Tag Archives: Same-sex Marriage

Making way for the marriage of true minds

AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE Unequal, unequal, unequal.
AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE Unequal, unequal, unequal.

A Writer is helped to understand his subject.

I WASN’T going to write anything more on the lack of marriage equality in Australia. Frustrated and saddened by the wait, I decided to stop trying.  But this week I had one of my most profound experiences around the debate, one which needs sharing.

A week ago I received an unprompted apology from someone I went to school with. He sought me out on Facebook and made amends for his homophobic bullying more than twenty-seven years ago.

I was initially cynical – after all, this particular cruelty was usually an invitation into a fake conversation followed by a bullying sting.

So I publicly asked him to take some action – to write to his federal member in support of marriage equality – just to see if his apology was something more than words.

“The self-determined gay couple, if ever aware enough to lobby for the full backing of the law, would force societies to evolve.”

Then I waited. My husband witnessed me waver as the days passed – “I’ll never hear from this guy” I muttered, realising that I’d asked him to come out as a supporter of same-sex marriage.

I already knew from bitter experience how hard coming out can be. Declaring anything unexpected within your community can be a deal-breaker for all our relationships.

While I hoped for a reply and yearned for it to be a positive one, I revisited my own journey to marriage equality.

It began 10 years ago while I was standing in the voting queue at the 2004 federal election.

My life had taken its harshest turn for the worse earlier that year. My long-term partner Jono died suddenly, and in the midst of my grief his family denied the existence of our relationship and caused a legal battle over Jono’s debt-ridden estate.

Homophobia mixed with grief mixed with denial mixed with money … a devastating cocktail I tried my best to assuage, and failed.

I sorely missed a powerful record of our relationship to use against that force, but that year federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock and Prime Minister John Howard trounced any chance  same-sex-attracted people had of accessing the federal Marriage Act to create legally recognised relationships.

NEVER GONNA HAPPEN Mark Latham roughing-up John Howard in 2004.
NEVER GONNA HAPPEN Mark Latham roughing-up John Howard in 2004.

By the looks of the colour of the how-to-vote cards in that long voting queue, Labor’s Mark Latham was not going to see-off Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, and, with community support for same-sex marriage languishing at just over 35 per cent, marriage equality seemed forever away.

Jono and I were oblivious to the precarious legal situation our relationship was in. We’d been happy to live very much to the tune of Joni Mitchell’s ‘My Old Man’: “We don’t need a piece of paper from the City Hall, keepin’ us tied and true”.

Not an uncommon stance in our generation but one which can leave either party in legal limbo after the death or incapacitation of the other.

As I waited to vote, I realised there was a tool to keep an indelible legal line in the sand when one in a couple dies – a marriage certificate – that elusive piece of paper.

I suddenly felt duped by the society in which I paid taxes. It had never given me and Jono the chance to feel secure, and all the while we’d fooled ourselves that we had forever, and that nothing could touch our evolving togetherness.

That was the scary part for many people – the self-determined gay couple, if ever aware enough to lobby for the full backing of the law, would force societies to evolve. No wonder our collective relationships were such a political football.

A decade on, the only thing that’s changed is the percentage. Now, 72pc of Australians support marriage equality – surely a free kick for whichever Prime Minister has the guts to kick that ball over the line.

Like many LGBTIQ commentators, I find the lack of parliamentary leadership on this issue deeply unsettling, and in what I thought was my marriage-equality-writing-swan song, I extrapolated all the issues as I saw them.

But in trying to express my pain and angst in words, it turns out I was wrong about all of it.

Here’s why.

Earlier this week I woke for a very early start at work. Bleary-eyed at the computer I noticed I’d been sent a friend request on Facebook – from the man who, as a teenager, bullied me at school.

The sending of that request, the most common, throwaway click of a virtual button, and my equally everyday acceptance of it, revealed a far more powerful acceptance.

“He is not a bully, he is a hero.”

On his Facebook wall I saw he’d graciously acquiesced to my challenge.

Here is his letter in full:-

Dear (name deleted)

I am writing to urge you to support a free vote on marriage equality.

