Tuesday, 13 December 2011
by Stephanie Bolt
Last Monday, my brother Andrew Bolt published a column presenting his views in opposition to same-sex marriage. I belatedly attempted to post a contribution to the lively blog debate. When it wasn’t published, I knew I didn’t want to leave it there — being a lesbian in a committed relationship I want to participate in the conversation happening across the country, tell my story and, in doing so, hopefully make even the smallest difference to the long-running campaign for marriage equality.
As my family will recall, I came out when I was 21 years old. Like many in the GLBTI community, I was awash with the relief and joy of recognising and expressing such a fundamental part of who I was. Again, like many, I experienced much uncertainty about my value to the community and the fear of rejection.
For the most part though, I feel fortunate to have received respect and love from people important to me as I made those first tentative steps out of the closet. That, of course, is not everyone’s experience. Rejection by parents, siblings and peer groups is not altogether uncommon and low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide can be the terrible result.
Even with my good fortune, I have felt the effects of ignorance, fear and hate by others: fearing for my life, I was chased down city streets one night by a group of drunk teenagers for holding hands with my girlfriend; I have been verbally abused and taunted about my sexuality when playing sport; and I have felt on social and work occasions the discomfort or disapproval of others upon hearing the word “girlfriend” or “she” in relation to my partner.
Some gays and lesbians view their relationships as equal to those of straight people. But I know of others who would admit to feeling “lesser” or, even if they don’t, are fed up with receiving negative physical, verbal or other signals from the world around them.
Offering civil unions seems a reasonable compromise from the position of any straight person who has not ever had to question for a single moment others’ acceptance of their relationship or their right to choose to marry the person they love. Offering civil unions sends a signal that, to me, says I am lesser.
I’m then told that civil unions are in a legal sense similar to marriage and, therefore, why should it not be embraced by same-sex couples? If it’s such a palatable alternative it’s then fair to ask why it’s not embraced by many more heterosexual couples?
To point out the blindingly obvious, many of us regardless of sexuality want to get married; we want the ceremony that is such a significant marker in life’s journey. There may be little that legally separates the two, but socially and culturally there’s a chasm.
Marriage is touted as one of our most enduring traditions. Traditions are organic; their foundations are laid in the past but they grow and evolve over time. Granting me and my partner the right to marry — to have our loving and committed relationship recognised in law and by the community — doesn’t erode that tradition; it builds upon it.
My partner and I celebrate two anniversaries. We first held a “commitment ceremony” at home witnessed by many of our family and friends on a stormy Adelaide spring day. It was the day I told the world I would love my partner forever. It was the best day of my life.
However, it wasn’t until we married in the simplest of ceremonies one month later in Canada that I sensed a legitimacy and belonging I wasn’t expecting to feel. I think that’s because I have built a layer of protection against judgement and negativity for many years around my sexuality, my relationship and, now, my young son.
It may seem naive, but having that certificate in my hand made me untouchable, secure, normal, and for those wonderful few weeks, I could drop the shield. It’s disappointing beyond measure that my brother and others who share his views don’t wish that for me and everyone else like me.
I want marriage equality. At the very least, I wish for a rational and respectful debate.
I trust that more thoughtful consideration of this issue will prevail and, whether under this government or another in the future, my wife and I will finally see our relationship legitimised.