Corinne Denis (R) and Laurence Cerveaux (L) exchange rings as part of their wedding ceremony at Saint-Paul de la Reunion city hall during the first official gay marriage French island of La Reunion. France is the 14th country to legalise same-sex marriage, an issue that has also divided opinion in many other nations. The definitive vote in the French parliament came on April 23 when the law was passed legalising both homosexual marriages and adoptions by gay couples. (Photo credit should read RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images)

News & Commentary

Razer: state sanctioned gay marriage is defeat by assimilation

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I’ve never been much one for slogans but I understand they sometimes hold value in their partial promotion of a point. I also understand that this point can be corroded by time, and so we see slogans of the past, such as “A Woman’s Right To Choose”, that point to a very sensible proposition, in this case that women must have unimpeded access to reproductive medicine, used to signify an entirely unrelated quest.
In recent years, this slogan has found its way well beyond its original application and is used often to “defend” the “right” to a range of consumer and beauty choices. Botox, apparently, is a “woman’s right to choose”. The slogan is offered as though plastic surgery were a liberty not already available to the well-to-do or well-known women who plainly seek it. As though the perfectly legal practices of a brow lift or a tit job were things for which women and their allies were morally compelled to fight. As though the struggle for women’s reproductive autonomy was somehow assured and that its slogan was now retired and available for use by all-comers with saggy tits and brows they wish to amend to seek a social advantage. As though “choice” were synonymous with freedom and that “freedom” could be detected in the acceptable post-surgical body.
Another re-emerged slogan whose use we can trace to a more radical past is “Love Makes a Family”. Once used by queer activists to assert the unique networks that had been built over decades by a particular community, this slogan has been newly adopted by advocates of what is broadly known as “marriage equality”.
Once, “Love Makes a Family” was the brag of a community with a unique and self-made legitimacy. Now, “Love Makes a Family” is an appeal for approval by someone else. We’ve switched from bragging to begging.
The “fight” for legitimised relationships, of course, seems very reasonable to many people who hold that this “choice” when it is given will be both signifier and guarantee of freedom. “No one is forcing anyone to get married”, they will say if you fail to dip yourself in rainbow glitter the minute the US Supreme Court passes a decision that, they eagerly remind you, finally gives same-sex couples “equal rights”. Of course that the recent US decision only confers economic and legal comforts on those couples who can either afford to or are inclined to marry is “not the point”. That US domestic partnerships, both same and opposite-sex, remain in a very unequal half-light of recognition so weak, it seems powerless to stop the end of employer-provided healthcare benefits to same-sex couples, is seen as an oversight.
Well, unless you choose only to think of state-administered marriage as a “self-evident” or natural right and not something as constructed and culturally enforced as silicon tits, this exclusion is not incidental. Exclusion, whether economic, social or cultural, is intrinsic to the institution of marriage. In the US, you are, if unmarried, actively excluded from a range of legal and economic entitlements.
In Australia, if you fail to make the legal promise to forsake all others, you won’t be excluded from any economic privileges. Just cultural ones. The fight for “equality” in Australia is a fight to join an insufferably smug club that believes marriage not only to be “meaningful” but sufficiently meaningful to require intervention by the state. It is also, in my view, a “fight” to erase the existence and history of Family. The “fight” for “equality” as it is currently enacted is also the defeat by assimilation of queer history. And, of course, a tip-of-the-hat to the state, which is now the thing expected to “Make a Family”.
You can knock yourself out insisting that US legislators are “ahead of us” in passing this judgment, but you’d betraying your unconcern for major changes to Australian law made through tireless LGBTIQ lobbying. In 2008, a suite of changes to law based on the recommendations of the Same Sex, Same Entitlements report were passed by Labor Attorney General Robert McClelland.
With the exception of adoption laws, regulated by States and Territories and yet to be amended in Queensland, the NT, Victoria and South Australia, same-sex couples now enjoy the same entitlements as opposite-sex couples whether in what is now called a “domestic partnership” or a marriage. So, before you change your Facebook profile pic to an ejaculating Independence Day rainbow which “celebrates” the progressivism of a Court, which in the same spirit and week of Freedom ruled to uphold the use of lethal injections, it may interest you that a same-sex couple currently living in Australia is afforded more entitlements than a same-sex couple in the USA who does not wish to wed. Which is to say, the Supreme Court decision makes the “choice” easy for people with same-sex partners: get married or suffer in your jocks.
Marriage within these parameters becomes as much of a “choice” as it is for an actress over 35 to have her fine lines surgically evened.
Certainly, Commonwealth changes, on which McClelland’s Coalition predecessor Phillip Ruddock had failed to act, were welcome. It was, for example, plainly idiotic to be able to take bereavement leave only if your dead partner was of an opposite sex. But, what the law changes could not manage to do was reflect the fact of “Family” as it had come to be known in communities where a non-normative view or practice of sexuality was the only condition for membership. And what changes to marriage laws, both in the US and at home, will not do and cannot do, despite a bajillion well-meaning claims to the contrary, is enable the function of Family.
In the past, Family signified involvement in a network of others. If you were gay, lesbian, genderqueer, bi, trans, poly or kinky, you were, if you chose to be, Family and could reasonably expect the benefits of kinship. We used to say “She’s Family”, not only as a form of encryption in the case poofter-bashers were in earshot but as a shorthand for describing the very real and often very complex networks of care that had formed in the community.
This is not to say that this Family didn’t have its share of disputes. It is true that white, cisgender gay men were the noblest fathers and that trans-men and women were the most forgotten cousins. But, what is also true is that Family upturned some surprising moments of function and this is seen clearly in the DIY scientific trials for HIV/AIDS therapy. Thanks in very large part to the unpaid efforts of queer lay people and doctors, many of whom did not have the virus, a treatment plan was not only found but broadly distributed. The lived concept of “Family” also provided effective makeshift support to the seriously ill long before more official welfare groups arose, later to drop the ball. Or, to be de-funded when all interest and capital in “gay politics” shifted from material welfare to the question of marriage.
