Australia: Marriage equality would be a victory for 'respectable' gays, but what about the rest of us?

This is the pinnacle of marriage equality as respectability: promoting queers as literally indistinguishable from heterosexuals. But this is exclusionary, writes freelance writer Benjamin Riley  Benjamin Riley is a freelance writer and works in gay men's health. 

Like most Australians, queer or otherwise, I will be glad when the marriage equality debate is over. I have spent the last seven years of my life working within Australia’s LGBTI communities, marriage equality an incessant hum in the background. I am sick of talking about it, I am sick of asking for it, and I do not want it, at least for myself.

Of course, when I receive my ballot paper in the mail for the postal vote on marriage equality I will vote yes, and I would hope most Australians will do the same. I do not begrudge anyone the opportunity to get married, and given how important the issue is to so many of my queer comrades, I hope it makes them happy. But I will never be an advocate for marriage equality, no matter how high it is held as a shining beacon of progress and “love” — an apparent panacea for everything that ails my communities.

The strangest thing about this endless debate is that it has forced queers to consider, constantly, our position on an issue as banal as marriage. Something that was once furthest from my mind (not because I couldn’t get married, but because the thought had never entered my head) is now a daily reality.

Somehow, marriage of all things has become the unexpected battleground for the fight against homophobia.

Well, not somehow. When the Howard government amended the Marriage Act in August of 2004 to define “marriage” as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”, it came in response to small numbers of Australian same-sex couples seeking to have weddings performed overseas recognised here.


Howard’s move was a pre-emptive strike. This was still early in what would become a wave of reform around the world — in 2004 when the Marriage Amendment Act was introduced, only the Netherlands, Belgium, a few Canadian provinces and Massachusetts in the US had legalised same-sex marriage.

There isn’t much of a history of agitating for marriage within queer communities, and even at the time, one queer advocate quoted on Lateline recognised the move as an attempt by Howard to wedge the Australian community on an issue very few people were talking about.

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