Marriage Equality: Time to say YES!

Marriage Equality: Time to say YES!

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According to the Australian Bureau of Census, there are 46,800 same-sex couples in Australia, a number that also forms the small percentage of the Australian population that is not allowed to get married. On September 13, Australia initiated one of its biggest, expensive, and divisive campaigns: the Marriage Equality survey. Since then more than 12 million Australians have participated in the survey, voting YES or NO. On November 15, the $122 million same-sex marriage poll’s results will be revealed. The outcome of the survey will see the Malcolm Turnbull Government take a decision that will either allow Australia to join the ranks of other developed nations that have legalised same-sex marriage or be viewed as a nleave it the way it is – intolerant of those who do not subscribe to the popular and conservation notions of marriage.

TAL caught up with three active members of the LGBTQI community- Gabrielle Fusco, 23, Bisexual, Paul Larder, 36, Gay, Dr Hannah Brown, 34, Bisexual- and asked them about the efficacy of the survey, their coming out stories, their advice to those voting NO, and what will a YES victory mean to them?

Please tell us something about yourself? And, your coming out story. 

Gabrielle:  I’m pretty home grown to be honest, born in the ‘burbs of Adelaide and lived there ever since.  Year 12 was the period of my life where I began to realise that I had more than a fleeting interest in kissing girls. I probably would have come to this realisation earlier if not for several mitigating factors, most prominent of which being that I had struggled with depression for several years at that point. While my friends seemed happily occupied with social events and dating boys (including my male best friend, who was openly gay), I felt quite emotionally isolated. I was constantly grappling with feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing, and so the concept of trying to accept myself as anything other than straight just seemed too difficult. Besides, it’s not like I knew any girls who were actually interested in me. Heck, I didn’t even know any girls who were anything other than straight. Apart from a few fleeting moments at parties, my “romantic” opportunities with girls were few and far between. I had nobody to ask about that sort of stuff, and even if I did, what would I have said? “I think I want to kiss girls but also boys”? In hindsight, yes, that’s a good starting point. But at the time, it seemed stupid. Everything I said was stupid. I was stupid. Such is the nature of depression.

 Gabrielle Fusco

Gabrielle Fusco

That period of my life (18-21) was really where I began to figure out who I was and how to be comfortable in my own skin. I sought help for my depression. I found a wonderful, supportive group of friends. And I finally settled on the label of ‘bisexual’. I came out to my parents, which was sufficiently awkward and embarrassing, but they were both supportive. I had my first true relationship with a boy and later a girl, both which ended quite amicably.

I am currently and doing stem cell research for my Honours in Health Sciences at the Adelaide Medical School. I have a wonderful girlfriend who I’ve been with for almost two years now. I still struggle with depression. But these things all seem less difficult to cope with than they might have seemed eight years ago.

Paul:  I was born and raised in a regional City about five hours out of Adelaide – but I’ve lived in Adelaide since 2000. I’ve made a life here – I have a wonderful partner, I have a good job, and I have a couple of degrees under my belt.  I’ve just graduated law with First Class Honours and I am looking forward to seeing where life takes me.

My coming out story isn’t grand – you think I would have had a lot of resistance, being in a small regional city back in the late 90s – but things were okay for me. I think me being gay was always a known entity – I certainly didn’t ‘come out’. Of course, I had a very supportive circle of family and friends, a decent school. My biggest fear was going out into society, where there was hostility, and seeing how that would treat me. I think that’s the experience for many young people trying to come to terms with their sexuality or their gender identity. It’s not just confusion about themselves – but also that fear about how they are going to be reacted to by society, which we know can be cruel. That can lead to a lot of inner turmoil, unfortunately not everyone has a dedicated support network and we know of sad and tragic things that can happen.

 Paul Larder

Paul Larder

Hannah: I’m born and raised in Adelaide, and work as a scientist here.  We do research that allows us to build better technologies for the IVF industry.