Despite prominent and newly re-written histories that propose the “fight” for marriage equality is what queer activists had been demanding since Stonewall, this movement has not long been occupied with the matter of marriage. And, while there are wholesome gay celebs who will take to talk shows to say that their desire to be “normal” or “suburban” is also the long-held desire of all Family, this is, in fact, utter bollocks.
Marriage, as US academic Yasmin Nair explains here, has not long been seen as inevitable or natural by queers nor is it the desired outcome of decades of activism. “The secret history of gay marriage is that it was never a topic of huge concern in the LGBTQ community until the rise of the mainstream gay organisations in the mid-1990s.” And even then, as Nair writes, it was not an especially representative desire led in the past, as it is now, by those US lobbyists sufficiently wealthy to profit from the loss of particular taxation headaches.
If you lived around Family up until the end of last century, you would know its function. You might have seen older drag queens provide material support to younger lesbians rejected by their homophobic parents. You might have seen queers cook and deliver much-needed hot meals when tax-exempt “Christian” groups avoided the new lepers of HIV/AIDS. You might have seen gay publicans lend rooms at no cost to old homeless poofs.
Sure, in the ’90s, you had a greater chance of getting beaten bloody in the street and a much smaller chance of having a narrow version of your sexuality “celebrated” on TV by wholesome monogamous lesbians who are “just like everybody else”. Family formed not only out of compassion but necessity. But, it also formed something that was, in my view, much more broadly instructive, not just to queers but to everyone, than the unambitious parameters that so-called “marriage equality” strives to provide.
You can, if you choose to, believe that the “natural” state for humans is to live long-term in sexual relationships with other humans and that it is, by extension, only “natural” to codify and privilege this instinct. You can, if you choose to, ignore the lessons of a past that has claimed many victims by the assertion that there is such a thing at all as a “natural” state. Or you could consider for a minute that, as Nair puts it, the “complicated and caring networks of friendship that exceeded the limitations of biological family or commonly understood relationships” we see developing in urban queer histories are now at risk of being forgotten and quashed. And not, as they should be, documented and discussed and used as a template for future legislation. Or, more to the point, its lack.
I welcomed the ALP government’s changes to over 100 laws which were found to discriminate against those in same-sex partnerships. These were good, short-term and easy-fix solutions to what had become niggling problems created by the exclusionary institution of marriage. But what they were not was a way to address what queers wrote explicitly on banners and many others knew by experience and that is Love, which comes in many forms, Makes a Family. Not the State. Not a ring. Not children or a “life partner” or any formally recognised or culturally celebrated thing.
Love can come from the publican at the end of Oxford Street who, remembering how you gave him courage as a young gay man, gave you a place to live until you died. It can come, whoever you are, from an old distant relative, a new close friend or flow through all the networks of whatever community you inhabit. Where it fails to thrive is in codification. Where it dies is when one kind of it is privileged above another.
This is not, for a moment, to undervalue the emotional benefits of a long-term sexual relationship. And clearly, it is not to dispute that guardianship of children is something that can just be left to anarchy. But it is to suggest that overvaluing such relationships in continuing to demand their recognition by law necessarily undervalues others. In advancing the state regulation of marriage, you absolutely are saying that some love is more worthy than others. Which, it seems to me, is a view that caused the problem in the first place.
I personally have very few libertarian urges and, within current parameters, I’m a great fan of meaningful intervention in social inequality by the state. Price emissions. Fund public education. Build shelter for homeless queer kids. But, don’t renovate an institution formed on principles of exclusion and don’t, by extension, consign all that Family who fall outside the margins of “normal” “suburban” partnership to the fate of non-regulation. I’m afraid I find myself in the company of nutty, gold-standard libertarians on this one. Take all references to and privileges of marriage out of law and let those who would seek it do so with private or religious organisations. Do not codify my “love”.
If we are ready to examine kinship structures and how these and the cultures of which they form units are governed by law, it seems to me now would be a good time to do it. Because, as you keep reminding me, it is Love that Makes A Family. Not the state.
If you want your relationship “recognised”, beyond the way it already is in law, then, I feel for you. But, I also feel for the many I have known whose relationships, frequently expressed financially, as carers, ex-lovers, tenants, patrons, trans mentors, muses, madams, drag house children, dependents and friends will never be recognised. Perhaps the only way to value one variety of loving relationship is to throw off the very old matter of state involvement in “valuing” relationships altogether.
Or, you know, continue to value what you mistake for “diversity” through the promotional misuse of old slogans and Facebook profile-pics. Because, after all, it’s a wonderful “choice” to adhere to the reeking remains of a codified relic which has for centuries punished those who refuse its stricture. Woo hoo. Party.  To “celebrate” your independent “choice”, I’m off to have a face old enough to remember Family spiked with Botox. But, I’m doing it just for me. It is not as though a range of institutions compelled me to inject this particular poison. Thank goodness for freedom, the USA and its marvellously lethal Supreme Court.
[box]Image by Richard Bouhet for Getty Images. Corinne Denis (R) and Laurence Cerveaux (L) exchange rings on June 14 as part of their wedding ceremony at Saint-Paul de la Reunion city hall during the first official gay marriage on the French island of La Reunion.[/box]
Previously by Helen Razer:
Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson: the simpler baby of Auberon Waugh and Benny Hill
Gen X is culpable for its off-spring’s online vulnerability
Katy Perry, naked yoga and ridding yourself of the flab of social order

