The legalisation of gay marriage in the US is an enormous step in the right direction towards LGBTQIA+ equality. The most powerful country in the world making gay marriage legal may cause gay marriage to be more acceptable — and indeed, expected — on the world stage. While we should bear in mind that the battle for equality for all genders and sexualities is far from over, this development is a welcome sign.
Here in the UK, my current country of residence, gay marriage has been legal for almost two years. Gay marriage became legal under the administration of David Cameron’s Tory government (the more right-wing of the UK’s two main political parties). Cameron has himself said that he supports gay marriage without shame — a rare point in his favour.
As I sat at a train station in London on a rainy Sunday afternoon writing my first draft of this article, the legislation in the US, as well as the recent Pride celebrations in London, were on my mind. And to tell you the truth, these wonderful developments have made me disappointed, and even a little ashamed, to declare myself a citizen of Australia right now.
It is difficult for me to admit this shame, if I’m honest. Most of the time I am unequivocally happy about being a card- (well, passport-) carrying member of the Commonwealth of Australia. But with all of this national pride comes the need to recognise Australia’s faults. The lack of marriage equality is one of them.
Of the 257 countries in the world, gay marriage is illegal in 236. Of that 236, only nine are within the twenty most developed countries in the world. Of those nine countries, only two rank within the top fifteen countries most tolerant towards homosexuals. One (Switzerland) has a marriage equality bill pending. The other is Australia.
Considering Australia’s reputation as a tolerant nation, it is fair to say that gay marriage should have been legal well before now. Every country that can claim to be culturally similar to Australia (New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada) has legalised it. Every country more tolerant towards homosexuality than Australia, as well as a fair few countries less tolerant than Australia, has legalised it — or is well on its way to doing so.
The closest Australia has come was the legalisation of gay marriage in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in 2013. The high court of Australia then found that the ACT legislation was illegal without a federal mandate legalising same-sex marriage. The gay marriage bill was passed on 22nd October and reversed on 12th December. If only legislation that would actually benefit Australian society could be processed that quickly.
More recently, in light of the Irish marriage equality referendum in Ireland in May, our opposition leader tried to get the House of Representatives talking about a marriage equality bill. Tony Abbott, our Prime Minister, said that he might allow his party members to have a conscience vote on it — maybe, if he feels like it, and Downton Abbey is in re-runs, and he’s reasonably certain that most of his members will be as homophobic as he is and vote against it.
In case it isn’t clear, I am not particularly fond of my Prime Minister. While I certainly would not say that he is the sole reason that gay marriage is not legal, he certainly has a major part to play. He is a particularly right-wing member of his party, and he has publicly stated that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. Despite his claims that he doesn’t let his personal beliefs get in the way of his politics, he is studiously ignoring the opinion of the majority of the people he is supposed to be leading, stubbornly blocking his ears, burying his privileged head in the sand, and refusing to even consider changing the law.
It wasn’t always this way in Australia. We became a federation in 1901 through a vote, rather than a war. Some Australian women were allowed to take part in that particular election. The right for all other (white) Australian women to vote in federal elections became available in 1902. Australia was also the second country to have an official policy of multiculturalism in 1972 (a year after Canada), where the ethnic diversity of the people emigrating to Australia was emphasised, shared, and celebrated, rather than squashed and hidden away in the more racist integration and assimilation policies that were still being implemented by other countries at the time.
These examples speak to me of a country determined to be one of the forerunners in establishing social equality. So what happened? When did Australia go from being one of the forward thinkers to being the nation that the most homophobic residents of the US are now announcing on Twitter that they wish to emigrate to? I could have crumpled with embarrassment when I saw those tweets and realized that my beautiful country has come to be seen as a refuge for bigots to be bigots. That is not the Australia I know and love.
I am so grateful for the existence of such groups as Australian Marriage Equality and Equal Marriage Rights Australia for the work they do educating and informing people about this issue. I have absolutely no doubt that gay marriage will eventually be legalised in Australia. But it should have been legalised years ago.
To all of my fellow Aussies out there who support gay marriage, I salute you, encourage you to keep pushing for what we know is right, and know that we will get through this. To all of those bigots in the US tweeting about your desire to seek refuge in Australia, please stay away from my country. We don’t need you.
Love and Violet Crumbles,
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