I attended the Marriage Equality rally
in Canberra on the weekend. It was small (numbering only a few hundred participants) and my nuclear disarmament days should have prepared me for a small crowd. But I expected more for this issue given that the majority of Australians polled now support same-sex marriage rights. I am thrilled that in other capitals the event was much bigger - five thousand for Melbourne a friend has told me. I suppose that our national capital is still just a small town.
The rally was worthwhile despite its size. The thing is that such events always serve many purposes. A big rally can garner public and government attention but even a small one can give a movement something at which its members bolster the commitment and morale of one another. This was definitely the case with our sunny Saturday afternoon in Civic. But one interesting thing I always notice is that a rally draws together many different and sometimes conflicting perspectives (my observation of peace marches has been that they attract "everything from anarchists to anglicans").
So I am far from convinced by the assertion of one speaker that capitalism is intrinsically
homophobic. I suspect that the hospitality industry will welcome the profits arising from same-sex weddings with relish. Still it is the nature of such events that one accepts such statements with polite silence and farewells each speaker with some applause.
Mind you there sometimes are
hecklers from within the crowd. So for instance the speaker for Amnesty International (AI) was jeered by someone because she specifically acknowledged the support of straight members of the crowd. This struck me as unusual but then I imagine a person may feel this way if (for instance) every significant straight person in their life had helped to make it a misery. This is why I think interacting with a larger and more diverse cross-section of society is an important thing for all of us. Familiarity breeds respect (contrary to the traditional saying).
I think the speaker from AI was the best in that she focused on both the positive and
negative aspects of liberty. The freedom to
marry whomever one will can very much enhance ones life. However freedom from
abuse and intimidation is also vital and she shared two incidents with us.
One was a personal anecdote in which she and her (same-sex) partner had been sitting last Summer on a Melbourne beach holding hands - they were approached by some men who asked them if they would rather have men to be with and she felt threatened by this experience.
The other incident was that very recently a man kissed another man at Australian National University and was later followed in a menacing way back to his car by some strangers. The phrase "gay bashing" was never used at the rally but I am sure it was a shadow in our minds.
Now nobody in church or state may ever say
it is okay to threaten and menace queers but
by denying them the same rights as straights it gives just that tiny bit of legitimacy to those who think it is
okay - if they deserve one form of deprivation then maybe they deserve other forms as well...
Rights are universal. They only work if everyone can exercise them. Furthermore extending a right to a hitherto excluded group still allows full enjoyment of that right by those who continue to possess it
. The sense of this is something a growing majority are coming to understand.
Still there is opposition and it can come from interesting directions. The only argument I have had with anyone on this topic recently came from a somewhat radical friend who opposes the institution of marriage itself. Possibly - like many young adults - this friend has been put off by the short-comings of the marriages of parents. Or maybe the pressure of traditional culture on us to marry and reproduce has made the whole concept a bitter one.
My response to this was to say that it is for every adult (or set of consenting adults in this case) to decide for themselves what kind of life they wish to live rather than for this to be determined by any one perspective in society. The best decisions are the ones we make for ourselves.
There is government resistance to marriage equality and that is frustrating. My feeling however is that it is only a matter of time before Australia becomes part of a growing worldwide trend to let us decide for ourselves whom we marry. Continuing political activity (from attending marches to writing letters to papers or parliamentarians) will be a vital part of this process.