64 responses to “Razer: state sanctioned gay marriage is defeat by assimilation

  1. Good rant. I sort of agree with you on almost everything (but you forgot about the “wedding industry” that is an economy all on it’s own – See my book “Sex, Love and Abuse”), but I still barfed a rainbow profile on Spacebook because if people want to marry, they should be able to. In Australia at least. And other countries with progressive laws. If US laws are more archaic that still doesn’t make me want to vote against marriage equality. They obviously have more fighting to do. Personally I’d get married outside the Westboro Baptist Church in a big puffy rainbow dress and invite all my butch leso and fairy princess poof friends to a street party to celebrate.

    1. I think you have maybe not read all of my article. Which was, admittedly, quite long compared to the usual standard.
      Saying that people should be married because there are privileges attached to it is a bit like saying that people should go to private school for the same reason.
      It is a state that perpetuates inequality.

      1. I did read the whole thing. What I am saying is that marriage inequality is like preventing gay people from going to (or teaching in) private schools. Which incidentally, many do. I take your point though – why should we even be discussing privilege when we should be focusing on ground roots equality.

        1. That’s not a perfect analogy because it has, unlike marriage, an economic upshot. It’s more like upholding private education (the entire institution) as a “right” and not, as it is, a privilege.
          As I have said elsewhere, I am confident that my statements about the illusory nature of marriage as a “freedom” will do nothing to impede its passage for same-sex couples into law. I am not saying, again, that people shouldn’t do it. That I think they are dicks for doing so is neither here nor there. My point has been, for several years now, to question the idea that this will have a positive outcome.

          1. You may well be right there. But I can’t see the institution of marriage being done away with any time soon. As long as it affords privilege, it will continue to thrive. Still, it is sad that people who have traditionally thumbed their noses at the mainstream are now succumbing to normalising influences.

          2. Hmmm, might have to recant part of my argument. I’ve just been reading something (Zizek) that made the penny drop. It’s like Bill Gates telling us that globalisation is it’s own best remedy (via social responsibility and philanthropy). The paradox is that he has to exploit a bunch of people in order to make the money which then allows him to choose which charities to fund – to keep the playing field just balanced enough that global capitalism doesn’t go under. Likewise, assimilating the gays into marriage will keep the economy (society) going without any real resistance.

  2. Thank you Helen.
    I too have been somewhat mystified by the hoo-ha.
    As one half of a defacto relationship with two children I can’t understand the big deal about a bit of paper. We have all the legal rights of a married couple and (thanks to Robert McLelland) same sex couples do as well.
    Do people *really* need their love state sanctioned?

    1. No, I don’t think so. But for me the more urgent question is do people really need their lives so administered?
      That we have come to not only accept but enthusiastically demand intervention by the state in our private lies, and this new love of order would explain the lack of interest in metadata retention laws, is the scariest thing to me.

  3. Hurray Helen!
    We are two old poofs in our 50’s who have been together for over 20 years, living in a small regional town. When our friends and “family” ask us if we want to get married, our response is usually “Why? What for?”
    What benefits would there be for us? There are no children involved. Maybe a great party and my chance to wear my whitest of white frocks…but what else? Acceptance from straight society? Who cares what they think.
    When I was demonstrating for gay rights in the early 70’s we really wanted safety and protection from the laws that criminalised, marginalised and persecuted us – this we achieved in time. We didn’t want to copy straight society – we forged a new type of family with very strong ties that still bind.
    So, even though I feel that anyone should have the right to marry whomever they wish, I can’t see the point for us.
    We will continue living in sin! Much more exciting!
    Thank you for a well thought out piece.

  4. Helen. I am often interested in reading your views, but you are so prolix I generally give up. And it’s not because I have a short attention span; it’s just that I become annoyed at having to wade through the dross to get to the point.

    1. So what you are saying, Clive, is “It’s not me, it’s you”.
      After twenty years as a reporter and writer I am devastated, of course, to learn that no one can read me. Please, feel at your liberty to edit this piece to your non “prolix” liking and send it to my editors.

  5. I reckon that the value of redefining marriage to be between “couples” as opposed to a “man and woman” is that over time people’s attitude will change. Not by arguments, but by familiarity of the sort that says “We know this gay couple who are married, and they seem like OK people.” The sky doesn’t fall after all – despite the wailing and moaning of people like Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi.
    As you say, there are no longer legal restrictions, just cultural ones. Not everyone wants their relationship state sanctioned – whether same sex or not – but I reckon that’s a separate issue.

