Focussed & Seen: dealing with marriage inequality in Australia


A lot has already been written about the proposed postal vote on marriage equality. Buzzfeed has put together a master post FAQ.

In brief, it’s a non-binding handball of data collection that has been designed by Australia’s coalition government to see how many people will update their enrolment details and provide their POV on marriage equality. Or: a tick for bigot; a tick for wtf has taken us this long?

Social media, and some straight friends, have brought up how insulting this line of attack will be. Well, yes. It will be. What did we expect? Have you not lived in Australia? Has the poison of toxic masculinity never crossed your lips? I found myself muttering, “At least they’re being honest about how much they hate us now.”

Among generations of gay men, I come after those who watched their friends die in the AIDS crisis and the Gen Xers who followed, perhaps more ashamed of their sexuality because of it. As I was grappling with sexuality, the internet was reducing the space between me and other men. I lived a lot of my formative queer years before any public discussion of marriage equality. I’m talking about 2002, not the ’50s. The only queer things bordering on mainstream were Priscilla and Carson Kressley making over the cargo short-wearing men with enough money to live in Manhattan. Before I came out, being gay was the bottom rung of society. It was only spoken about derogatorily or mysteriously. After I came out, my straight friends and family only engaged in queer rights when I mentioned it in conversation. Or they had one of those strained conversations by the water cooler with Sharon from HR, who snorted at the thought of us recruiting her child. Queer rights were never a morning television monologue.

I saw over time that my loved ones crusaded harder than I had thought and I’m grateful. But this is the rub. They don’t fear repercussion for their defiance to the same extent as queer people do. They get outraged on our behalf and then have weddings. Since 2004, I’ve had to hear that a marriage is between a man and a woman “to the exclusion of all others”. How do you deal with that? You compartmentalise it. It doesn’t reflect your friends’ views, you tell yourself. It’s just the silly conservative government and the silly conservative government who followed them, and the silly conservative government who followed after that. It’s just because people in power say they want to make a change when the politics are trendy, and not because it’s a basic human right. It’s just because marriage is a dying institution, although when you’re at a wedding with your partner, it stings a little more.

The postal vote is laughable because the bigotry in this country has been insulting for my entire life. This is just the punchline. I have been shamed for my interests and my looks and my voice. I have taught at a university with a woman who openly shared her anti-homosexual views online. I now live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney – a place where gay dating apps combust into a ball of glitter upon opening – and it’s one of the only places in Australia that I’ve been called a f*ggot: once from a passing car, and once from a father pushing a pram. One of our greatest sporting heroes stayed in the closet for a decade after his career waned. Queerness in this country has only been OK if it was something that didn’t touch our family. And if it did, could it go to the gym and enjoy sports, too? Could it not be too queer?

I’m thankful for the internet. If this postal vote was to happen back in the dark ages of the 90s, I would be far more alarmed by the negative reach of the public debate and scaremongering. Today a queer teen living in a bigoted household can at least seek out support anonymously. With the queerphobic rhetoric reaching fever pitch – and not insidiously creeping in silence – it is asking for a response. So far that response has been resounding. The Guardian refuses to publish op-eds from the No camp. Youth-oriented press are urging their followers to enrol. Facebook is doing its bit to pressure our peers with profile filters. I’m not saying it’s not a shitshow, but bigots gonna bigot – and it’s safer they do it openly so we know who to deflect.

Yes, parliament could’ve had a free vote. Polls suggest a majority of Australians have been in favour of marriage equality for the last decade. But the reality is this snafu and the only thing to do is vote Yes. I don’t like it, but if I boycotted everything I didn’t like, my life would’ve atrophied at age 3. Providing nothing goes wrong in the implementation and counting, we have a straightforward way of having our voices heard. It will be data collecting at worst and data collecting for ammunition at best.

My one ask is that allies for the cause recognise that this fight hasn’t just come up for queer people in the last decade. We have a long history of being thought of only when we speak up, and not often fondly. This time we need support. We need to be remembered every day. To move forward our allies need to be focussed and to be seen. They’re going to be better at being fearless.

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