Last weekend my fantastic partner of 3 1/5 years, absolute love of my life, proposed marriage. We were away for the weekend at a quaint cottage in Leongatha, Victoria (I’ve written a blog post about it here) when Sim asked me to be her wife. Yes, you heard me correctly I said her.
There’s just a slight issue. Although there is no law stating that Sim and I can’t get engaged, there is a law in Australia which does not allow us to be married. Unlike most of the western world, Australia doesn’t yet have marriage equality as the Australian government haven’t made amendments to the definition of the Marriage Act 1961 to allow for greater equality for its citizens. But, is it really an issue?
There’s often a moment in every conversation where I say something like “My partner and I went to this restaurant the other night…” and I hesitate over whether to finish the sentence with “…and she ordered the best dessert.” Because sometimes, there’s a fragment of time where the person I’m talking to realises/is confronted by the fact that I’ve just out-ed myself as being in a same-sex relationship.
I have four years’ experience maintaining confidence in my ability to come out as a lesbian in subtle conversation without feeling shy or judged and it’s something that took me over a year to accomplish. It’s not that I wasn’t confident about my relationship or sure of my sexuality, but more so a learned experience that saying those words gained a certain reaction from some people as they suddenly look at you differently, as if with a new stereotyping lens on their non-existent glasses.
Usually, when two people get engaged they announce it to the people in their world, and over the last week Sim and I have had many conversations with our loved ones about our recent engagement. And all of a sudden, like a wave of nostalgia from three years ago, those same nerves and moments of hesitation have found their way back as I’ve prepared myself for this response, “but…you can’t even get married?”
I must admit, the people who bring up Australia’s marriage inequality law are most often heterosexual, and haven’t ever had to question the importance or value of their relationships in terms of the law, so I guess I can understand why they might have this reaction. But really, whether it’s the law or not, same sex couples are already getting engaged, married, raising children, working jobs, paying taxes and building houses – just like anyone else – and it’s important to remain positive, supportive and hopeful for those the laws directly affect.
Of course, marriage equality laws do matter, just as any piece of legislation matters – because the law sets the standard of what a society deems important, valuable and acceptable. Laws enforce rights and solve conflicts. They are a tool for people to seek protection and they are used as a guide of what is considered to be worthwhile and valuable in society. So what does that mean if your relationship is left out of those laws? Well, it’s not a great feeling, but it also brings me to my next point…
I acknowledge that the law is important, but I will not let Australia’s exclusive and discriminatory Marriage Act dictate the worth of my relationship. Sim and I are both free and independent people, and although we live in Australia, we wouldn’t let a government deter us from ensuring we have the same rights and freedoms as our heterosexual friends and family. So in matters of engagement, the law doesn’t matter to me.
Even though I’m a lesbian living in a country where I can’t legally marry my partner, I am extremely lucky to have the freedoms that I enjoy every day, it’s definitely not as easy for many other LGBTIQA+ people in other parts of the world who are faced with extreme discrimination for being their authentic selves. But since I’ve been having so many conversations about marriage lately, it’s really brought the relevance of Australia’s bigotry to the forefront of my mind. Changing the definition of Australia’s Marriage Act to be inclusive of same-sex relationships is not only important for people who identify as DSG (diverse sexuality or gender) but also to the people who love them. Allowing marriage equality would be Australia’s way of saying ‘We support you, we value you, we want to ensure your rights as citizens’, because without that what message are they really sending?
Don’t forget, if someone is happy with their partner and they’re choosing to be with each other for the rest of their lives by getting engaged, it’s probably not the best time to bring up the fact that they can’t yet legally marry – chances are if they’ve made it this far, they won’t let a government stand in their way. Rather than pointing out the barriers and challenges LGBTIQA+ people face in Australia when speaking of engagement, be as happy, supportive and encouraging as you would be to any other recently engaged couple (no matter their sexuality or gender), because ultimately, we just want the opportunity to be as valued and happy as anyone else.
For more information about how you can help fight for marriage equality in Australia, check out the Australian Marriage Equality website or attend the next marriage equality rally. They’re always an empowering experience.