      1. I should have said that the issues can be argued and dealt with separately, rather than saying they are separate issues.
        In one of your later comments/responses, you mention that you “don’t give a rat’s if marriage is passed or not”, and that you’d vomit a rainbow if “another idiot tells me that queer youth will somehow not fall victim to homelessness or suicidal ideation in such large numbers because they can get married”.
        Well yes, changing the definition of marriage is not a silver bullet, and probably not the most important priority. But I do think it will do its bit to increase sympathy and reduce prejudice in the long run, that it will affect our culture. Well this is my hope, and perhaps I’m an optimistic idiot for thinking so 🙂
        Get the same-sex marriage definitions over and done with, and get on with campaigning for housing and mental health support. Surely we can do both and make progress that way.
        Tackling the very idea of marriage seems like a much harder issue to tackle, though it may well be a worthy longer term goal, and pragmatically can be dealt with separately.

  6. WORD! Personally the state is the absolute last place I’m looking for any kind of sanctioning or validation of anything I choose to do with my life.
    And luckily thanks to the hard work of my elders I have the material equal rights that actually matter.
    It truly baffles me why we seek validation and approval within an old exclusionary, heteronormative institution!

    1. We are in furious agreement. I am aghast that a community that has for so long known so keenly what it is like to live on the wrong side of “normal” is so eager to build a new “normal” that will, inevitably, leave people beyond its margins.
      This idea you can just keep extending out “normal” until it includes everyone is a very deep form of stupidity. SO long as you codify and venerate normal, it creates its other. FFS.

    2. Well said Jess,
      when we come to ask the significance of the state in matters that it holds no relevance is when we question our own relevance. Bit off tack here but it is the irrelevance of the sate to impose that leads to questions of importance. The only relevance I can see is the industry as a money making institution. Where I live we have a thriving white gown industry driven mainly by tourists wanting such. For what is best directed at them.

  7. Well written Helen,
    I am always a bit worried when there is a mainstream push for something like this without a lot of thought into potential ramifications. Clearly there needs to acknowledgement and love shown to the gay population by conservatives, and being a Christian (although clearly flawed) I am one of them. However gay marriage is an overly simplistic way of showing respect to the gay community and sweeping everything else such as years of prejudice and crimes to the gay community under the carpet. Families are based on love, whether it be single parents, like me, married couples, defacto’s etc. Yes a piece of paper doesn’t change that.

  8. You assume that all queer people are activists or counter-cultural. Some, I’m sure, would rather fly under the radar/rainbow and assimilate. I would argue that fight for gay marriage is not so concrete as a fight for the right to marry but as a symbolic announcement that to be queer is no less normal and natural than handedness. That being ‘left handed’ would not engender a view of marriage. Your argument against the privileging of marriage may be valid however I don’t see why queer people must be required to agree.

    1. No. I don’t. I am quite aware that there is a prominent if not large contingent of deeply conservative queer people. I am also aware that there are a lot of people who believe that the individual should look after themselves, that global warming is a “lie etc. I don’t have to agree with these people.

      1. I tend to agree with you in this article and your replies to comments however perhaps I should reword my comment:
        Your argument against the privileging of marriage may be valid however I don’t see why queer people, whether they agree to it or not, must be the proponents of this cause.

        1. I did at no point suggest that they should. The piece is entirely concerned with the matter of future legislation and state controls around relationships.

  9. Despite (or maybe because of) being married, I agree that marriage isn’t the be-all and end-all.
    Maybe the best outcomes of the campaigns for gay marriage won’t be the right to marry. The campaigns do seem to have mobilised or increased or maybe just identified the level of support in the broader society for the LGBTIQ community. Of course, “support” is a vague concept, but presumably it translates into a more positive environment for this community in workplaces and the broader community. It might also send a message to any remaining homophobes that this community has many allies who won’t tolerate what might have been tolerated in the past.

  10. Couple of thoughts : While agreeing that the “Marriage Equality” movement has not been a logical progression from the liberating redefinitions and re-imaginings of ‘family’ that many of us experienced through the late C20 queer community responses to crisis (which you capture really well); I think that a lasting and important effect of the marriage equality period will be that it has partially broken the back of much tacit acceptance of Christianity’s moral ownership in the West. i.e. I feel it could be a significant moment in church/state separation which will play out more over the next decade. Sure, it’s being done with lots of icky mainstream fairy floss, a bit like the way Labor threw Kevin Rudd at John Howard as a tidier, younger version, but I perceive its ultimate effect as playing beyond a simple progression of LGBTI rights.
    I tend to agree with the far right’s perception that it redefines marriage, it’s just that I think that’s a good thing rather than a bad thing. They’ve been able to batter us over the head with the word “family” due to their perception of its exclusivity, so doesn’t even the partial decolonisation of the standard institution help to destroy its perceived superiority? Can the new inclusion of queers who have learned about real family maybe help other people re-assess what their relationships can be?
    Finally, re the 2008 law changes : they don’t actually work. There’s a million little things, state by state, hundreds of pinch-faced bureaucrats across a desk at the bank from you not believing what you say about your relationship. My biological son has been parented from birth by a lesbian couple, and every time they want to leave the country I have to approve it for Immigration because they had to put my name on the birth certificate in 2001. Non-bio mother gets reminders forever and ever. Sure, that (and the other 999,999 things that don’t work from the 2008 legislation) is not up there with queer youth homelessness – and neither is marriage equality – but they just need to pass the stupid bill so that Lyle Shelton and his ACL buddies can STFU, join the Centrelink queue and become tree-poisoners or parking inspectors.