Homosexuality in South Australia was decriminalised so long ago. Why do you think marriage equality discussion has come to the table only now?

Gabrielle: I don’t think South Australia is as tolerant as we like to think it is. Sure, we decriminalised homosexuality in the 70s, but we’re still the only state that has the ‘gay-panic defence’. I mean, many of the Snowtown Murders were homophobic hate-crimes, but nobody talks about that. And there are plenty more instances of ‘gay-bashing’ that have happened over the years, especially in the 90s, that often result in an acquittal because “he came onto me” is a legitimate defence. I think the anti-homosexual sentiment permeates throughout Australia, an undercurrent that isn’t always obvious but is deeply rooted in our culture; especially “bloke” culture.

As for why this discussion has only recently come into the limelight, I think it’s inextricably linked to that very sentiment. We have made great strides in LGBTQI representation and rights, but it still makes lots of people uncomfortable. For every Penny Wong, you’ve got two Tony Abbotts, saying that they feel “threatened” by gay people. For every Ian Thorpe, you’ve got the 10% of AFL players who say, "gay males sicken me because they are not real men". The Howard government changed the Marriage Act to specifically exclude same-sex partnerships in 2004 to little fanfare. Reversing that is only being talked about now because people are beginning to realise that Australia needs to change. Politicians can no longer ignore the fact that Australia is falling behind in terms of equality, whether it’s same-sex, gender or racial. We like to style ourselves as a nation of inclusion and equality, but if you scratch the surface, it’s not hard to see that all those anti-gay sentiments are still present.

 Dr Hannah Brown

Dr Hannah Brown

Paul:  At the time the postal survey was announced I was in Boston, doing an internship in the Harvard Law Faculty with their Immigration and Refugee Clinic. I was doing rewarding work with amazing people who were passionate about social justice. Massachusetts is a very progressive state, for example, in Boston and in Salem there were rainbow flags on churches. We attended anti-racism rallies and I was having a great time and it was such a contrast to Australia where the SSM survey was taking place. The people I talked to in Boston couldn’t understand the survey, the purpose of it and the inherent cruelty that it fostered by creating divisive and hateful debate. When you consider that along with Australia’s refugee policy which is worse than even the current US Governments’ policy, it really highlighted the lack of social progress in Australia.

In South Australia, I feel lucky because we were the first state to decriminalise homosexuality – and more recently, the Government has passed a suite of legislation that removes discrimination in its laws that were affecting LGBTIQ people. Now not only has homosexuality been decriminalised for a number of decades, but we have a relationships register, we have access to adoption, IVF. But federally, we’ve never managed this true equality by enabling two loving people to commit their lives to each other. That is disappointing, and this isn’t a recent discussion– it is something thing the LGBTIQ community have consistently fought for. We’ve seen results in an enormous amount of countries – but still, in Australia, it’s 2017 and we are still having to hash this out.

Hannah: That’s an excellent question – I really don’t know why now. People of all minorities have been fighting for equal rights as long as rules and rights have existed. The battle on this particular movement for equality should have been won long before now. We are lagging behind the developed world with this particular decision, and it’s really infuriating and embarrassing.

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On the other hand, considering that Homosexuality is already legal, and members of the LGBTQI have the right to live the way they like why does marriage equality matter so much to them then?

Gabrielle: Equality is so important to the LGBTQI community because changing the Marriage Act shows that our identities are legitimate. That we are not the deviation from the norm, but part of it. It unequivocally states that we can marry, it legitimises our identities as couples who deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples. By allowing same-sex couples to marry, it shows that not only are they afforded the same rights, but they are deserving of the same respect and privileges that come with being a married couple.

