the lessons about myself that my faith community taught me – that I was demon possessed, perverted, sick, unloved and unacceptable – bubble up from deep down where I thought I had buried them all those years ago.
“Although I know that we have a lot more support than we used to in the wider community in 2017, the loud voices of ignorance passionately spreading lies and fear about us still hurt. The hardest thing to come to terms with is that they still don’t care about the amount of damage that they have caused (and continue to cause) LGBTI people across this nation. Suicide rates are highly out of proportion in the LGBTI community, but they don’t seem to care, too concerned with their defence of the definition of the word ‘marriage’. Mental health issues, experiences of homophobia. These things haven’t gone away. Our community is still suffering the effects of oppression.
“The nation will now vote on whether a minority group which has been abused and discriminated against in almost every way over many decades should be considered equal when it comes to marriage. It boggles my mind to think that this plebiscite has even been allowed to go ahead – when you consider how much this community is already subjected to, why are we doing this?
“This is a taste of what it feels like to be gay during the 2017 same sex marriage plebiscite.”
The plebiscite was a very poor choice introduced initially by a man who clearly opposes Marriage Equality, Tony Abbott. It was always going to be divisive.
Please, Australia, vote Yes to Marriage Equality. You will be in good company, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, with Nathan Despott and the husband he wants to marry Nathanael, and with Chris, Senator Penny Wong and so many other good people who value equality and human rights for all. You will also be standing with many thousands of people of religious faith, agnostics and atheists too who all recognise the importance of pulling down that Wall and embracing our diverse world.
(i) From an unpublished thesis by Martha Rutledge “Sir Alfred Stephen and Divorce Law Reform in New South Wales, 1886 – 1892” cited in “To have but not to hold – A history of attitudes to marriage and Divorce in Australia 1858 – 1975 (Henry Finlay – The Federation Press).