  11. Give me a break! Non-discriminatory marriage isn’t about what defines a ‘family’, it’s about allowing everyone the same right as everyone else regardless of their sexuality or sexual identity to define what ‘marriage’ means for themselves, and have that right enshrined in law. It isn’t just about a right that leads to other rights (financial, legal, workplace) – other rights which obviously should also be available to non-married people as well; it’s not a zero-sum game. If you don’t want to get married, don’t get married; I fail to see how that impinges on the right of anyone else to get married if they want to, and decide what that means for themselves. The same applies to the right to religious freedom – whatever one thinks about religion. Finally, the analogy with botox is ludicrous. The latter is a consumer choice, not a right – and in any case no law currently stands in the way of anyone having botox regardless of their sexuality. The same should be the case for marriage. Case closed. Let’s move on.

    1. But such changes, whatever they might end up being, are not about offering everyone, including the sort of people described, “recognition” for their relationships regardless of their character.
      Love does make a family as queer culture has taught us. And not just a particular kind of love. It’s great, as I said, to find yourself in a longterm sexual and intimate relationship. What is not great is that this kind of relationship should be afforded more privilege or responsibility under law.
      As I have said elsewhere, I really don’t give a rat’s if marriage is passed or not. Given the volume of conservative legislation and policy enacted in recent times, it’ll be just another celebration of the power of the state. And it will have the benefit of making people who confuse privilege for “diversity” shut up. If I never read another piece on a wholesome gay couple who is “just like everybody else”, it’ll be too soon. Enough with asking for special consideration for those who are already enjoying life rather well. Enough with shifting all capital in queer activism to this particular narrow interest at the expense of people who really need advocates. FFS, if another idiot tells me that queer youth will somehow not fall victim to homelessness or suicidal ideation in such large numbers because they can get married and not because, you know, somebody did something OUTRAGEOUS like campaigning for housing or mental health support (too busy with marriage equality!) I’ll vomit a rainbow.
      The point is, very few people are thinking this through. No one is thinking locally that this is an opportunity for the queer community to be leaders and draw on their experience and history to work with legislators to reflect the way they have always done thing, and the way large parts of the community do things. Very few people are working toward legislation that might enable people in other kinds of relationships, which may be just as intimate and mutually supportive as sexual ones, to have protections. It’s just a selfish dash by a minority of privileged people who can’t even explain how marriage might change their lives. Because it WILL NOT do so legally in Australia.
      And in the US. this legislation this punishes and even detonates the lives of those queer people who don’t want to get married. So, how can this be about “freedom” if you’re basically required to be married?
      I know it seems like you’re on the right side because right-wing idiots are on the wrong one. But this still doesn’t mean anyone much is thinking through the cultural and legal ramifications of this proposal. It’s all “it’s important to me and my partner”.
      Why? Why is it important? Is approval important? Why? And doesn’t approval always imply the possibility of its opposite?

  12. hi Helen
    Great article. I have long thought that greater separation between the state and marriage is required. When the Uniting Church suggested that it might have to withdraw from the marriage act so that it wouldn’t have to marry lbgtq, I thought that was fine, it works in much of Europe where people get married in church and sign the papers in the council registry.

  13. What your article highlights for me is that we are not all on the same journey. 12 years ago at 31 with two kids, I was startled to find that I had fallen in love with a woman. We moved in together with our four kids and got in with life.
    We didn’t lose our families or friends, or have any issues with our jobs. We are very lucky, and we have to thank those who went before us for this.
    We went to some gay and lesbian events, but found that the only thing we had in common was our sexuality (duh) and that actually we were just as happy with our existing friends, of all sexual persuasions, who we liked because we shared interests or views etc.
    We wanted to get married, for all the reasons that people usually want to get married. Not for conformity. We loved each other, with a bond that outstripped our former husbands. So we became activists for the change that was important to us.
    We registered our civil partnership on the first day in the ACT, arriving half an hour before the office opening then graciously standing aside for a couple who had been together for 28 years. We lobbied for marriage, we appeared in national newspapers and on television over and over and in December 2013, with 30 other couples, we were married for five days, knowing that in all likelihood we would be crushed by the High Court…and we were.
    Footage of Jennifer and I on that day continues to be played over and over on the news, I saw us again only last night, kissing in our floral summer dresses. It’s bittersweet to see it replayed. We went to Baltimore and married again there.
    Our fight may not be your fight, but we are gay people standing up for what we believe in, lobbying for the change that we want for our lives. We’re not part of a counterculture, (although we are weird in our own way), we are the soccer mums in the suburbs, but we are also prepared to stand up publicly and represent what we believe in, and I think that is worthy of respect.
    In my view the ideal world is one where sexuality is no more noteworthy than hair colour, where the need to change your look, your friends, your job or your behaviour is not dictated by who you want to cuddle with at night.