I went through school with a gay student and recently reconnected with him. He was gracious enough to share with me the way that society’s treatment of gay people has impacted his life. As a young student he was bullied at school, and as a gay man he has been subjected to ridicule, discrimination and disenfranchisement for no other reason than because of who he loves. The reason I am giving you this context is because I am ashamed to say that at school, I was one of his bullies.

This person sharing his experience of how my actions at school impacted him, provided me with an opportunity to put myself in his shoes, to empathise with how it must have felt to be a victim of discrimination. Looking back I am appalled at my thoughtless disregard for the rights of another person. Today, all these years later, I am equally appalled that this person is still having  his rights disregarded, only this time it is via Government-sanctioned  draconian legislation, rather than by a high school bully.

As a parent, all I can think of is how I would feel if one of my children was forced to face the same struggles for acceptance, and forced to fight for what you and I, as heterosexual males, take for granted — the right to marry the person you love.

Could I ask you to place yourself in the shoes of someone facing this discrimination? Imagine if it was your own son who was in this position, if your beloved child was unable to marry the person he loved.  Or perhaps think how it would feel if one of your daughters was not legally allowed to marry the person she had fallen in love with. If one of your own children was denied the same rights as the rest of society based purely on their genetic sexual orientation, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to fix this injustice?  Wouldn’t you fight against the ignorance of others to ensure the freedom and chance of happiness for one of your own?

Research has shown that the majority of Australians believe it’s time marriage equality became a reality. I would hope that as a father, a husband, and a citizen of Australia in 2014, you agree that now is the time for this change. Now is the time for you to join 72% of the Australian population who are saying that all Australians are entitled to marriage equality.

I strongly urge you, as my representative with the power your position bestows upon you on my behalf, to take the necessary steps to ensure marriage equality becomes a reality. Please support a free vote on marriage equality. Do this on behalf of every parent, for the sake of every child who deserves the same rights as you and me.

This man and I must always have had more in common than we realised. He is not a bully, he is a hero, and on reading this for the first time, I was released from cynicism into fierce protection.

Same-sex marriages and civil unions have been granted and overturned at state level; the community support in all known polling regardless of age, region, religion and ethnicity is in the seventieth percentile, and plenty of same-sex-attracted couples want one.

Clearly, the culture war has long been won.

All that’s standing in the way are the real bullies – the politicians and community leaders who never really grew up and continue to cajole, avoid, ignore and deny the rights of same-sex attracted people, and our friends.

It took a reformed bully, and a reformed victim, to see it.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

‘New-fangled mob’ Down Under

THOROUGHLY MODERN The interrelated Modern Family of ABC's comedy series.
THOROUGHLY MODERN The interrelated Modern Family of ABC’s comedy series.

A Writer looks at modern families.

IT was charming and kind of awkward when Australians welcomed the cast of America’s ABC comedy Modern Family (what Aussies might prefer to call a ‘new-fangled mob’) to our shores earlier this year, for the production of a special Australian ‘destination’ episode.

The series has consistently rated highly with Australian viewers and the locally filmed episode was always going to please and offend us.

Did they hit the mark and show us something about ourselves that’s not already apparent from any number of fantastic Australian television families, from The Sullivans to The Moodys?

The answer might lie in comparing the fiction with the data.

“There is simply no mainstream equivalent on Australian television.”

The first major difference is in Modern Family’s portrayal of three family units with kids – it’s simply not representative (what Aussies might prefer to call ‘average’)  of this country.

A trio of multi-generational groupings, including biological, adopted, and step-children, is not the Australian way, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Two out of three Australian families had children in the 2011 census, in fact, couples without children made up the dominant chunk of the pie chart, at 37.8 per cent of family units.

A beloved and core element to Modern Family’s make-up is the male same-sex couple (Mitch and Cam). Despite pushing boundaries in the United States for its honest (and to many, not honest enough) portrayal of the realities of same-sex families with children, this is not Australia’s reality.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that Australian same-sex couples with children are overwhelmingly female (a whopping 89 per cent).

