Article originally published in October edition Inner Circle Magazine, 2017. See the extended online version here.
From 13th of September, houses all over Australia began receiving envelopes, marked with the Australian Bureau of Statistics logo. Inside, a sheet of paper asking one question: should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? YES or NO.
To many, it’s an answer that seems startlingly simple. Why are two people who love each other forbidden from getting married simply based on their gender?
In 23 countries around the world, same-sex marriage is already a right – and in several of these, it’s been that way for more than a decade. Yet somehow, Australia is yet to make the change.
Some are hopeful the postal survey could be the start, with 70% of Australia predicted to vote YES, and the leaders of both major parties pledging their support a promising sign.
But with the results of the survey non-binding and the government under no legal obligation to adjust Australia’s marriage laws, there are also those who are worried the survey will mean no lasting change.
Here are the perspectives and opinions from businesses and community members in Melbourne’s inner north about same-sex marriage, the postal vote and affect it’s having on them and their community.
Tristan Meecham, All the Queens Men
“I stand for marriage equality and I stand for equality in general,” says Tristan Meecham.
He is one half of All the Queens Men, a company “creat[ing] spectacular theatrical and participatory community arts experiences.” The company provide creative opportunities for diverse members of society, the people who, Tristan says, are being needlessly damaged as a result of the debate.
“I am cognisant of the current debate causing unnecessary harm to the community so I want to stand with my LGBTIQA+ brothers and sisters,” he says.
“I also want to specifically acknowledge the trauma our trans community are experiencing at the moment. I hope that once the inevitable marriage equality is reached that we continue as a community to consider the social needs and considerations of all our brothers and sisters. [We need] to ensure the social rights of people who may not be at the forefront.”
“It’s about truly working towards what equality means and being aware of not just those that aspire to get married but those that are part of the community who may be getting used as political footballs in part of the debate.”
Crusader Hillis, Hares and Hyenas
Started in 1991 by Crusader Hillis and Rowland Thomson, Hares and Hyenas was one of Melbourne’s first queer bookshops.
Today, the venue continues to serve as a space for the “development of queer and literary culture” and “a community hub for the queer community.”
It’s this community that’s directly affected by the ongoing debate.
Though Crusader himself considers marriage an “outdated institution”, he recognizes that “marriage equality is extremely important to many queer people,” and is hopeful the survey will return a YES response.
“I am supporting the YES campaign and doing all I can to ensure that we get the message out and am encouraging people to post their survey forms back. It would be terrible if this campaign was lost because of complacency amongst people thinking the majority will vote so their vote doesn’t matter,” he says.
And though Crusader thinks and hopes the result will be a YES, he also believes the vote “is largely a distraction” to an issue that should have been resolved a long time ago.
“It is obvious to the vast majority of Australians that relationships between consenting adults should be equal, and they are in support of equal marriage rights for queer, trans, gender diverse and intersex people. The parliament is failing in its job by not debating the issue as a conscience vote, which is despicable,” he says.
“That there was a record number of new registrations by younger people leading up to the closing the voting registration process and the fact that there are so many heterosexual allies out there fighting for the YES response gives me some faith that there is going to be a strong majority voting YES.”
Tom Gunn, Proud Mary
“We believe all the people who work for us deserve to come to work happy and be in a safe environment,” says Tom Gunn. And this sentiment extends to the wider community also.
“We (Proud Mary) definitely support marriage equality act – we want people to be happy and enjoy their life. I’ve got a few friends that will be affected by this. [Getting married] something they should be able to do. It’s their life and it’s going to make them much happier,” says Tom.
“Stopping one human from doing what another human can do is wrong.”
Megan Grigg, Co-founder of Rainbow Collaboration, Northcote
The vote, and marriage equality debate in general, prompted Megan Grigg to start “Rainbow Collaboration”. It’s a Facebook group that Megan explains helps to “share ideas and plans that celebrate and support rainbow families and LGBTQIA+ kids and adults during the marriage equality debate.”
They swap resources for use in schools, encourage positive action and focus on raising awareness.
But lack of awareness isn’t all Megan is worried about. As a psychologist, she has real concerns about the harm and ongoing affect the debate is having on the LGBTIQA+ community.
“I think the lack of marriage equality is a human rights issue, and a mental health issue for the LGBTIQ population,” she says.
“I think making it a postal survey rather than a vote in parliament is a huge additional assault on the mental health of a LGBTIQ people and families.”
“I think that a resounding YES vote will certainly be more motivation to change, but who knows how soon that will happen. I’m confident that Australia will eventually follow the 22 countries that have already legalised this equality, but I do fear for the additional harm inflicted upon the LGBTIQ community until that happens.”
