The Senate crossbench has decided not to wait until after the next election for the issue of marriage equality to be settled, and they are introducing a motion for a plebiscite on gay marriage today.
But when I think about having to live through this plebiscite, I feel ill. I imagine sitting on the bus, talkback radio blaring, averting my eyes and hoping that no one will read me as gay.
For me, and hundreds of thousands of Australians, the political is personal. The crossbench senators could scarcely imagine the humiliation implicit in their motion to have us beg the public for equality before the law. How it will force those already terrified and disgusted by who they are further into their closet of self-loathing. That it will embolden those who already think nothing of spitting at me and my partner in the street, of threatening us with rape to remind us that “women are for men”. To run this debate in full view and voice of anyone with a grievance to air will come at a steep personal cost.
Make no mistake, homophobia is not dead, buried and cremated. There are still many who believe we should get over it. Although the ALP abolished most discrimination against same-sex couples in federal legislation, for many of us, the issue of marriage equality isn’t about marriage per se, it’s about what withholding it represents. While we are unable to wed we are lesser citizens in a liberal democracy. This is no small thing. It’s emblematic of every small agony we repress: the estranged parent; the colleague who won’t make eye contact in the kitchen at work. It’s carte blanche for schoolyard bullies or the blind hatred of total strangers. How do we make sense of this to our children?
You don’t just come out once as gay, you do it almost every moment of every day of your life. You confess your sexuality to employers, to new friends, potential lovers; you come out to doctors and psychologists. Many of us come out to our family over and over, because they keep expecting — or hoping — we’ll change. We are expected, in every encounter, every waking moment, to expose ourselves in the most intimate of ways, and we are constantly vulnerable. To be openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer requires a deep reservoir of courage. But now we face another round of accounting for ourselves, appealing for charity, accepting the blows. Another failed bid for equality on the hill, in the High Court. Now a plebiscite to render the humiliation complete.
I was 17 when the Howard government first started the ideological wars over my existence; by the time I was 21 I was officially a second-class citizen, singled out by the 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act, which passed Parliament with the support of both major parties with no public consultation. That amendment specifically excludes me, stating:
Certain unions are not marriages
A union solemnised in a foreign country between:
(a) a man and another man; or
(b) a woman and another woman;
must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.
This debate has raged my entire adult life, and as the obsolescent have grown more desperate, the stakes have mounted, the tenor more vicious. I can’t imagine what it would be like coming out as a teenager today, raised on the shrill discourse of senators Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz. Hatred kills and it’s dismissed as collateral.
To invite the public to settle this is political cowardice and hypocrisy writ large by those who can’t even bring themselves to hold a conscience vote.
We didn’t need a plebiscite in 2004, and we don’t need one now. Please, hear us. Before the damage is done.