    1. I understand that this is what feels right for you. But to say that you independently arrived at the decision to marry is to advance the notion of marriage as an instinctive natural state. It’s also kind of an impossible claim. You’re seeking membership in an institution constructed not by your heart but by centuries of law and faith.
      As for your comments on commonalities between queers and how you didn’t have them, I’m not saying that I did, either. But I did find myself participating in a community as people, especially in our large cities, tend to do. Actually, communities even form in the ACT despite an urban architecture that dissuades it and you mention your membership in the “Soccer Mum” tribe which offers you a place. When I was 16, the queer community offered me a place. And even though just as you might flicker in and out of your soccer mum crowd, I continue to feel connected despite only minimal active involvement with my community thirty years later.
      I’m not saying that my crowd is superior and I totally get that always pointing to Darlo/Newtown as the queer centre of the world is dull. And untrue. But I’m also saying that these places, from where much of the cultural and political energy of queer has come and from which it continues to flow, developed very inclusive structures that demand attention.
      wantcan say you’re acting independently and just naturally want to marry and naturally want to be a soccer mother etc. I believe that my “choices ” are as constructed as yours are, though. I don’t think you just naturally arrived at your decisions about how you live. None of us does. But it’s a lot easier to suppose your world view is natural if your “choices” are more respected. Which is my point. Let’s have law that allows the possibility of the many ways of loving. Not just yours. Or mine.

      1. I have to ask, if I may Helen, are you or ever been married? I’m not sure. Otherwise a great article that made me think.

      2. The more I think on this, the more I realise it’s the “instinctive natural state” reasoning that most gets to me. Like being born this way, girls liking pink, women being more compassionate etc, the marriage debate (& more so in Australia because of the legal de-coupling of access to rights & services) has become one of marriage exists in & of itself & only some people have been given access by the third party keeper of the keys. Not as something developed by those with access to it for their own purposes, which is a bit sound & fury signifying nothing in the greater scheme of things. If that makes any sense at all because frankly I am getting exhausted trying to constantly make the point that it is so far removed from any form of equality to be a totally pointless exercise. I am in a loop of raining on the parade. Stop this rainbow I want to get off!

        1. As per the question above, Carlene, regarding “are we in a new era of conservatism”, I think, yes, rather generally because this “natural rights” based approach, which comes direct to us from the Enlightenment and is a thought that has not bothered to stop by the 19th century for another quick glance at socialism, seems key. I have noticed since the turn of the century a great surge, in both academic and popular contexts, toward the idea of “people as they are”. We believe that we are born with particular goals and rights (and of course there are some indisputable rights, such as freedom from hunger etc) and that it is the job of the culture to nudge us to “who we really are inside”. The idea that we are social and not “natural” seems to rarely occur in discussion.

    2. Hi Helen,
      Thanks for your reply. In reading your article and response and in particular your reasoning about what is offered under law to unmarried vs married couples in Australia, it occurs to me that while you are on the surface exploring why gay people would even want to get married, the arguments you present are actually around why *anyone* would want to get married, regardless of their sexual preference.
      I think that this is one of the biggest mistakes that gay people make – to suggest that we should behave differently to others in any way except who we love and have sex with.
      Discrimination, social pressure and expectations occur in every group. I wear my hair long and wear makeup and bright patterned clothes because it makes me happy, which of course is totally to do with social conditioning…like the way that most of us had big hair in the 80s or wore those 70s flared jeans we never thought would return.
      Since coming out I’ve been pressured on more than one occasion by other lesbians to cut my hair, stop wearing makeup, and be a “real lesbian”. I’ve been told that I’m obviously just trying to “blend in”…which seems to me to be the ultimate in hypocrisy…”don’t conform to them, instead conform to me!”. Why? Now that I love a woman I have to change everything about me, or you will reject me? That’s discrimination and repression wrapped up in a different package. My point is that the “gay community” (a term I hate – we did not all get together and elect a leader, we do *not* all want the same thing…clearly) is just as artificial a construct as any other in society – a point I think we agree on.
      You mention that “these places, from where much of the cultural and political energy of queer has come and from which it continues to flow, developed very inclusive structures that demand attention”…that’s true for you, but means nothing to me. It’s not relevant in my life. It’s not part of my story. But I feel no need to denigrate or scoff at your experiences. I recognise it as an important part of history. I rejoice that much of it is no longer required…that less and less, people are abandoned by their families and so don’t they don’t need a big F Family to replace them. There will always be bigoted small minded people who throw out their kids d’s for poor life choices, it happens in hetero families too.
      I am grateful for the positive outcomes I enjoy from those years of political energy and seek to continue that work through my own lobbying for what I see as a social injustice for gay people.
      You wrote that marriage is “an insufferably smug club that believes marriage not only to be “meaningful” but sufficiently meaningful to require intervention by the state”…but surely that applies to all people, not just gay people? You could say to anyone “why would you even want to get married?”, and you probably do.
      That’s my point. Whether or not gay people are permitted to participate in marriage IS a gay issue. Whether or not marriage is a socially relevant issue in the modern day is an issue for everyone – not just gay people. Mixing the two issues together like you have achieves nothing, it continues to perpetrate this idea that gay people should be separate and different because of a single trait (why do WE want to be like THEM), and can hamper the progress towards marriage equality which is important to some.
      What I’m seeking is a choice to marry or not. I don’t feel that my “choice” is more natural than yours, and I didn’t suggest that in my response to your article. The point is that I’d like to actually HAVE a choice. If the option is available to gay people, all the better…you can then say “I have the right to get married but I don’t want to because I think it’s an insufferably smug club etc…” and that will actually mean something because the option is open to you and you decline it. Whereas right now, you can say “that’s ok, I don’t want to anyway” and it’s kind of hollow because you can’t even if you wanted to.