Paul: Because enabling someone’s sexuality to be legal is not enough. There are still so many issues relating to legalities, health, probate and other rights. Marriage equality matters because otherwise, our country is saying – “your relationship isn’t valid”, “your love isn’t valid” – even “you being an LBGTIQ person is essentially invalid”. What would be more amazing is if our country turned around and said ‘you know what, we do recognise that every relationship is equal – your relationship has value – you as people are valid and equal’. That’s something the community does not have but it definitely should have.

Hannah: That’s an interestingly worded question “live the way they like…”, and I think it reflects the actual lack of understanding. In my opinion, all communities should be able to not just “live the way they like”, but to live with the same rights as everyone else. For many, I suspect that it’s not just about marriage. For me, it’s certainly not. It’s about being considered an equal, which we are currently are not. I’m a strong believer in the fact that equal opportunity is absolutely essential for social and political change, and the lack of marriage equality in Australia is just one example of where these simple needs aren’t met.

It’s really not different from the push for gender equality and equal pay in the workplace. Take the STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, Mathematics) example, without equal opportunity from the earliest stages of education (which are well documented to be falling short), less extraordinary women are taking up roles in the STEM, and are therefore around to be in senior roles in STEM. Opportunity must be equalised across the board. This is just one of many personal fights.

What are your arguments for Marriage Equality?

 Gabrielle: Mostly that there are no downsides to this. If same-sex couples are allowed to marry, then just that will happen. People will not regress into bestiality. Children’s lives will not be ruined. The fabric of society will not fray. It just means that people who love one another can commit to one another in the same way that heterosexual couple has been doing for thousands of years. That’s it.

 The Pride march

The Pride march

Paul: It’s about equality – it’s about fairness. Everyone should be treated equally.  Without marriage equality, I don’t think it matters how many laws pass to make life better for LGBTIQ people. What happens is, you are still fundamentally preventing an entire group of people from participating in something that you allow the majority to do. And by constantly debating this, you allow people to be discriminatory. It enables it. There is an undercurrent there that, because LGBTIQ people aren’t allowed to marry, they still are a minority and we can treat them differently. No. That’s wrong. Discrimination hurts, and adults should not be treated any differently due who they are attracted to or fall in love with.

Hannah: Well, it’s simple. Marriage is just a binding contract in the eyes of the law. And if you can be considered a couple for tax purposes, and when it suits people, you should have the same rights as any other. Marriage doesn’t insure that you will have a long happy relationship, but equality is proven to be better for the world.

A lot of vitriol has been poured by both the yes and no side. Why, in your opinion, is it so difficult to have a civil debate on this subject. There have been reports by the YES side of indulging in cyber bullying – trolling, abusing- (NO side has been doing it for a long time). Can this behaviour be condoned? 

Gabrielle: I think almost everyone had an opinion on this before the debate had even begun. The stage was set for respectful debate but both sides were ready for a dogfight. People who are so vehemently opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage are the immovable object standing in the way of the unstoppable force of the YES campaign. Each side wants to undermine the other so strongly that they’re going to great lengths to try and gain the upper hand. The NO campaign has just become an extension of the homophobic rhetoric that already existed in Australia, it’s just become legitimised by political and religious powers. As for the YES campaign and their tactics, that’s a bit more complex. If someone says something along the lines of “I don’t think gays should marry because it’s unnatural and marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ” then it’s absolutely your prerogative to call them a homophobe. Labelling them for what they are doesn’t make you a bully, it makes them accountable for their beliefs. And people don’t like that. They don’t like being confronted about long-held beliefs, especially if those beliefs are rooted in their faith. Religious nuts don’t get a pass to be homophobic because they believe God is on their side - they’re bigoted people who don’t like being called out for their homophobia. The politicians on the NO side love framing it as bullying, because it means they can make themselves out to be the victims. But is calling people out on their bullshit bullying? I don’t think so. Bigots don’t like it when you push back. They forget that the first Pride was a riot.

