Letter: Marriage equality

The Manning River Times front page on August 7, 2013.

The Manning River Times front page on August 7, 2013.

Four years ago I first wrote about this issue in a public forum.

After calling out now MP David Gillespie on his ‘Stop the Boats’ rhetoric in the 2013 election campaign, I challenged him to discuss issues relevant to young people in Lyne and the Manning Valley. Issues like youth mental health, climate change and marriage equality.

Four years on and here we are again, discussing marriage equality, almost exactly 13 years since the Coalition first redefined marriage to exclude queer people.

Four years on and the landscape is familiar but there have been some changes. Queer people are still secondary in the eyes of the now government but not in the eyes of everyday Australians. The majority now support marriage equality, including religious people and Coalition voters.  The government still have little care for the lives of queer people, particularly young queer people - compared to straight people they are at higher risk of developing mental health issues, self harming and suicide.

While the government haven’t changed their position, four years later they’ve changed their approach. They’ve shifted from ignoring the issue to publicly orchestrating a shameful survey encouraging ‘respectful debate’ on both sides of the issue.

I’m proud to be a gay man. I’m in my mid twenties and living my dreams. I get to work in an exciting and rewarding career undertaking research for government and charities in a leading London agency. I get to travel and experience the world, living in one of the world’s most vibrant and multicultural societies.

But I wasn’t always proud. When I was growing up I felt scared and alone. Scared of who I was and alone because I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted by those around me. When I decided to ‘come out’ I was prepared to leave everything behind. Harsh and extreme but true to my 17 year old mind.

It is easy to leave that in the past and put to one side what is happening back home in Australia. In the UK I am subjected to less questions over my identity, who I love and (dare I say) who I choose to have sex with.

Marriage equality has been around for years in many other countries culturally similar to Australia. It would be easy to turn a blind eye and laugh with my friends here at how ‘behind’ Australia is. But that’s not the path I want to take. I care about my home community and country. I want to take a stand for you out there who are questioning your gender or sexual identities and those of you searching for the courage and support to come out and live the life you deserve.

Marriage equality is not a political issue. The government has chosen to politicise it. We do not exist solely in the inner city hipster cafes, sipping lattes and watching Will and Grace reruns. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other queer people are all around. Your sons, your daughters, your parents, your aunts, your uncles, your neighbours, your friends, your colleagues and the people you walk past on the street. It’s not a good time to be queer during this campaign. Imagine if your intimate relationships were the subject of national debate. Please think before you speak. Keep it civil and remember not all things are up for debate. If you feel threatened by queer people or we make you feel uncomfortable, question your own assumptions - the problem lies with you not with us. Open your eyes and open your hearts to the experiences of others and you might realise it’s not as scary as you think.

We shouldn’t need marriage equality. And we certainly don’t need a voluntary postal survey. However, nonetheless there is one. So let’s go out and vote a resounding yes.

Let’s be on the right side of history. People of Lyne and the Manning Valley, get out there and vote yes for those you love, and those who love you. My vote is for 14 year old me questioning his future and for my friends and people out there still finding their feet on their queer journey. I hope this debate shows you people do care. 

Love and respect, Bill Pitt, London