Speaking up on same-sex marriage
Thomas Vale-Slattery offers a glimpse of some of the engaging reflections in the recently released Speak Now: Australian perspectives on same-sex marriage.
Speak Now is an engaging series of over thirty informed articles and reflections on the issue of same-sex marriage. More importantly, it’s a book about human rights, courage and social justice. It’s a book about how we, as a minority who have frequently been discriminated against, expect to be treated with fairness and justice in today’s democratic Australia.
“Marriage!” a friend stated vehemently, flicking through the pages of the review copy resting on my desk, “is a debased commodity . . . a concept in decline.”
My friend is not alone in his thinking. Editor Victor Marsh has made clear in his selection of the informed and diverse thinkers that, in the words of Michael Kirby in the forward, the right of gay people to get married is marked as “the hot button issue of Australian politics”.
This anthology offers an intriguing series of views, opinions and histories, that begin with ‘Why Gay Marriage?’, Dennis Altman’s lament for the lost values that were central to the early days of gay liberation in the 1970s when Australia was confronted for the first time by a minority of lesbians, gays and transgender folk no longer prepared to tolerate the harshness and prejudice meted out by a largely homophobic and racist nation.
Rodney Croome, who fronted the successful campaign to decriminalize homosexuality in Tasmania when he took the issue to the United Nations, links the current debate on same-sex marriage to earlier Australian government controls over who could marry whom.
Croome offers an interesting insight into the plight of an Aboriginal woman, Gladys Namagu, who was denied permission to marry her white fiancé in 1959 and the subsequent furor this caused for the Menzies government of the day. The public furor was so unsettling that according to Croome it “propelled the nation towards overwhelming endorsement of Aboriginal citizenship in 1967.”
Michael Carden adds a compelling argument in his essay ‘Christianity, Marriage, Love and Friendship’. Carden’s analysis of the same-sex debate is clear and informative, extending the parameters of the discussion back to early Christian times with contemporaries’ ambivalence about the reality of marriage and the importance of the notion and types of friendship . This will resonate for many in our community as they consider the role friendship has played in their own lives.
As with any collection of stories drawn from different sources and written by people with differing political and social agendas, some essays will appeal more so than others.
I was particularly touched by the honesty and humanity of Elaine Crump’s story, ‘Married in Canada, Living in Oz’ as she discusses finding her true love Sharon and puzzles through the intricacies and importance of having her relationship recognised legally and socially in Australia.
‘Love is not a Threat’ captured something of Wendell Rosevear’s humane common sense and compassion. His essay reflected on his concerns and thoughts on ways of improving the lives of the many people he has come in contact with professionally as a doctor and as a chaplain. After pointing out that “people who feel valuable, value other people” Rosevear concludes his essay with his own life motto which he hopes is catching: “to make love infectious.”
For the politically motivated the book will serve as an excellent resource: Tim Wilson’s ‘Respecting Diversity and Rights’ suggests workable solutions for civil recognition of marriage for same sex couples; Tim Wright’s article ‘Love Triumphing over Fear’ provides a workable template for an LGBT political campaign.
However, it was with Benjamin Law’s article ‘I’m not even sure I really like Rainbows’ on which I chose to finish. It is divertingly worthwhile and reflects a new generation’s approach to the hard won battles of gay liberation. Law arguably has the last word on the debate when he recently found it necessary “to reassure everyone that I liked straight people and supported straight rights.”
Speak Now: Australian perspectives on same-sex marriage is available from the publisher, Clouds of Magellan – www.cloudsofmagellan.net, and all good bookstores.