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Paul: What allowing a survey like this does, is it essentially allows people in our country to act out in a form of state-sanctioned homophobia. The Federal Government has allowed this – and even in instances of outright homophobia, even our PM has kept his line “I’ve seen the debate being respectful”. This is why we have seen ugliness and straight out lies from people opposed to marriage equality. Things like forcing churches to partake in same-sex marriage – it’s like the no campaign has conveniently forgotten the distinction between civil and religious marriage because it suits their narrative.

Unfortunately, what happens is, as this is an emotive issue, people no doubt become upset. Upset that the very foundation of their relationship is being challenged, and being told that they as a people are invalid. I don’t condone bad behaviour from the YES side, and haven’t personally heard of any instances – but I can understand why these people would become emotive in the face of such a cruel and divisive debate.

Hannah: I resent that we are even forced to have this conversation, and I actually don’t agree that we should have even had a “civil debate” on this. People’s personal relationships SHOULD NEVER be up for debate. And to be clear, the type of vitriol from the No campaign has absolutely not been matched by the Yes. Their decisions to align this campaign (which is about equal right for marriage only) with an array of off topic, an argument not supported by evidence, and which is downright hurtful, is abhorrent. I am appalled and dismayed by the types of crap they have been able to say, and am embarrassed that it’s been given so much airtime.    

In this time of chaos, how do you think has the LGBTQI community come together to support, and help the YES campaign?

Gabrielle:  I think the community have provided tremendous support for one another and the YES campaign. I’ve never seen such solidarity in the LGBTQI community is Australia, not even during Pride. I think everyone realises that this might be the best shot we’ll have after a while of getting this done, and so we’re gearing all of our efforts into supporting the YES campaign – from donating money, to showing up to rallies and cajoling our friends and family to updating their voting details. Everyone is making an effort.

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Paul: I’ve been so impressed with the Marriage Equality rallies that we have had across Australia. The first one in Adelaide was one of the biggest rallies ever in South Australia. It was great to see so many people from the community, as well as supportive allies, come together physically to really highlight how important this issue is to everyone. There have been so many events and get-togethers organised by groups, it’s fantastic.

Hannah: Chaos. Now that’s the perfect word to describe it. Second only to unnecessary. The community has been absolutely extraordinary. The solidarity and support I’ve felt from strangers over the last few months have been overwhelming. I believe, however, it’s driven my more than a desire for marriage equality, but equality more broadly.

Do you think more than the gains that come from Marriage Equality, the LGBTQI community is looking to gain a moral victory, marriage equality almost being the final frontier?

Gabby: Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, having marriage equality would show not only that same-sex couples are afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples, but that they are deserving of the same respect and privileges that comes with being a married couple. It normalises who we are and legitimises our identities. I’m not sure about same-sex marriage being ‘the final frontier’, but it’s definitely a huge swing in the right direction.

Paul: It’s not simply a moral victory - it is about equality, fairness, legality and respect. It’s about being in a country that should already allow marriage equality. It is legal in countries across Europe, it is legal in Canada, it is legal in all 50 US states – it is legal in our neighbouring New Zealand. Most recently, of course, it became legalised in Germany. It’s legal in South Africa, Uruguay, Argentina – the list goes on. But not in Australia. We need to advance. We as a country need to be better.

Hannah: Absolutely, this is about equality across the board. It’s about recognising that diversity is better for everyone. For the community, for the workplace, everywhere. There are loads of great evidence-based examples! Look at the effect it has in Swedish Parliament following the implementation of gender quotas. It’s well studied and reported. Implementing diversity dramatically changed politics for the better. These are the kinds of facts that campaigns for equality should be driven by.

What would you tell those who are actively campaigning against Marriage Equality?

 Gabrielle:  Whether you have religious or simply homophobic objections to the idea of a same-sex couple marrying, I would really just ask why you feel the need to exert control over other people’s lives. Your opinions are hurtful, unnecessary, and honestly, completely outdated. None of the homophobic rhetoric you spew is rooted in truth, regardless of how you want to frame it, and you are nothing more than bigots afraid of change. You don’t get to tell us that we’re unnatural, or that we are lesser because of who we love. Your attempts to belittle and undermine us will always fail. We have survived far more than you are capable of comprehending. We can survive you.

