I‘ve been writing this blog for more than five years. In that time, I have tried to stick to a few guiding principles in what I publish:
- To be factually accurate, and to correct the record as quickly as possible where I do (occasionally) make a mistake. Because there’s not much point in having an uninformed debate.
- To only divulge as much personal information as is relevant to the topic at hand, and to try to respect the privacy of my fiancé Steven (although sometimes, as with our appearance on The Drum this week, there is a compelling reason to share our story).
- To try not to write, or post, while angry.
Today, I’m breaking rule number three. To put it bluntly, I’m mad as hell, and not in an amusing, Shaun Micallef kind of way.
The source of my frustration? The fact that, in the same week the overwhelming majority of Australians voted for marriage equality, some Commonwealth Parliamentarians have decided to undermine that same equality by pushing for new special privileges to discriminate against us.
Those arguing for something less than full equality include Attorney-General George Brandis, who has already indicated he will move multiple amendments to the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 (aka the Smith Bill) which, as we have seen, is itself an unsatisfactory compromise.
Senator Brandis’ proposals include providing all civil celebrants with the ability to reject couples on the basis of their personal religious or ‘conscientious’ beliefs – despite the fact civil celebrants are performing a secular function delegated by the state.
He is also suggesting a provision to state that “nothing in the bill makes it unlawful for people to hold and to express the views of their own religion on marriage.” Which sounds fairly innocuous, but when we eventually see the detail could include an attempt to override state and territory anti-vilification laws.
Then of course there is Senator James Paterson who, on Monday, released his own draft legislation that sought to grant special privileges to discriminate against LGBTI people in a wide variety of circumstances, including allowing commercial businesses to deny goods and services to same-sex weddings.
Thankfully, his legislation won’t ultimately be introduced, but he and others are likely to move the majority of its measures as amendments to the Smith Bill.
Perhaps the most egregious of these is the concerted push to include, within the Marriage Act itself, a ‘right’ for parents to withdraw their children from any class with which they disagree on the basis of their religious beliefs. This move, reportedly supported by Senators David Fawcett and Zed Seselja, as well as MPs Scott Morrison and Andrew Hastie, is a naked attack on the Safe Schools program.
In the words of Peter Dutton: “I want to make sure that proper parental protections are in place… Because I do think this Safe Schools movement will use this debate as a launching pad for their next wave.”
It could even extend to parents withdrawing their children from any and all sex education lessons, or Health and Physical Education generally – basically, any class that might teach students the incontrovertible fact that LGBTI people exist, and that we are normal.
If you’re struggling to figure out how parents withdrawing children from Safe Schools lessons has anything to do with marriage equality, you’re not alone. Because they are completely unrelated issues, deliberately conflated by the ‘No’ campaign during the postal survey, and again now by conservative MPs.
It is not difficult to legislate for marriage equality: to amend the definition to be the union of 2 people, and recognise the marriages of LGBTI couples that already exist. That is all that is required to implement the equal treatment of LGBTI relationships – nothing more and nothing less.
Instead, we are seeing some Liberal and National politicians using this debate to try to add to, rather than subtract from, anti-LGBTI discrimination, to fight an unrelated ‘culture war’ rather than do the one thing 7,817,247 people voted for: pass marriage equality.
My message to Senators Brandis, Fawcett, Seselja and Paterson, MPs Morrison, Dutton and Hastie, and anyone else who is contemplating amendments that have the practical impact of discriminating against LGBTI people and our relationships:
How dare you.
How dare you hold a 3 month, $100 million non-binding postal survey on the worth of our relationships, and of our lives, in the first place.
How dare you decide, when your unnecessary, wasteful and harmful process is finally over and the overwhelming majority of Australians have voted for marriage equality, to offer us something that falls far short of that standard.
How dare you attempt to change existing laws so that civil celebrants, who are performing a secular function delegated by the state, can simply say ‘no gays allowed’ on the basis of nothing more than their personal beliefs.
How dare you use this debate to attack Safe Schools, and inclusion programs for LGBTI students more generally, so that young people are denied the right to learn that who they are and who they love is okay.
How dare you amend legislation that would finally give lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians equal recognition under the law by taking away our rights in other areas, including anti-discrimination and anti-vilification protections.
How dare you place any terms or conditions on the right of LGBTI couples to get married in the (hopefully near) future that do not currently exist for cisgender heterosexual couples.
How dare you vote to ensure that your own weddings and marriages are treated any differently to, or better than, my wedding and marriage to my fiancé Steven.
Seriously, how dare you.
I thought long and hard before writing this post, and then again before deciding to publish it. There is obviously a risk that, in doing so, I could simply be dismissed as an ‘angry gay’ (which is usually very far from the truth).
But then I realised I can live with that description. Particularly because there is a much greater risk: that, after coming so far since the Howard Government first banned marriage equality way back in August 2004, after fighting so hard, and overcoming every obstacle placed in our way – including the unnecessary, wasteful and harmful postal survey – we are denied true marriage equality at the final hurdle.
That is what is at stake in the final parliamentary sitting fortnight of the year, starting Monday 27 November: full equality, or something that falls short, potentially by a long distance.
I don’t want to think back on this moment and realise that we could have achieved something wonderful, but instead ended up with something flawed.
So, if you believe in genuine marriage equality like I do, if you think that LGBTI relationships should be treated in exactly the same way as cisgender heterosexual couples are today, then it’s time to get active.
Please write to MPs and Senators who support marriage equality and let them know that there should be No compromise on equality.
If you can, call the office of your local MP to reinforce that message. Tweet, share, and do everything you can to make sure your voice is heard at this critical point.
This is the best opportunity for our relationships to be treated equally under the law. Don’t let some conservative MPs and Senators take that right, your right, away.