      1. But if the choice is to participate in a codified institution that confers privilege, then it’s not a “choice”.
        And I am absolutely not saying that this is the way gay people should behave. The queer community has its fair share of twits and I expect nothing more morally from this community than I do any other.
        What I expect is sensible talk on policy. This piece is not a moral injunction to the individual. It is a call for clear thinking on state controls. There is an enormous difference between saying “people should behave like this” and “policy should be developed like this”.
        At. No. Point do I say “this is what you as an individual should do”.
        Yes, I do believe that the will to get married is the will to create a new normative structure and I don’t see how it’s possible to argue against that. (Jeffrey Weeks has tried.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t think you should do it. I plainly say that I think that anyone who desires an endorsement of their partnership should be able to get one at a private or religious organisation.
        As for thanking me for my part in history, I estimate that we are about three years apart in age. And what I did or what the queer community did is NOT part of the current love of marriage. And I do not want thanks for anything, least of all this new campaign for normativity. One is not required to thank one’s forebears. I am, in fact, looking to the future.
        I appreciate that you personally have some conservative (I use that word non-judgmentally) views about the proper way to live in a partnership. I do not dispute that you should be permitted to enact these urges. Again, I plainly say that I think that anyone who desires an endorsement of their partnership should be able to get one at a private or religious organisation.
        But, to confuse the past of queer politics with the present of conservative “Just Like You-ism” is a treacherous mistake.
        It is fine to have conservative urges. I think these urges are misguided just as I think belief in God is misguided. But I understand that people like to have faith and I wouldn’t do a thing to stop that.
        Please understand that there is a monumental difference between writing a piece that proposes a new way to look at policy, which is what I did, and telling you you’re wrong as an individual.
        What individuals do doesn’t trouble me. But, when they say that this is a rising tide that will lift all boats etc and really believe it and convince others that the TRUE path to equality is a very conservative institution, I feel compelled to retort.
        You should, of course, be permitted to purchase your marriage certificate if it makes you feel more whole. But to insist that this be imposed by the state and not to grab the opportunity to really think through what this will mean for the many marginalised people who do not have either your conservative views or your privileges, such as a long term partner and a life stable enough to raise kids who go to soccer etc, is a missed opportunity.
        Yes, you should have your right to be wed. But you must also think through what the legislative and cultural reality of this is for others if you’re asking the government to do it.

      2. I would also say that your claim that there is diminished homelessness for young queer people may not, in fact, be able to be statistically supported. Certainly, data point to greater suicidal ideation for queer youth and if you look at more granular figures, you’ll find that the kids who don’t identify with a particular sexual orthodoxy, such as that you described Capital L Lesbians (whose rules I never followed), are those who have the most pressing issues with mental health.
        It’s a myth that things are now Just Rosy for queer people. For those who adhere to particular behavioural ideals and those who are middle-class and white, it might have got a bit better. But this is, I suspect, a lot of show-boating.
        An interesting thing happened at Mardi Gras about five years ago. “Parental Advisory” warnings started appearing on shows. About the same time, actually, that banks and major soft drink companies got on board and everyone started celebrating that coke was now explicitly trying to sell sugar to gays. As though that’s the true measure of liberation. Anyhoo, when MG started adopting the censorship/codification tools of the straight world and accepting conservatism, many people thought that was just awesome. Progress, even. I thought it was the case of a community that had devised its own culture abandoning it and saying to the straight world “yours is better”.
        I understand you don’t feel part of queer culture outside the marriage equality movement. And I would say that, sure, you are not part of queer culture. And if you want to be just like the mainstream, that’s fine. But I am also saying that good radical thinking deserves conversation. And that a community that has lived and theorised these questions in academia can itself be dismissed but not the thinking it produced. You can dismiss it, sure. And that’s fine. Lots of people do just want to be “normal” and believe that there can be a normal way of doing things. Of course, this “normal” is liberal humanism. An ideology I despise.
        But that’s the point. I am not trying to impose my will on you. I am talking about thinking outside liberal humanistic parameters. I am completely unsurprised by conservatism. But I don’t happen to think that it’s the way to a better future and when people tell me that marriage equality, an utterly liberal humanist proposal, is progress, I will repeat the argument that it is anti-progress.
        In short, none of this is personal. And my story is not personal. It is just used here, in passing, to show that there are different possibilities to the liberal way.

        1. Thanks for your considered response.
          I’ve never considered myself as a conservative, lol, I had to stop and think about that for a bit! I certainly consider myself to be a long way to the left in my social and political views, but perhaps not as left as what you’re proposing 🙂
          As an out and proud lesbian I’ve never felt totally normal, but I’ve found that behaving like it’s normal helps others on their journey to acceptance…there are pics on my desk of Jennifer, we do work and social functions together etc. I’ve also answered a LOT of questions from people, friends and strangers, which also promotes understanding.
          My sense of appreciation for those who have come before is for all involved, I know that it has not always been as easy as it is, even though there is more to do. Your guess was good, you’re four years older, but probably joined the scene a long way before me, I was 31 before I realised I was batting for the wrong team. We’ve met, actually…you and Judith did a radio segment about strip clubs in Canberra, you met my friend and I in the lobby on our first ever strip club visit and we spent the evening giggling and getting sound grabs for your show. It was very educational, just like this conversation.

