The Gay Marriage Ban – Ten Years On
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the Howard government’s gay marriage ban. Ron Hughes speaks to two men in same-sex marriages to gain their perspectives on the issue.
In July 2013, Adelaide man Jordan Lee married his partner Tony Yang in West Hollywood where he is now living. As a married man living in a state where gay marriage is legal, Lee knows the benefits of being married.
“Legally, our lives have changed quite a bit. Although many states have domestic partnership laws, in the US, for most intents and purposes, you’re either married or you’re single. And being married gets you many government benefits and protections,” Lee explains.
“As an unmarried couple, we were essentially strangers, as far as the law was concerned. Now that same-sex marriage is recognized federally, I can live in the US with Tony permanently, so there is no chance of us ever being separated.
“This was definitely the most profound effect of marriage equality for us. We’ve also noticed other subtle changes, now that we’re married. Our health care costs have decreased and we get bigger tax breaks.”
But being married and having that marriage recognised by the government and society is about more than just tax breaks.
“Socially, I think we feel more integrated into the wider community. We really feel ‘just like everyone else’,” Lee says happily.
“Tony is no longer a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘partner’… He’s my husband. I think words matter.
“Our relationship has the full recognition of the law, we’re just like our straight married neighbours, and I think this goes a long way in eliminating homophobia - our relationship is no longer seen as ‘different’.”
While Lee loves living in California, he wishes the Australian government would follow the US lead and recognise same-sex marriage.
“If I had the chance to sit down with Tony Abbott and talk about marriage equality, I think I’d start by reminding him how Australia has always believed in the concept of a fair go for everyone. Hence, legalising same-sex marriage really is the Australian thing to do,” Lee says.
Lee believes same-sex marriage in Australia is inevitable, but will need support from all sides of politics and urged a Coalition conscience vote on the issue. He also believes same-sex marriage will help end discrimination.
“To the Australian government, I would remind them that of the devastating effects homophobia has on young LGBT people, such as the alarmingly higher rates of depression and suicide,” he says.
“Now imagine a future Australia where this wasn’t the reality! I think legalising same-sex marriage would go a long way toward achieving this. I think it’s hard to eliminate homophobia when there are discriminatory marriage laws that support it. It’s about time we fixed that.”
While Lee plans to stay in the US in the short term, he and Yang are keeping their minds open for the future.
“There are many things I love about living in the US – it’s such a vast, big country and a melting pot of different cultures,” Lee says.
“However, the longer I’ve lived abroad, the more I’ve come to appreciate Australia, and Adelaide, in particular. So who knows where we’ll be in the future… Watch this space!”
The only problem is, until the Marriage Act changes, he won’t be married any more the minute he steps on Australian soil, at least as far as the law is concerned.
That’s something SA Labor MP Ian Hunter understands perfectly: he married his long-term partner Leith Semmens in Spain in December 2012, but as far as state and federal governments are concerned, he’s still in a de facto relationship.
Hunter says the tenth anniversary of changes to the Marriage Act marks “a dubious milestone”.
“Howard argued his amendments were important to preserve the institution of marriage – to ensure marriage wasn’t corrupted by those of us in relationships which didn’t fit his idealised view of the world,” Hunter tells blaze.
“He wanted to send a message, loud and clear, that Australia would not endorse anything other than the traditional construction of marriage. It was an example of the dog whistle politics we had come to expect from the Howard Government.”
Howard was using “the fear of the unknown” in order to gain a popularity boost in the run-up to an election, Hunter says, but his actions had long-term negative consequences.
“It sent a clear message to bigots and homophobes that it’s OK to discriminate on the basis of sexuality,” Hunter says.
“It sent a message that the love we feel for our significant others is somehow different or inferior to the love felt in a heterosexual marriage – and that our relationships are less deserving of official recognition.
“And to young people – some of whom may have still been coming to terms with their identity and their sexuality – it sent a message that there is no acceptance unless they conformed.”
However Hunter remains optimistic that change will come, especially given the growing support for marriage equality in the reputable opinion polls.
“It’s now more important than ever that each of us continues to fight for equality,” he says, “to make sure we achieve marriage equality before we’re forced to observe another year of legislated prejudice in a society that clearly deserves better.”
[Top image] Jordan Lee and Tony Yang. Photos: supplied