The struggle for and debate surrounding marriage equality, specifically the right for gay and lesbian couples to be able to marry, is not a foreign one to any contemporary day Australian.
Quite often, a week cannot go past without some form of news article being written about the issue, and opinions vary far and wide. In his inauguration speech in January this year, Barack Obama, likened the struggle for gay rights to marriage, to the American civil rights movements.
And the comparison is stricking.
For an issue that has been around since the dawn of time – that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve – it has taken a very long time for the issue to come to the forefront of public opinion, to matter in the scheme of politics, and for the more than half of the world’s population to be in support of marriage equality.
I read an article in TIME Magazine today, about the changes in societal views around the matter in terms of the American political sphere, and the judges and politicians alike that have gone from staunch traditionalism, to full blown support in the last decade alone. Quite often, the change is caused through a family member, most often one of their children, ‘coming out’. However, in some cases, this makes no difference – the prime example being George W Bush’s shunning of his daughter after she told him she was a lesbian.
But let’s take a look at the history of the struggle for and uprising of same sex marriage. In 1970, a Minnesota law student named Jack Baker, filed a law suit after being denied the right to marry his partner. It is not until the end of 1973 that homosexuality is no longer listed as a mental disorder in the US, and in those 3 years, a number of states legislate to ban same sex marriage. The first march for gay rights was held in Washington in 1979, and earlier in 1978, the first ‘test tube baby’ is born, throwing a major spanner in the works in terms of how the world now defines ‘family’.
It wasn’t until 1993 that the issue came out of shadows of the AIDS epidemic, as Hawaii’s supreme court ruled that laws banning same sex marriage could be unconstitutional, and the US military implemented their infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In 1996 Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, legally defining marriage as being between a man and woman, and the first national US polls are done on legalizing gay marriage, putting initial support at 27%. This increases in 3 years to 35%.
In 2000, the Netherlands becomes the first country to legalise gay marriage, and Vermont becomes the first US state to legalise civil unions. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of countries of states, that allow same sex marriages had risen to 17, and shows not only a pattern of increasing, but also acceleration of increase, as 10 of these countries legalized in either 2009 or 2010.
By the time we get to 2013, the US military has ended the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, 9 US states have legalized, we’ve had Dumbledore announced as being gay, the X-men character Northstar becomes the first gay superhero to marry, and we have the first ever mention of gay rights in a Presidential Inaugural Address.
So with so much support world wide – with most European countries acknowledging civil unions, as well as many allowing same sex marriages, and an incredible rise of popularity within America and Australia – the question is, why have we not legislated on this issue?
In 2013, support for same sex marriage in America sits at an average of 53% overall, with 73% of 18-29 year olds, and 39% over 65 year olds, showing their support. Closer to home, the latest polls suggest that 62% of the population are in favour of same sex marriage, with 81% of 18-24 year olds supporting it. The latest Australian Senate inquiry into same sex marriage, heard over 11 000 submissions in support, with the majority of these reportedly being given by heterosexuals. And way back in 2008, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, announced that they will count same sex married couples in the next nationwide census.
So to the naked eye it would seem almost insane, that political parties (especially in an election year) are not jumping on the YMCA band wagon, waving their rainbow flags and honking their gay horns. But this is because the issue is complicated – primarily because the Australian Government has the constitutional right to define marriage, which they did so many years ago, and so because it is written in the constitution, it becomes a lot harder to have this changed. However, it is also because of the archaic Christian tendancies (mainly Catholic) that reside within the Parliament – but a discussion of the supposed separation of Church and State is for another time.
The primary argument against gay marriage, is that it will destroy the sanctity of the institution of marriage. That marriage is for a man and a woman who are in love, want to spend the rest of their lives together, and want to start a family. With marriage, comes a number of legal rights as well.
So to those who argue against gay marriage, I say this: it is Australian law, that same sex couples fall into the same category as defacto couples (people who chose not to marry), and have the same legal rights as married couples in terms of divorce and wills. A man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or a man who used to be a woman and a man – all have the same capacity to love as a man and a woman do. They also, by the grace of technology and science, have the ability to start a family, and by law, are able to spend the rest of their lives as a couple.
If it’s not obvious to you by now, let me put it like this: gay couples have the same rights, and can do all the same things as heterosexual couples. They can even go overseas and get married, it is just not recognized in Australia. So, if things between a homosexual and a heterosexual couple are really so identical, then why not simply give homosexual couples, the same piece of paper that you do to heterosexual couples, and let them say “I do”.
With Labor having secured a conscience vote on the issue, but with Abbott refusing to budge on the topic, or allow his MP’s a conscience vote (fun facts: his sister is in a long term lesbian relationship, and his daughters made a public statement last year in support of gay marriage), let’s make marriage equality, a major point of discussion for all those sweating it out in Canberra in this election year of 2013.
It’s about time we all told Parliament, to get their gay pride on.