On the day that I married P I smiled all day. I smiled so much that my mouth began to ache, but I just couldn't stop. Honestly I felt that happy.
I didn't grow up thinking that getting married was necessarily something that I would do. I never had dreams of a fairy tale wedding or living 'happily ever after'. Not only did my parents get divorced when I was 5, but with the help of my feminist mother I understood from a very young age that the institution of marriage was founded on some fairly problematic patriarchal traditions whereby property in a woman was transferred from her father to her husband. It also had a sad history of trapping people in unhappy or abusive relationships and of reinforcing unequal power relationships in our society.
Despite all this I still chose to get married.
First and foremost I guess I truly believe that not only is culture something that is constantly evolving, but that it is necessary to make a conscious effort to claim cultural traditions for progressive purposes in order not to cede them entirely to conservative forces.
Second, and this relates to the first point, I believe that cultural traditions have an incredible symbolic power to convey so much more meaning into our lives that we are often willing to acknowledge in the West (or Global North). I don't want to abandon these cultural practices too easily and I felt the tradition of marriage was one that I wanted to take part in, despite its problematic history.
The reason that I wanted to take part in the tradition of marriage specifically was that I felt that it had the power to communicate a whole range of messages that we really significant for me. Due to its history in our culture, marriage had the power to communicate clearly to our family and friends that P and I were now a family and that we hoped that they would adopt our respective partners into our respective family and friendship circles and that they would respect our relationship as being fundamental to our sense of family and belonging in the world. A wedding is certainly not the only way of communicating this message, but it is certainly the most powerful in our culture (particularly if you have family members who are quite religious, etc).
Marriage also had that powerful shorthand in relation to the wider community and to the State and the way that all its various organs treat our relationship. This wasn't a very significant reasons for us to get married, but for some people it would be very important.
Finally, harking back to that symbolic meaning issue, I also felt that marriage was one way that P and I could know that we were both on the same page about where our relationship was going. Of course it is totally possible to commit to someone without marrying them. Of course it is possible to have honest discussions about creating a shared vision for the future, etc. However, some things are difficult to articulate and the less cerebral shared understanding that comes from deciding to marry someone can make that whole process more straightforward for some of us...
So I got married. I didn't change my name. I didn't get 'given away' or promise to obey him. But I got married and it was one of the happiest days of my life. My whole family was there along with many of my friends. We committed our lives to each other in a rotunda by the beach and then I kissed him on the nose. That evening we gathered with our nearest and dearest to celebrate, to eat vegan yum cha and to dance. It was lovely.
My mother and her partner have been together for far longer than P and I. They have loved and supported each other for many many years. They are committed to spending the rest of their lives together. However, despite all this, they are not legally permitted to marry in Australia because they are both female. They are currently denied the right to access the powerful cultural tradition of marriage to communicate to their families and friends that they consider each other family. Of course, their family and friends do understand this by now, but they have also been denied the right to communicate this powerful message to the wider community, to the State and to each other.
Honestly, this makes me so angry. I know that some people consider this to be a minor issue, but it's not. It's a fundamental human rights issue. We might take a fairly casual approach to our cultural traditions here in Australia, but that doesn't mean that they aren't significant or that they don't carry with them enormous power. Denying one group of people access to that power is a human rights abuse.
Today we attended a marriage equality rally in Canberra. This year it was particularly important because there is a federal election next week. Both the ALP and the Coalition have taken positive measures to deny marriage equality to queer people in Australia. Both should be sent a strong message that this is a totally unacceptable breach of human rights.
Meanwhile on planet dark ages, the Families First candidate Wendy Francis has been tweeting about gay marriage being a recipe for child abuse. Having been raised by a gay parent, I found this obnoxious and massively ignorant. However, I do question how fundamentally different it is to the stance adopted by the Coalition and the ALP. Saying that our culture is 'just not ready' for gay marriage is just a more subtle way of perpetuating the exact same prejudices and discriminatory practices. It just means that the bigots in those parties have had better media training.
The ACT Legislative Assembly have tried twice to make civil unions legal for same-sex couples in the ACT. The first time they did this the Howard-Liberal government overrode the legislation. The second time the Rudd-ALP government forced an amendment that prohibited any kind of celebration. They prohibited a celebration! WTF?!
The Australian Greens have tried to introduce a Marriage Equality Act several times and have been blocked by both major parties. If they gain the balance of power in the Senate this election then they may have more leverage to get a conscious vote on this issue. If Lin Hatfield-Dodds gets up in the ACT Senate then the Greens will have the balance of power straight away. This is a significant election for many reasons and marriage equality is one of them.