Kaz Kershaw Northcote
“On a personal level, I’m a queer identifying female in a monogamous hetro relationship, and we have children. I can get married if I want to simply because I happened to fall in love with a man. I find it ridiculous that had I happened to fall in love with a woman that right wouldn’t be available to me in this country.”
“I’m horrified that we are having a plebiscite for something that should just be a given. I’m “straight passing”, so nobody is questioning the legitimacy of my relationship or the welfare of my children, but the same can’t be said for my friends and queers around the country.”
“I guess the only silver lining is the support being thrown at the YES campaign, but at what cost to the mental health of the LGBTQI community as their very existence is being publicly debated. I’m focusing on elevating the voices of all of the queers I know while we wait for the outcome of the vote, and hoping our government can finally shake off the homophobia and get on board.”
Shelley Nelson Fitzroy
“I’m gay, so especially biased about the importance of marriage equality becoming a reality. What I struggle with is that I’m a human, and yet I don’t have a right to a legal entitlement that 90 per cent of the population do.”
“I think it’s ridiculous that the plebiscite is happening, due to what’s little more than in fighting. With it being a survey and in no way binding, there is a chance that the government won’t do anything further about it once the result is revealed and I find that ridiculous.”
Kate Alviano, Northcote
“We have gay friends who have been together for 25 years. My then 5 year old asked if they had a wedding and when they said no and I had to explain the government wouldn’t let them. A 5-year-old boy says: “That’s dumb”. Even he gets it!”
“We are a definitely VOTE YES family. I would’ve preferred Malcolm Turnbull to simply change the law to save a lot of Rainbow Families enduring the hate speech that seems to be suddenly flying around everywhere. Hate speech is not free speech it’s hurtful. Now that the plebiscite is going ahead it’s important for everyone to vote YES to show our support for Rainbow Families everywhere. Marriage is not tied to the church anymore and a basic human right is that people are treated equally!”
Alyssa Siobhan, Parkville
“I intend to vote YES. I think the vote itself is a massive waste of money and is a harmful. I am saddened that it is a debate at all, and that the process is allowing so much misinformation to be spread. Regarding the importance of same- sex marriage, it’s pretty simple – two people love each other and want to be able to be married [should be able to], and to have the same legal rights afforded to a man and woman who marry.”
Melody Megeggles, Northcote
“I think the entire argument regarding same sex marriage being against religion is absolutely untrue. Allowing marriage between anyone has no threat to the sanctity of marriage in any religion. [If people] are happy then it can only affect the community in a positive way. Everyone should have the same rights and privileges.”
Rachel Brisbane, Northcote
“I think the vote is unnecessary and a waste of time and taxpayers money. Best I know its not even binding, which to me means if the government doesn’t like the answer, its not binding! We don’t vote on other things, like whether we support war with our military, so why this issue? In terms of why marriage equality is important? Well I can’t see how some relationships are less worthy. Personally, I’d have been delighted if Australia was first to legalise it, so I m hoping the vote works to get it through.”
Rosemarie De Haas, Northcote
“I can’t see why this is such an issue. Who a person loves or marries is nobodies business but theirs. We just need loving secure homes in which to live and raise our families. The gender of people in that home is irrelevant.”
Megan Burrows, Northcote
“I’m sure my feelings are similar to a lot of people. I’m angry, I’m embarrassed by my country’s behaviour, [but] I’m hopeful. I feel really upset that it has come to this and everyday people; members of our community are being held up to a vote like this. Whatever the case I will vote YES. The argument for NO? I just don’t understand the reasoning. It’s not as if there will be an extra ‘gay marriage tax’ or something on everyone. It affects no one else. It’s archaic. I just don’t like it.”
Penelope Ray, Fitzroy
“I think that anyone who wants to get married should be allowed to. I don’t think gender or sexual orientation should matter, and I actually don’t understand the NO arguments beyond the religious based ones, and since I’m not religious I don’t agree with those either.
I think there will be a strong YES vote then it won’t be implemented for a long time but will come in within 10 years.”
Johanna Morcom, Northcote
“I will be voting YES to marriage equality, as it is so important for everyone to be afforded the same rights. I don’t really agree with the vote as I think it’s awful for people’s love and lives to be judged by others, and it’s all just a bit ridiculous. Love is love and is no one else’s business. I really hope that Australia gets this right.”
Alix Sampson, Fitzroy
“I don’t believe we should be having a vote at all to be honest. We shouldn’t be voting on other people’s basic human rights. My opinion on the matter is that religion (if that’s what the whole issue is) evolves with the times, and shouldn’t be taken word for word. People no longer believe that cheating on your partner is a crime, or that you should sleep your brother’s wife if he dies, or that your wife should be put to death if she loses a hand, so why is this any different? People should be allowed to marry whoever they want! It doesn’t impact anybody else- at all!”