On Thursday, the Australian parliament finally passed marriage equality into law. I, like many other hopefuls, watched the live stream within the House of Representatives for hours. When the moment came, the public gallery erupting into chorus: “I am, you are, we are Australian.”
For the first time in a very long time, I felt pride in my country. In this moment, it could be easy for many to forget the pain that my community was subjected to over the past months. But, now that marriage equality is now a reality, it’s time to begin mending some wounds.
Yesterday’s result follows the non-binding $122 million, voluntary survey that swept across the entire nation, asking every Australian citizen to vote as to whether they thought same-sex couples deserved the some recognition as their straight counterparts.
This was obviously problematic from the outset for a number of reasons. The nature of this survey meant that my government was willing to hoist an already-marginalised group into the spotlight and onto a pedestal for the rest of the country to point at and judge. The non-binding nature of survey also meant that, even if a yes vote came through, this still wouldn’t mean that gay marriage would be legal.
LGBTQ Australians subsequently had to deal with a lot of hostility throughout this period—the ‘no’ campaigns in particular was grounded on ignorance and propaganda. Conservative associations such as Marriage Alliance and Coalition for Marriage adopted fear tactics. “Stop the fags” posters began to appear, some rumoured to have spikes attached to the back of them as to harm those trying to tear the posters down. Anti-marriage equality advertisements were given air time; “school told my son he could wear a dress next year if he felt like it,” a mother said in one commercial, accompanied by fearful background music, which, for the record, even if that was true, what an absolutely beautiful school that would be.
Watching this wave of ignorance made me scared, but I wasn’t scared for myself. In all honesty, I found most of this rather humorous. I’m fortunate to be comfortable in myself, to know what’s just and unjust, and to have an incredible support system that lifts me up.
Instead, I was scared for the many at-risk and questioning kids who still don’t have that luxury. According to the National LGBTI Health Alliance, LGBTQI Australians between 16 and 27 are five times more likely to attempt suicide than straight Australians. “15.15% of LGBTI people aged 16 and over report current thoughts of suicide” in the past two weeks alone. 53% of trans folk in Australia over the age of 18 have self-harmed. The survey resulted in a further 20 per cent increase in young people accessing LGBTI support services. People lost their lives.
I was at the Victorian State Library with my queer brothers and sisters when the 'yes' result came through last month: 62% of Australians voting in favour of marriage equality. We knew this was the start of a new movement. Waves of rainbow smoke clouded us, streams of colour waved over our heads and Kylie Minogue’s “Celebration” started blasting from the stage. The screaming was almost deafening.
But, for the sea of hugs and tears that surrounded me, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was a bittersweet moment; although it was one of the first moments in history in which my government acknowledged LGBTQI folk as deserving of equal rights, there was also this sense of shame that it had to result in this way.
The Australian government has long found ways to manoeuvrer around, or blatantly ignore, the pain it has inflicted on the LGBTQI community, spanning back to the 60s, as well the 70s Gay Liberation movement. It will take more than marriage equality to the mend the wounds that my government has caused in my community over the past generations, but yesterday is a monumental first step. To those who fought before us, thank you for paving the way in a time when leaving one’s home and walking down the street was a matter of life or death.
To the Australian government, although you have an extremely arduous way to go about change, and could have saved $122 million, thank you for taking the first steps in acknowledging that our love is just as deserving of equal and legitimate rights.
Time and time again, the LGBTQI Australian community and their allies will always respond with strength, patience and love. I’m expecting invitations to many, many gay, glittery weddings. Stay tuned.