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My fiancé and I have been together for over 20 years.

In the ultimate expression of modern romance we amended our Facebook status to ‘engaged’ one day about 5 years ago. Why? It was becoming increasingly awkward to explain our situation, and our relationship, in hetro-normative terms.

Today, when I say I’m engaged the first question people generally ask is, “When are you getting married?” “Oh” I say, “we’ve been together over 20 years, and we’ll get married as soon as it’s legal.”

Then I stand back, watch the double take blink, and wait for the cogwheels to slowly turn. It’s a small political act, challenging people’s assumptions and unconscious (sometimes conscious) biases.

More often than not I’ll get one of two reactions. There’s the standard ‘some of my best friends are gay.’

Isn’t it great to have allies?

Another common response, and a much more uncomfortable question for both of us is “why don’t you go overseas and get married there?”

I, like my fiancé, am an Australian citizen, so the natural question is, why should we be forced to leave our own country to get married? Would you? Especially when the certificate we carry home has no legal standing or recognition when we return?

There’s plenty of commentary available about the Marriage Equality debate. I was drawn to Hannah Gadsby’s posting late last week where she talked about her personal experiences growing up in the 90s and her quite justified fears the upcoming plebiscite will create an “open season for hate”

It will.

I grew up in the late 70s, early 80s. Mine was a meat and three veg, Sunblest white bread world (home delivered, just like the milk).

The only queers I ever saw were either objects of fun and ridicule like Benny Hill’s characters, John Inman’s Mr Humphries, and Dick Emery caricatures. There were also the arch queens like Kenneth Williams or Quentin Crisp; sharp, bleak, and sometimes bitter. Or there were the victims. To be pitied certainly, but it was made clear they did really bring it all upon themselves. Meek and afraid, bashed for having AIDS and destined to be saved by Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street.

Laws criminalising who I was didn’t change till I was a teen. But by then the damage was done. I’d already learned about what it meant to be who I was. Like many (most?) I suppressed my nature and hid within myself. That’s what society taught me to do. That was what was expected from me. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Keep your head down and your mouth shut or we’ll ruin you.

While I never had the courage as a young person to ACT UP or speak out, others did.

Before the internet I vividly recall reading about the radical actions of Queer Nation, and learning about Australia’s Gay Rights Movement by sneaking looks at gay magazines in newsagents, and hiding in the corners of public libraries.

With gratitude and respect to all those who came before us and upon whose shoulders we now stand, we can tell our young people today – It does get better…

I’ve seen the changes in attitudes and responses as society shifts.

We’re moving from tolerance to acceptance. For the most part. My fiancé and I recently traveled back to my hometown for my father’s 80th birthday. Family converged from around Australia. Most over the age of 70 showed us tolerance. Sometimes awkward and strained, but for a long time tolerance is what we queers craved. Don’t hurt us. Don’t reject us. We’ll keep our curtains firmly drawn.

As social research shows, the younger generations are far more accepting.

Normalising the deviants. That’s the claim now.

We see queer representation on our television screens growing. Causing a little stir recently the US family drama The Fosters gave us a chaste little kiss between two actors playing young gay teens even though much raunchier encounters between the straight teen characters on the show don’t seem to raise much of an eyebrow. Modern Family works to normalise same-sex marriage and relationships but still, as comedy must, tends towards caricature and stereotype. On Australian screens reality TV shows now include openly gay couples and contestants. And Please Like Me from Josh Thomas stands out well above the fray.

We’ve come so far, but still have so far to go.

That’s why the debate a plebiscite on marriage equality will be so hurtful and harmful. And never mind, even by it’s “same-sex” focus the very nature of the draft question excludes transgender, intersex, and people without a binary gender identity. The current Turnbull Government proposal seeks to create a segregated system of parallel marriages, one for the straights, and one for everyone else it seems. So much for marriage equality, let’s just further entrench difference in law.

Meanwhile it’s politics as usual for the ALP, the Liberals, and The Greens.

Labor Leader Bill Shorten is amping up the pressure on the shaky tenure of Prime Minister Turnbull. Copying the successful model of Abbott Opposition to block and destroy, rather than engage, (the model perfected by Tony Abbott), Shorten proposes to block the plebiscite. Then, with a nice twist of the screws, will further add to the pressure with a Private Members Bill.

We’ll see more of the same moral high ground attention seeking from The Greens with the same approach. Block the plebiscite. Add to the pressure with a Private Members Bill. More tears in the chamber for the poor unfortunates, no doubt. Tears but little real action.

While I reject current rhetoric about a plebiscite being the quickest or only way forward for marriage equality, clearly a vote in the Parliament is the way to go, that vote will never happen in the life of the 45th Parliament. Prime Minister Turnbull’s Faustian deal has seen to that.

The plebiscite will cause very real damage, pain, and harm. And let’s all ignore the clear affront to the LGBTIQ communities for needing to be given permission to be granted basic rights granted to all others. Not that the plebiscite is even binding on Parliament anyway.

People may bash us, hurl abuse from car windows, pour acid in our drinks, threaten our livelihoods and our jobs, or brand us deviants and pedophiles as they always have.

I’m not the frightened kid I once was. There’s a generation ahead of me who stood in pitched battles with police and fought prejudice and discrimination head on. And there’s a generation behind me who are out and proud much earlier and less willing to accept mere tolerance as the best they can ever hope for out of life.

If it is time for another fight. And it is. Then let’s bring it on.

Stuart Horrex in Online Opinion
16 January 2015


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