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Friday, August 21, 2015

Marriage Equality Two Years On.

We’re two years into marriage equality here in New Zealand, and as Green MP Kevin Hague noted, the world hasn’t come to an end yet.

I never saw this one coming, the huge importance that would get tied to being able to get married I mean.

I was attending a conference in Melbourne with Warren Lindberg, sitting in his hotel room and watching on his laptop as Louisa Wall’s bill went through its final reading. That feeling of euphoria was amazing – even more so the next day at the conference when we could celebrate this with our fellow Rainbow health activists and advocates.

Growing up as a young gay activist the last thing I ever thought we’d fight for was marriage. Isn’t it just a patriarchal institution, designed to subjugate women and keep men in power? Why would gay men (or lesbians) ever want any part of that? Even straights were giving up on getting married!
And as gay men, we were busy celebrating our right to have a full and rich sex life, not to get tied down into monogamy, which again seemed like a central plank of marriage.

A straight feminist friend of mine got married recently and she said she really thinks marriage has changed, in the developed world at least. It’s a public celebration of love and commitment, and I think she’s right.

And us homos demanding our equal rights to it have been part of that change – fundamentalist religious types and conservative politicians were right, in part at least. We didn’t exactly change marriage, but what marriage means in today’s wealthy Western world has changed, and that’s been to our benefit.

I find it interesting how so many of my married mates are still happily playing the field, in classic gay male style. We are proof that it is possible to deeply and truly love one man, yet still have fun with lots of others. It’s clear that for many gay men emotional fidelity is what matters. A bit of fun on the side, when it’s mutually agreed on, really doesn’t matter to lots of happily married gay men.
So what’s next for the world of LGBTI political activism and change?

Rights are the things that we are entitled to by virtue of our humanity and being citizens of this country – and we don’t have many of those formal rights missing now, but it’s not all wonderful. I understand there are some holes in the adoption process that disadvantage same sex couples that need to be addressed, and there are still the legal issues around changing gender identity that persist.
Dr Pete Saxton’s comments on this site about the need for health equality to be taken seriously are bang on the money. As a set of communities, we are grossly over-represented in so many negative health indicators that something needs to be done. We have a right to much better care and better trained staff than we currently enjoy.

Kelly Ellis pointed out the huge differences in how the world sees us, and how we see ourselves, that often sit between the experience of trans and differently gendered people compared to gay men and lesbians. And she’s right.

I think central to this is that we’re not actually a united community. The ties that used to bind us have slipped away considerably now. While some of us see the connections between what happened to us, what happens to trans people, and what happens to other minorities, many don’t. I reckon that will gap will continue to grow, more and more young homos of both sexes will fail to see or understand how their lives and rights are connected to other groups. I think it’s an inevitable result of our success in achieving so many rights; more people just want to be normal.

But, even though things have changed on paper, and socially to some degree, it can still be very dangerous even being a gay man. Try walking down the road in Auckland holding your lover’s hand outside any of the very few safe zones such as Ponsonby Road and see what happens. Try having a kiss and a cuddle in a straight bar or pub and see what happens.

Changing people’s attitudes is the hardest thing to do, and it takes time, and it needs the same message coming back time and again – we are as good as anyone else, we deserve what any other citizen of this country does, and we should be able to live our lives openly and freely in every way. This means at work, at home, in the street, in a pub – anywhere.

We actually can’t do that yet. We can’t be sure that we are safe in the same way that straights can. We still have to watch, we still have to be on guard at times, depending where we are – and that’s not right.

Things have changed for the better, I’m old enough to remember the bad old days – if you’re from any part of the Rainbow communities, life is better no doubt. For some of us it’s a lot better, and for others only a bit, but things have shifted and progressed.

I’d suggest that, with a few exceptions, our battles don’t lie so much in the areas of formal rights, like the right to get married, but in changing social attitudes. Until kids of whatever gender variety, of whatever sexuality, can grow up knowing that they are seen as completely normal and an accepted part of their families, communities and society, we have work to do.

And I think bringing about this level of social change is going to be much harder than the fight for law reform and the fight to get marriage equality. But it ties right back to those health inequalities mentioned earlier. The whole LGBTTIFQA alphabet soup that is under the Rainbow will only be able to flourish when we are accepted as full, complete and equal members of society in every sphere.
We’re not there yet.

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