According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, up to 11% of Australians are “of diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity” (https://goo.gl/R76v1V). That is, approximately, a quarter of a million people. Many of those have not publicly acknowledged their sexual identity, making it all the more difficult to determine accurate numbers.
Regardless of the exact figures, statistically the vast majority of Australians have never had to “come out” to their friends, family or wider community. While many have walked closely with a loved one on that journey, few have undertaken it themselves. We could share in Penny Wong’s tears when the result of the Same Sex Marriage postal survey were announced last week, as we can only imagine what the symbolic and practical significance of the outcome means to her. But most of us can only imagine.
In contrast, over half of the Australian population identified as Christian in the last census. Christianity has been the dominant religion in this country since its colonial inception. It has enjoyed a position of privilege, power and entitlement that has remained largely unchallenged. Until recently.
Defining Love, Defining Marriage
In Australia, the relationships of committed same-sex couples have been recognised and imparted similar legal rights as those of heterosexual couples in de facto partnerships. They could enter into a civil partnership, but they could not marry. Despite having rights akin to those of married couples, issues still arose around, for example, adoption and access to a sick or dying partner in hospital.
Homosexual couples wanted both the legal and symbolic recognition of their relationships’ equal status to that of heterosexual couples by being able to endorse it through the highest form of personal commitment Western law and society allowed two people – marriage.
Over my decade living in Australia, I have seen the tide shift from a slight majority either undecided or opposed to the notion of same sex marriage to a palpable, undeniable support for it. As more English-speaking Western countries started legalising same sex marriage, Australia’s refusal to do so saw it increasingly marginalised. All the while increasing the anger and heaping more pain on a group of people that have been subject to the kind of mental anguish most of us can only imagine.
The Place of Religion in Australian Society
In Australia, as in other similar countries, the greatest push-back against changing the traditional definition of marriage came from the conservative, usually religious, sectors of its society. But, unlike other similar countries, the debate threatened to become an all-out war. As much as the war was about the equal rights for same-sex couples, it was a war about the place and future of religion in Australia.
Australians pride themselves on belonging to a country that is superior to its much-loved American cousins in many ways. Universal healthcare, better social services, gun control, and no Bible belt of religious conservatism that wags the dog of our national politics. The same-sex marriage debate challenged the latter assumption in a big way.
The Turnbull government opting to outsource the decision to the Australian people rather than take direct responsibility for it within the decision-making apparatus already available for it, opened the floodgates for just the kind of vitriolic attacks it was predicted it would. On both sides.
As a mostly conservative Christian with fairly liberal political views, it was a difficult place to navigate.
Neither Here Nor There, But Both
The purpose of this post is a highly personal one. It is admit to my Christian friends and family that I voted “yes” in the postal survey, and proudly so. That I cried and was genuinely happy for what it meant for us as a country and the individuals impacted by the outcome. And it is to admit to my very liberal academic friends, colleagues and Twitter audience that I am a Christian. And not just any Christian. I’m one of the those Christians – the evangelical, happy-clappy type.
And, it is to show to everyone out there that we do exist: Politically liberal conservative Christians. We’re a rare breed, but we exist.
It is also the ask the question: When did we all suddenly turn into George W. Bush in front of that hanger post-9/11? Why must we either be for something or against something? Why do we keep participating in the perpetuating of false dichotomies we know we ourselves don’t prescribe to?
- I am for gun control, but I’ve shot a gun (in a controlled environment!) and enjoyed it.
- I am pro-choice in that I want women and girls to have access to safe abortions, but I am pro-life in that I want abortion to be a last resort and for us to create more viable options between raising the baby yourself and terminating the pregnancy.
- I write about the deplorable treatment of ‘maids’ and ‘servants’, historically, which still goes on today, but there are days when I would love some cheap domestic help!
Most of us are only black and white on a handful of issues in our lives, and many might change those positions over the course a lifetime. Let us stop forcing that tapestry of gray into either a black box or a white one. Part of celebrating diversity is allowing for diversity and even contradictions within the same person, not just the broader society.
My greatest awe for my late father-in-law was his ability, even at the age of 92, to change his mind. He was never too old to reconsider a position he had held for longer than I’ve been alive. In that was his youthfulness, and also his zest and love for life. He held strongly to his principles, but loosely to his judgments. We can all learn from that.
I am a Coloured South African woman, best described as Cape Malay with some European thrown in for good measure. I’ve lived in Australia for over a decade and, during that time, have had the ridiculous privilege of becoming the mother to two feisty, beautiful, bright female souls. They are a proud mix of Anglo-Australian, Chinese and South African.
I am a political scientist (in international relations) by training, but have only recently started considering myself a historian. As I started my PhD in History in 2013, it was probably about time. My thesis considers domestic service in Australia and Britain from 1914 to 1945, with my research interests covering gender, labour, migration, and Aboriginal history.
Written for Rage Against the Machine Month. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more information Here. But first, leave a comment and let Elmarí know what you think about her words, and be sure to visit her over at Of Beauty Rich and Rare when you’re done.
Featured Image via http://www.wallp4desktop.blogspot.com