Worlds collide as gay couple and priest share the same roof

Worlds collide as gay couple and priest share the same roof

CREATED ON // Thursday, 28 August 2014 Author // Stephen A. Russell

What happens when a same-sex couple and an anti-gay marriage minister are made to live under the same roof? Find out in the new SBS series, Living With the Enemy. By Stephen Russell.

Getting married was never a top priority for IT professional Michael Barnett, though he absolutely supported the right of same-sex attracted people to make up their own mind, in line with upwards of 70 percent of Australians polled favourably on the subject.

When Gregory Storer, his partner of five years and operations manager at not-for-profit support agency Family Life, popped the question, however, everything changed in a heartbeat. Barnett understood how important this was to Storer, and he had the bigger picture in mind too. “When you remove the barrier to marriage, it’s one less reason for people to discriminate against same-sex attracted people,” Barnett says.  


Above: Michael Barnett and Gregory Storer on the wedding day

“Being married is a public recognition of the love that I have for Michael,” Storer adds. “Introducing Michael as my husband is a whole lot different from introducing him as my partner.”

The pair tied the knot by the edge of a crystal clear lake in New Zealand in January this year, surrounded by lush greenery with the striking backdrop of towering mountains. Same-sex marriage is recognised across the pond, unlike in Australia where the two LGBTI activists, with a particular focus on youth inclusion and harm prevention, are prominent figures in the march towards equality.

Unlike most newlyweds, their blissful wedding day is about to play out in Australian living rooms across the country as it airs on national television during the first episode of a brand new SBS series called Living With the Enemy. With the aim of challenging some of the ingrained prejudices that linger in Australian society, each week the six-part series, produced by Shine Australia, will bring together strangers with extremely different outlooks on life to live, challenging them to live in each other’s pockets for a ten-day period.


Above: Anglican Church minister David Old watches the wedding

In the first episode, Storer and Barnett, who live between the Melbourne suburbs of Ashwood and Carnegie, are sent to stay in with Anglican minister David Old in his Western Sydney parish. Needless to say, Old isn’t pro-marriage equality and goes so far as to insistthat the men sleep in a caravan on his driveway rather than under the same roof as his three children.

“Homosexuality is a sin as far as he’s concerned, and therefore anything that comes from homosexuality is wrong and should be stopped,” Storer says. “He has a disconnect between the dogma of his church and the reality of people presented to him.”

Barnett is a bit more direct in his appraisal of Old. “He’s a fuckwit,” he says. “We’ve come from religious communities and we’ve seen all this stuff. It’s all just regular intolerance. He’s just mouthpiece for his church, and quite an effective one.”

They certainly bore the brunt of Old’s religious convictions, particularly at an excruciating sermon given to his parishioners. “What stood out for me from my time with David was the audacity of the man to take us to his church and to preach at us that homosexuality is detestable,” Storer says. “To do that while we’re standing there in front of him was just revolting.”


Above: Michael Barnett and Gregory Storer with Anglican Church minister David Old

ld nicked Barnett’s armour when he approached him after attending their wedding. “Getting married was brilliant and the most powerful moment in my life to date,” Barnett says. “About ten minutes after that David came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t congratulate you.’ I thought that was particularly mean-spirited and I felt shattered and devastated. He had the choice to say nothing.”

Barnett believes it would have been more challenging had they been placed with a family who were opposed to same-sex marriage from a moral and philosophical standpoint, rather than with Old, whose job it is to uphold a particular religious position. “That kind of left David less open to being persuaded. He had a vested interest, which is his livelihood and professional standing.”

Storer found the experience challenging but fascinating. “We’ve heard this stuff a thousand times before, but I came away with the belief that people from religious backgrounds don’t actually understand the hurt they cause by the way they act with gay people. They don’t have that day-to-day contact with openly gay people who aren’t the stereotypes they think we are.”

Living With The Enemy premieres on Wednesday, September 3 at 8.30pm, on SBS.

VIDEO: Check out the trailer for Living With The Enemy below


Stephen A. Russell

Stephen A. Russell is a Melbourne based writer.

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