Australia is undoubtedly ready for Mitch and Cam adopting children on our television screens, but our communities are a long way behind.

The first legal adoption by a same-sex couple in Australia took place in 2007, in Western Australia, where adoption had been legal for same-sex couples for five years prior. Currently, four Australian states and territories allow same-sex couples zero adoption rights.

Racial and cultural diversity is a core principle of Modern Family’s casting. Out of a total of twelve main characters, 33 per cent of the show’s key cast could be defined as racially diverse, including Latin-American and Asian-American representation.

There is simply no mainstream commercial equivalent on Australian television, an issue which continues to plague the industry, while a racially diverse audience of just under one-quarter of all Australians remains barely represented on our small screen.

Modern Family’s Australian episode did not hit the mark with everyone on home soil – The Guardian Australia’s review carried the headline: ‘Modern Family’s Australian episode was a cliched travelogue’.

WE’RE WAITING Jessie Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet (Mitch and Cam) in their Australian Marriage Equality video.

But there was one sign that the show’s content could drag Australian television content, and our nation, into the 21st century.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet (who play  Mitch and Cam) released a video produced by Australian Marriage Equality, comically expressing (what Aussies call ‘taking the piss’) their astonishment that same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Australia.

So, not until a racially diverse, childless lesbian couple inhabits our television comedies, will Australians become a truly ‘modern family’.

Until then we’ll need fictional outsiders to show us what we could be if we tried.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Australia is so gay about marriage equality

A Writer reaches ranting point.

I’VE written a lot about LGBTQI equality in the past 18 months. It’s no wonder – the marriage equality issue has reached boiling point in Australia, and many are wondering if this country is mature enough to leapfrog civil unions (which were an essential step in UK and NZ legislation a decade ago) and go ‘straight’ to full marriage laws.

Some days I think so, some days I waver, although I do have a three-way bet with some friends in New Zealand about when same-sex marriage will arrive on our shores. My odds are about middling, I suspect.

Meanwhile, I write. This poetic rant first appeared on LGBTicons.

SIBLING RIVALRY Christine Forster and her brother, Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
SIBLING RIVALRY Christine Forster and her brother, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

I’m starting to lose it with Australia.

THEY say that I have only two choices here in my homeland: I must either love this place or leave it.

I did try, like many of my brothers and sisters before me, when I took myself to the other side of the world, believing that distance would disguise my self disgust.

But there, in the fold of loneliness, the gay man still showed himself in the mirror when I stopped to look, and so I brought him home.

Oh, the endless fuss that still rumbles from my coming-out homecoming. The silences and  the judgements that are held against me behind the smiles.

They wanted me to lie, now they want to punish me for being a liar, but I will not wear it.

No-one asks if you’re gay when you take out a home loan with your same-sex partner.

No-one asks if you feel equal when they tax you at the same rate as those who are free to express their love through marriage.

No-one asks if you’re gay when the bushfires lick every stick in the valley below the rows of precious lives, they only demand, quite rightly, that you help.

And we help. Yet that is never quite enough.

I see the dykes like patient, weathered stones, waiting for this people to realise their help is solid, unflinching and safe.

I see the poofs in caring generations that do not waver, they only want to play when it’s time to play.

I’ve watched us earn our equality. Our stripes are bright and they have nothing left to prove.

But the people elected a man who told them to be very, very afraid of difference.

He has a dyke sister who, we hope, is starting to get very, very angry, the way dykes sometimes can, and while their edge begins to scare you, you know you’re in very good hands, if you’re on their side.

I hope she rips ten colours of rainbow out of him this Christmas, as another year closes on the country he leads, the same country, and the same man, that prevent her marrying her fiancée.

I hope he hides, for even just a moment, in retreat, and has a long hard look at himself in the ensuite bathroom mirror, before he wipes that leering smile back onto his face, and puts on another show for the only people he truly represents: his family.

No more platitudes. No more promises. No more big Aussie smiles to cover our shame.

I am not going to leave this place, until none of its children must leave it in fear.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.