I was recently walking down the street with my girlfriend, enjoying the spring sunshine. We had just purchased some seedlings from the local nursery to plant in our veggie patch, a seemingly normal weekend activity. As we ambled along the footpath I sensed somebody heading towards us. As I looked up, our paths crossed with an older woman. She looked down her nose at us, then caste her gaze upon me and suddenly spat out, somewhat venomously, “Why do you have a girlfriend? Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”
I was flabbergasted. Shocked at what had just transpired in the middle of Brunswick, in Melbourne’s inner north – a suburb notorious for its diverse and progressive demographic. It was the first time I had directly experienced homophobia. My initial shock quickly dissipated and my response morphed into rage. “Excuse me?” I replied, somewhat aggressively. My girlfriend squeezed my hand and when I looked at her she burst out laughing. Her response to the situation contrasted with my own. I relaxed and laughed at the ridiculousness of the woman’s statement.
On the inside though, I remained bewildered. A series of questions concertinaed across my mind. How dare this woman, a complete stranger, opine her ignorant, narrow-minded views when we were simply walking down the street, causing no harm to anyone! Were we not two consenting adults in a loving relationship? Who was she to question the validity of our relationship? Why should my relationship be of any concern to her, or anyone else for that matter?
Could it be I had forgotten that to others, same-sex relationships are not considered normal? Are relationships that fall outside of the hetero-normative paradigm, which Australian society is structured around, still considered confrontational and threatening?
A Galaxy poll in 2012 found that 64 percent of Australians support marriage equality. But what of the remaining 36 percent who share the belief that there is something innately wrong with same-sex relationships? This sentiment, as exemplified by the woman we encountered in the street, is reinforced by the actions of the current Federal Government.
One needn’t look any further than our Prime Minister. Tony Abbott, a devout catholic and “traditionalist”, has made no secret of his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. His views contrast with those of his own sister, Christine Forster, who recently came out as a lesbian and an advocate for marriage equality.
Despite his deep personal connection to his sister’s struggle for equality, Abbott’s views are unflinching. This was made evident in the wake of the ACT’s recent attempt to legislate in favour of marriage equality. The Federal Government subsequently challenged the ACT’s legislation in the High Court, which found the laws to be inconsistent with the Federal Marriage Act.
The High Court’s rulings invalidate the marriages that took place between same-sex couples in the ACT and place the onus on the Federal Government to redefine the Marriage Act to bring about equality. It remains dubious however as to whether the Abbott government will act in favour of marriage equality. The Coalition has previously denied its members a conscious vote on the matter and the message conveyed by the Government’s challenge to the ACT’s laws rings loud and clear: marriage and by implication, relationships that fall outside of the norm (that is, heterosexual) are of lesser value.
The perpetuation of this sentiment, held by a handful of people in power, is inherently discriminatory and erodes individual human rights. My relationship with my girlfriend is the same in nature and character as the relationships I have had with men. The underlying values, commitments and emotional connectivity are identical to those shared between couples in heterosexual relationships. The only difference is, my partner is the same sex as me.
I personally do not subscribe to the institution of marriage – a view perhaps shaped by my experience as a child of a broken marriage with a father who has now been twice divorced. Despite this, in a Western, democratic nation, such as Australia, I should be entitled to the same legal privileges as those who are in heterosexual relationships. It is only fair that I ought to be legally permitted to follow in the footsteps of my hopelessly romantic father, if I so choose.
The current pandering to conservative, religious segments of society by Abbott and his cohorts is potentially dangerous for Australians who experience homophobia, directly and indirectly, on a daily basis. I should be able to walk down the street, holding my girlfriend’s hand, without having to suffer insults from strangers.
In the scheme of things, my personal experience of homophobia is relatively minor. I live in a highly educated, middle class, progressive area of Melbourne, where significant portions of the community have diverse gender and sexual identities. I cannot fathom what it must be like to identify in a way which does not conform with the status-quo (that is straight and male or female), in rural or lower socio-economic areas of our country.
The Government’s support for the current definition of marriage, as outlined in the Federal Marriage Act, is inherently discriminatory in nature and creates a hierarchy, whereby one type of love is awarded a higher value than another. This reinforces homophobic beliefs, such as those held by the woman I encountered in the street and does little to shift societal views surrounding the validity of same-sex relationships.
Homophobic views stem from ignorance and fear of the unknown. Changing the Constitutional definition of marriage would be a step in the right direction to curtail homophobia. This would legally provide millions of non-heterosexual Australians the same rights as those awarded to their straight friends, family and fellow compatriots and would send a clear message that same-sex relationships are of equal worth to heterosexual relationships. At the end of the day, love between two people should not be held captive by the religious and ideological beliefs of a small section of Australian society.