The three faces of the Equal Marriage debate
Despite my sexuality, it's not often I find myself feeling like part of a persecuted minority. Incidents of direct discrimination have been rare, and living in the UK since coming out (where civil partnerships were long-standing and same-sex marriage followed) has cushioned me from most experiences of being a second-class citizen.
The same-sex marriage "debate" in Australia has brought this safe space crashing down.
For the uninitiated, the situation is thus: the homophobic, heavily fundamentalist-influenced conservative Australian government, facing increasing pressure to allow a free conscience vote on an act to introduce same-sex marriage, decided instead to hold a non-binding postal plebiscite to gauge the public's mood. This was in spite of a number of well-conducted polls indicating majority support, and in spite of the dire warnings by a number of charities and lobby groups that this would open an extremely negative can of worms. Forging cruelly ahead, they have decided to give validity to the idea that it's okay to vote on other peoples' human rights.
Fun time to be a non-straight Australian.
Predictably, intolerance hasn't been hard to spot. The bigots' campaign has been as nasty as it's been illogical, accusing non-straight people of everything from child abuse to trying to destroy western society entirely. They've used the usual slew of made-up "statistics" and outrageous claims, peppering news feeds, letterboxes and windscreens with vileness across the nation. My exposure to it has thankfully, through distance and a carefully curated social media environment, been limited to seeing my friends and groups complaining about the horror of it.
Where I have found heartbreak (and I think my friends have too, straight and not) has not been on the line between intolerance and tolerance, but on the line between tolerance and acceptance.
For a long time now, Australia has been a society that is broadly tolerant of non-straight people. Apart from the vicious conservative fringe who are currently having a field day, most Australians accept that non-straight people exist, have jobs, have families, contribute to society. Gay pride parades are enthusiastically attended; civic buildings have been known to fly the rainbow flag; homophobic hate crimes are relatively rare. The overwhelming opinion is that being non-straight should not mean you are allowed to be harmed. Tolerance says, "You are allowed to live amongst us unmolested", and Australians have largely got that down pat.
Acceptance is something else. Acceptance says "you ARE us", and it is at this hurdle that I have lost friends and my friends have lost friends. This is the mundane rejection that stings most cruelly and has infiltrated every part of our daily social media life.
It's the hurdle of "I have nothing against gay people, but..."
It's the hurdle of "Why would they WANT to get married if they don't want to be like straight people?"
It's the hurdle of "Can't they just call it something else?"
It's the hurdle of "The etymology of marriage says..."
It's the hurdle of "I'm not religious but..."
It's the hurdle of "They already have de facto legal protection..."
It's the hurdle of "Traditionally, marriage has been..."
It's the hurdle of "Aren't there more important problems to solve?"
These are the people who have never unfriended me over my sexuality (there were a few who did, long ago, or who I unfriended when I discovered their views). They've been quite comfortable staying my friend, interacting with me, heart-reacting my posts about my stepson, asking and answering parenting questions, cheering on each others' achievements... all the while believing that I should not be married, that I was a second-class citizen, that I was not deserving of rights that they took for granted.
They're the people who would never say a bigoted word in their life, who would meet my wife with absolute pleasantness and grace, but will quietly return a 'no' vote because their pastor says so.
They're the people who are completely unable to connect their "I love you, but these are my beliefs" with the dehumanising viciousness of the 'no' campaign.
They're the people who, when pressed, will admit that they feel that marriage is the exclusive province of straight people, but will recoil from your response as though you have harmed them.
Acceptance means admitting that the people you're tolerating to walk amongst you are actually... people. Just people, who want to have access to the things that people do, like get married. It's been a shock to discover just how many people - nice, "tolerant" people who would protest vigorously against non-straight people being harmed - believe that giving non-straight people access to important social institutions like marriage is a step too far.
It's not enough to tolerate those who are different to you, allowing them to live in your world but refusing them access to its most significant social rites of passage. I am shattered from the effort of trying to convince people who apparently like me but do not understand that.