Still fighting for marriage equality

Vicki Lucas - Principal 

As I type this, AEU members, along with all other Australians on the electoral roll, will be tasked with voluntarily participating in the affront that is the marriage equality postal survey. 

I get to vote on whether or not I might choose to marry my partner of over 18 years. My heterosexual comrades reading this short article, many of whom have never met me, also get to vote on my right to marry and access the protections offered by that legal status. This exercise means different things to different people, regardless of how they might actually vote. The outcome, therefore, means different things to different people.

I do my best to understand that people have different opinions, values and world views. However, those who vote "no” in this survey are essentially saying that they are happy to live in a country that sleeps comfortably at night knowing its laws validate different rights for its citizens based upon whom they love. I imagine, sadly, that they may have been the same 10% who might have voted “no” in the 1967 Referendum.

Each day throughout this survey period, I am reminded that one of the senators elected to represent me and my family is actively campaigning to deny me the same rights as those of my heterosexual, married neighbours.

In contrast, there are many Australians who consider this vote unnecessary because all people deserve equal rights. The AEU is founded upon such social justice principles, which is the very reason I am a member. Yet, even amongst those who will vote "yes”, the result and the subsequent Government response means different things.

For some, achieving marriage equality is a demonstration that we are a society built upon social justice and inclusion. This is the latest battle to be fought to create a future where all Australians enjoy equal rights and respect. It means that our nation becomes the 22nd country to enact such legislation, finally.

For others it represents an opportunity to support their son, daughter, cousin, neighbour, parent, friend or colleague who does not currently have the right to marry whomever they love. I have lost Facebook “friends” during the lead up to this absurd plebiscite. I have also found many allies. I have been impressed by the unexpected compassion of straight friends and family who have spoken out against the agony that this process has been for those most affected by it.

For me, the outcome of this non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey is very personal. It means more than a wedding. It means more than a piece of paper in a frame. The outcome I am hoping for is that this survey will result in passing legislation that will declare me to be “married”. The rights that come with that label matter in so many ways and for so many reasons. This survey, in fact, determines my future.

Should my future include hospitalisation of some serious nature, my partner of over 18 years, who shares a ring, mortgage, pets, children and holiday photos with me, is currently not assured the right to sit beside me. This differs between jurisdictions and between institutions. Marriage equality will mean that she can be by my side and make decisions on my behalf, regardless of what state or territory we are in at the time.

We currently have enduring powers of attorney so that we can list each other as next-of-kin. Yet there is limited legal precedence as to whether such a document is valid or overrules the heterosexist ways institutions such as hospitals function. Marriage equality will make that unnecessary and mean that we are more than “friends” or “housemates”.

I am currently not welcome to be “out” in a number of places of worship. In all honesty that would probably be the same if I was still straight! Of course, marriage equality won’t change such ignorance and selective reading of biblical text - yet.

I cannot currently guarantee our children that in the event of my passing, their mother will have assumed parenting rights if we reside outside of the ACT. Those who vote no are saying they are happy for my children to have such uncertainty in their future. Marriage equality will provide my children with that security.

If one of us dies without marriage equality, our access to superannuation, life insurance, and other key benefits remain problematic. Marriage equality will mean that we would have the same rights as other married folk during a time when hearts are broken enough.

My partner and I have exchanged rings and have what is known as a “civil union” (within the ACT). We can’t, however, technically or legally refer to each other as “wife”. Marriage equality will change that. It will reduce the number of places where I have to play the “pronoun game”, using “they” and “their” rather than “she” and “her”.

Any interstate travel in which I engage, including representing the ACT Branch at Federal Conference, is currently done under the cloud that is that we have different rights in different states should anything go wrong (e.g. injury requiring hospitalisation). Marriage equality will fix that.

I feel like a bit of a pessimist listing some of the reasons why I need marriage equality to happen. However, removing remote and unlikely possibilities from the scene frees up space to concentrate on enjoying the actual living of life in a committed relationship.

Marriage equality won’t change much in our day to day life. If it doesn’t get through the ridiculous hoops required, I still have bills to pay, lawns to mow, children to feed and dogs to walk. Marriage equality, however, will allow us to do those everyday things with greater peace of mind and future security.

Of course, we might not choose to marry. But having the choice will be so sweet!

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