Paul: To not only stop holding the LGBTIQ people back but to stop holding Australia back. With so many other countries doing the right thing, being progressive, passing marriage equality laws – we need to stop living in the past. I don’t feel there is any justifiable argument for not allowing this to go through – despite all their scare tactics, I would say to those NO campaigners – you are wrong. Sit down, be quiet and tell me this - If I got married to my boyfriend, how does that affect you as an individual? The answer would be that it doesn’t because it absolutely does not affect anyone else. It is between him and I, like any other heterosexual’s marriage is between them.

Hannah: I’ve actively engaged in conversations with people who are voting no. I wouldn’t “tell” them anything. Like all good conversation, we learn from listening. Understanding what drives people to make decisions is critical, particularly given I’m probably in a pretty loud echo chamber of yes voters most of the time. I can build strong, evidence-based arguments for why it’s really important to me, and my friends, family and co-workers on a personal level. I’m confident that sharing my personal story has helped encourage people to vote yes. But I resent that I had to even have the conversation and that Australian parliamentarians couldn’t just get the job done, knowing how the Australian population felt. They let this happen.

What advice would you give to young LGBTQI members who are still very scared to come out?

Gabrielle:  Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you have to do anything. You don’t have to come out your family and friends, or even anyone if you don’t feel comfortable doing it. You don’t have to have had a romantic or sexual experience to know that you don’t identify as straight, or that you’re not cisgender. And if you do tell people, you don’t have to listen to people telling you that you’re “just confused”, or that it’s “just a phase.” There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a deviation from the norm. You deserve to be comfortable with who you are and to live a life that doesn’t revolve around hiding who you are from those around you.

Paul: To just realise, there is a community out there. The LGBTIQ community is our family and we can choose the people to be in our lives. It may seem tough, it may seem scary – and damn right it is – but no matter your situation, no matter your support – there is an entire community out there waiting to welcome you in with open arms. To help you celebrate and champion your diversity, not to attack it. Come out. It’s going to be okay.

Hannah: That I hope one day it’s just called “dating” and that there’s no need to “come out”. And that I will continue to fight until it is.  I wish I could have told 15-year-old me that if I was myself from the start, that people would actually like me just the way I am, and that life would be so much easier. There’s always going to be arseholes and trolls, don’t’ add oxygen to the fire, surround yourself with people who like the drum beat you march to!  

And finally, what does this vote mean to you personally?

 Gabrielle: Personally, same-sex marriage becoming legal wouldn’t change much. I’m not really interested in the idea of marriage at the moment, and neither is my girlfriend, but I would be overjoyed to see same-sex couples marrying in Australia. It would provide a sense of satisfaction; that yes – this is something that is accepted, if not celebrated, in Australia. I don’t know if Australia will ever be the tolerant utopia that we dream about, but marriage equality would get us one step closer.

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Paul: I am in love. It’s something I didn’t expect to happen again, I had some big walls up but they all broke down when I met my partner. I know he is the one for me. He’s my rock, my best friend and my constant support and biggest champion. And although we are just coming up to a year and it’s too early to start thinking about marriage –having met him, it’s certainly something I would like to consider! It’s something we’d like the chance to be able to do! The entire process –the romantic proposal, the build-up, the ceremony – and gosh, our reception would be the biggest party. Everyone is invited. It’s going to be fabulous.

Hannah: At this point, it’s so much bigger than marriage. I hope it’s a huge leap forward for embracing diversity more broadly. Personally, I just want it to be over, and the law to reflect what all Australian’s deserve, and equal and just society built on love and respect.

More information is available at www.marriagesurvey.abs.gov.au

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