Reflections on marriage equality
For the past several weeks I have been placing and replacing a set of black-and-white photocopied marriage equality notices in Chinese on a billboard at the front of my house. When they are pulled off, I tape up new ones. My new strategy of using reels of tape seems to be working, as the people removing the signs aren't prepared to stand there in public grappling with the metres and metres of Sellotape. Many people in my area are of Chinese heritage, so I downloaded the Chinese version of the resources from the marriage equality website. I'm hoping that many of them share sympathies with Taiwan, who began the process for changing all the laws to ensure marriage equality earlier this year.
I still remember when I first heard about the concept of marriage equality. It was 1997 and I was visiting an Australian friend living in Los Angeles. These were heady times for the lesbian community in particular, as Ellen DeGeneres had just "come out". There were parties and receptions that I attended, even though I did not know who Ellen DeGeneres was. We dropped in to visit my friend’s friend who was working at the LA Gay and Lesbian Centre. When we went to the centre I was focused on collecting information about youth suicide rates and prevention for young people within the gay and lesbian community. I thought, with the bigger issues of such prevalent youth suicide and homelessness that campaigning for marriage equality was a croc. I secretly believed that marriage itself was an outdated institution that needed to be changed, reformed abandoned—why waste the energy on trying to achieve marriage equality when so many young people were suiciding? As a teacher who had worked in primary and secondary schools and was now heading towards working in teacher education, I knew already of the trauma and difficulties that so many LGBTQ young people experienced at this critical time in their lives. Being a teenager is never easy, but it's even harder when part of your becoming who you are is realising that you are not becoming who your parents and community expect.
A few years after this, my Canadian boyfriend and I were meeting with Bruce from the Australian High Commission, applying for a partnership visa. “No”, said Bruce. “That’s for gay couples, you need to get an engagement visa”. We did, and married within the prerequisite nine months. What I noticed instantly on getting married was the way in which marriage itself validated our relationship and that people treated me with more authority and respect. Despite being in my mid-thirties and successful in my career, some people still treated me as a young adult. Marriage equality means that anyone in a committed relationship can reap the affordances and benefits of marriage, have their relationship be respected by others and afforded full protections under the law. Most importantly to me, it means that LGBTQ young people would grow up in a world where their relationships are sanctioned by the state, celebrated by friends and family, as they become themselves with another.
Throughout my life, I have witnessed the difficulties of coming out to yourself, to family, to others. I've stood alongside teenagers in high school as they worked out their sexuality and their gender, and conspired with my best friend from university as he navigated what being homosexual might mean for his family, his friends and his workplace. I was his “date” at school functions as he taught in his first school, not able to bring a man as his partner, but required to bring someone. His mother would tell me secretly, on my own, that he'd been going out at night with “highly perfumed men”. She would look at me, her face intently fixed on mine. I was never sure if this was a warning or a question, if she was seeking from me confirmation of what she suspected, or warning me not to fall in love with her son. I’d met many of the perfumed men in question, funny, thoughtful hilarious men, and did not know what to say to her. That said, I've dated men that have still not come out to themselves let alone to others, but have never blamed them for this, because coming out is never easy, and mothers are not always open to gay sons.
So when a colleague, a vibrant intelligent woman of about 50, said to me that throughout the postal survey campaign she has felt like she is “coming out again”, that she constantly has to explain herself and her long-term relationship to her family and friends again, and again, I understand the cruelty and the frustrations of this, the reminders that, despite their love, their commitment, they are not equal.
I check my board out the front. The extra layers of tape have been doing the work. I've seen people gathering around the board, reading it, trying to work out what it says if they, like me, don't read Chinese characters. I hope that soon we, like Taiwan, will have marriage equality.