As the Marriage Inc juggernaut rears its ugly head, threatening to homogenise (all puns intended) every family in its wake, the detractors and critics have — quite rightly — raised their voices to ask whether this is what we have become. An imitation of taffeta and bustle, of extravagance and polite assimilation. What happened to the rioting, rambunctious queers of yore?
I would argue that we’re still here, we’re still queer, and we can see this as a watershed for equality without losing the sense that there is, and will be, much work left to do.
Firstly, it’s not about marriage. Or, at least, it’s not only about marriage. This should never have been reduced to a technocratic exercise outsourced to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, but as the rainbow Trojan horse has bolted, it’s rather too late for hand-wringing over the considerable — and mounting — collateral damage.
Some in the Yes camp wish to paint this as, quite simply, a question about amending the Marriage Act to allow two consenting adults to marry, and in a sense, of course, that is true. But as with any political exercise — and make no mistake, that is squarely what this is — there is much more at stake. The hysterical, vitriolic, sometimes violent (see: “gay people should be shot“, “that Hitler guy was onto a good thing“) and certainly bellicose rhetoric from the opposition camp exposes very plainly that there is a great deal more than a legislative amendment bound up in this exercise. They see a rampant secularism and humanism, which long ago displaced them from ascendancy everywhere except the halls of power, where they continue to enjoy a peculiar stranglehold. They see a rejection of the paternalistic demagoguery that insists, still, in 2017, that the confessional seal has more authority than the law in matters of child sexual abuse. They see this, and perhaps they are right.
What I see, and what we must embrace, is that this is about galvanising a popular movement towards equality, dignity, empowerment and self-respect. It’s not about inviting the state to sit in judgement of your relationship or offer its imprimatur; it’s about everyone having the same choice to eschew that if they want to, rather than having that choice made for you by an Old World Order where raw onion consumption and shandy is king. There is nothing compulsory or compelling about changing the Marriage Act; it doesn’t force anyone to get married, or to accept that they are now a hetero sellout. None of this has to be a zero-sum game, it’s not an either/or. We’ve never been a community for binaries and we don’t have to start now.
By abolishing the words “man and woman” at law, this is about inclusion of everyone who wishes to enter into a marriage, including those too often silenced by a bureaucracy, which only comprehends a person by the his or hers semaphore of a toilet door. It says to our trans and intersex brothers and sisters, and those who reject all notion of their gender being boxed in by others, we see you, you matter, you belong.
The symbolism of this movement matters, because it signals to those young and questioning their sexuality, those living in the closet, to those who are yet to follow us on this path that they aren’t alone, and that though they may be voiceless, others are loudly speaking their truth. It also acknowledges the many, many people on whose shoulders we stand, those who fought the police and won, who fought the bureaucracy and won, who have lived proudly, defiantly, through the Grim Reaper panic and decriminalisation debates. They have fought for, and succeeded, on countless legislative reforms, the most glaring omission to which has been the Marriage Act, and we owe it to them to knock this very public monument to division and exclusion down. Until we do, it will remain a justification for homophobia, division and exclusion — a symbol of legitimacy for the very worse versions of ourselves.
Secondly, this is galvanising a movement, the likes of which we haven’t seen, at least not in my lifetime, for LGBTQI rights in this country. Whether you like it or not (and many of us do not), this most vanilla and patriarchal of institutions has become a proxy for our equality. For those who oppose any progress of our rights, of course, it has assumed a similarly talismanic quality.
Refusing to participate in this process is, of course, a morally and ideologically defensible act. Many of us, myself included, debated the merits of boycotting this survey as a show of our fundamental objection to the disturbing precedent it sets, where civil rights are a matter for callous debate over the water cooler or barbecue, and the human beings involved are little more than abstractions. But opting out of this conversation isn’t a pragmatic option, unless you’re willing to cop whatever a resounding “no” entails. It’s the equivalent of chucking a donkey on election day and spending the next three years complaining about the government not speaking for you. This democracy is obscenely imperfect, but it’s the best and only thing we’ve got.
If you object to marriage, an inherently conservative ideal, being the imperative for this march, you must, perversely, take part. Because victory on this front is the only hope we have of bringing our country a step forward on the things that truly matter, whatever you believe those things to be. We cannot advocate for our kids to be protected or for their classmates on that anguishing road to self-acceptance to see that it does get better if we cannot draw a line under everything that’s currently being said in the public domain with a message of hope and acceptance.
Thirdly, we contain multitudes. We can and must address medicalised violence against intersex people, the safety of our trans community, the unique needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of diverse genders and sexualities. To contend that we cannot do this alongside a campaign for equality before the law, that we must choose either or, is to buy into the logic of our oppressors, who are ever so fond of blaming us for their stratagems. Who tell us that if we refuse a plebiscite then we desire our ongoing exclusion, like a child who must be sent to bed without dessert. We can walk and chew gum, and we are. We’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for LGBTQI community groups with the #YesWithLove campaign and we will raise thousands more before this fight is done. To conclude calling for marriage equality is running up the white flag on our history and our existence may feel ideologically pristine, but it’s also a free kick to every person out there who would very much like to pretend that both the latter and former do not exist.
It would be foolish to contend that Marriage Inc is not sucking the oxygen out of the queer commons right now — of course it is, and it’s why the conservatives are so keen to see us tied in knots about this. But it does our community, in all its magnificent deviance, diversity, perversity and pageantry, no justice to claim that if we walk alongside this movement, we are eschewing what really matters. We are, and always have been, much more than the caricature demanded by the status quo. Let us celebrate who we are, a kaleidoscope of the radical and the resolutely nuclear, in a vote of affirmation. Let this be a beginning, not an objective, nor an end but the means to something truly meaningful. Let it be Yes.