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Ordinary lives and gay marriage
First published in the Bendigo Advertiser on 11 April 2012
The authors of an anti-gay marriage letter currently circulating through the Victorian Catholic Church should change their stance to reflect community values.
Bendigo Bishop Les Tomlinson was one of 6 bishops to sign a letter to their parishioners telling them that they have a responsibility to make politicians know of their opposition to same-sex marriage.
While I respect their right to free speech and freedom of opinion I am concerned that they are greatly out of step with their community’s values. A recent Galaxy Poll indicated that 53% of Christians did not oppose gay marriage while those of other religious affiliations showed 62% support for gay marriage.
The church has undergone many changes in its beliefs over the centuries and I have no doubt that the currently held positions will be changed in line with present community understandings. It is disappointing however that the church leaders, who should be good examples of love and peace, are actively campaigning to block the rights of other citizens. In the end nobody is forcing anyone into gay marriage and I find it highly offensive that they are lobbying against the full exercise of citizenship for other sections of the community, especially in a secular country such as Australia.
New family structures including gay families with children are here to stay regardless of the legitimising of gay marriages. We also know that marriage in our society affords rights and opportunities and until we have equality these families, and the people within them, will have their rights curtailed.
I think the mood for change is summed up most eloquently by Justice Michael Kirby in his foreword to the book Speak now: Australian perspectives on same-sex marriage (Marsh, V. Ed., Clouds of Magellan, 2011) “The greatest dynamic for this change is scientific knowledge; empirical evidence; and the sheer ordinariness and normality of the lives of most long-term homosexual couples that makes denial to them of marriage (if they want it) now seem perverse, irrational and unkind in a secular country such as Australia”.
Some people who argue against gay marriage say it is part of a broader radical agenda, however this is not true. Gay and lesbian relationships occur across social boundaries of class, race, religion, location and family background. In the end gay marriage is about recognition of the very personal and intimate relationships of love, connection and family. When you fall in love many, if not most of us, dream of getting married to confirm publicly the depth and importance of the other person in our lives. Marriage is an institution that confirms and builds commitment to each other and to family. Denying this right to a section of our community has profound impacts on their well being and society.
It is clear from a range of polls conducted over the last 2 years that nationally the majority of Australians support gaymarriage. Significantly over 80% of young people aged 18 to 24 support gay marriage.
The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Australians - Private Lives 2, shows GLBT people continue to experience much higher levels of abuse and discrimination. This is likely to be linked to their poorer mental health outcomes compared to the general community.
The evidence linking marriage to better health and happiness is so conclusive that the Australian Psychological Society, on behalf of its 20,000 professional members, recently released a statement in full support of gay marriage.
Gay marriage equality is one of the foundations upon which full social equality and acceptance can be built. Harassment and discrimination of gay members of the community needs to be addressed upon a foundation of social equality.
As Professor Kerryn Phelps, former president of the Australian Medical Association said "Denying one group within a society the right to marry deliberately cuts right to the core of the emotional world of those individuals”. In the past this was the experience of blacks and whites, Jews and non-Jews who were prevented from marrying across inter-racial or cultural divides. Looking back on this time we can hardly imagine what the debate was about. I have every confidence that as time passes we will look back on this period with astonishment at the form of marriage apartheid that it is.
The bishop’s letter states that "We are blessed by God with the gift of our sexuality” and goes on to say that we have a responsibility to follow the Creator’s design by opposing gay marriage. Many Christians would agree that sexuality is innate and a gift but, contrary to the Bishop’s assertion, conclude that our intimate feelings should be respected and affirmed by supporting gay marriage.
In the end it is pretty simple, if you fall in love and want to make a life commitment with that person why should you not be allowed to marry?
Ms Shannon Kerrigan is Equity & Diversity Coordinator at La Trobe University Bendigo
Ms Shannon Kerrigan