          1. If your project is to be considered as approachable and normal in a particular community, then marriage equality is precisely what you should pursue. If, however, you are concerned for the truly marginalised and not just people who are already sufficiently privileged that a few photographs are sufficient to admit them to polite society, then you may want to think about another form of action.
            Honestly, I am not complaining about my lot and FFS I am really not asking for thanks for the past. In which I didn’t do much but drink, to be frank. This is NOT about honouring Those Who Came Before. It is about thinking about those now who really need advocates. And those people are not folks, like you and I, just inches away from acceptance.
            You can believe, and many do, that equality trickles down from the top. That wealthy citizens create jobs, black presidents corrode racism or that normal suburban pictures of homo happiness improve the lives of rent boys, trans teens, poor lezzos, queer PoC etc.
            But, Gina hasn’t improved the typical wage. Obama hasn’t seen meaningful change. For all this “acceptance” (of a very particular kind of gay) the problems that beset queer people remain.
            You can believe the whole rising tide lifts all boats thing is you wish. I do not hold this to be true. I hold this to be conservative.
            I understand you want this privilege (it is ridiculous to call marriage a right on a par with free assembly etc) but you cannot keep saying, without examining it, that this will make things better for others. It won’t. I contend it will make things worse.

      3. Just to be very clear: I was not valorising queer culture. And I mentioned many times that these informal networks of care that would not form a marriage bond, which can be seen more clearly in an overview of queer history, are also seen in non queer communities.
        II also think it is very plain that I despise marriage as a tool of the state.
        My point is, I am not, as you suggest, conflating separate issues. Because, if you are talking about campaigning for a policy shift, then you are talking not just about consequences to you and your life but consequences to the many.
        That these consequences are of no matter to you simply because you do not feel part of queer culture is, to be frank, not the point. The further codification of marriage in law will have a consequence on other lives. It may have a positive consequence on yours. But you cannot insist that it will have no negative impact on others. Because, to continue to uphold marriage as the primary relationship in law, and in the culture, will have real consequences on the others that I mentioned.
        You have no responsibility to feel solidarity for other queer people. You are free to think only how this impacts you and people in situations similar to yours. But what you are not logically permitted to do is to suggest that your activism which will result (and it will happen, whatever I say) in a change to the marriage act will not negatively impact those who cannot or do not wish to enter into the institution of marriage.
        It is not just your “choice”. It is your imposition of will on others. This is a law made for something that is already a cultural obligation. It will impact others negatively. To continue to tell yourself that it will not is not to consider the matter.
        There are very real negative economic consequences in the USA for those who cannot or will not marry and there will be cultural consequences here.
        SO, no. I’m not conflating two separate issues.

  14. I ask does not the act of articulating a piece of paper bow down to & subjugate any & all that wish to accede to the requirements of a standard that is for my money intrusive & archaic. Being thirty three years de facto who says that there are those who by their sheer requirement to adhere & conform are not being driven by the machine that is conformity. If it makes sense what is to be achieved by allowing those whose business is none of their concern to impose their norms on me or any one else. If it is love & contentedness I don’t really care what the state says or requires & I think I speak for my partner as well. Should I ask her?

  15. Hi Helen, Thank you for a great article. There are many of us out there, even in the Australian context, who do not now and never have seen marriage as in any way an appropriate goal to pursue, but of course the silencing of ‘dissent within the ranks’ so that it is now assumed that LGBTI = I heart marriage ‘rights’, has been so profound, well-resourced and even threatening, that critique such as this is largely drowned, conducted in secret groups, or subjected to vile (and in your case sexist misogynistic of course) in various lists and forums dominated by white cis gay men who dare any queer Australian to step out of line and ask ‘who benefits from this’ or similar. Voices that used to be asking questions now either shut up or are desperately scrambling to be seen to be on the bandwagon and I personally think the queer world down under will forever suffer as a result of this. I sometimes wonder had we not had the AIDS crisis that revealed this Family so profoundly in our lives, would those we lost have worn this ‘marriage is a MUST’ stuff so readily? I doubt it. As for the same-sex law reforms, the refusal of Rudd and McLelland et al to recognise lifetimes of discrimination experienced by our own elders such that those on age and other pensions suddenly found themselves plunged onto the ‘couples’ rate and seriously impoverished was, if anything, proof that ‘equality’ is a faux goal that often relies on us abandoning the most in need of attention. A campaign to grandfather pensioners in the LGBTI community from this shock completely failed. This will forever be a stain on our history, despite attempts to sweep it under a carpet of ‘pride’ in being ‘just like everyone else’. Perhaps a long time in the future Australian queers including those going through formal divorce will ask – what the hell was the point of pouring resources, time, and effort into something so conservative and restrictive – we can only hope. thanks again. Dr Jo Harrison

    1. Jo, I have seen this happen, too. When the responsibilities came along with the rights, it was, as it always is, those at the bottom of the economic pile who suffered most. Those who lived through criminilsation, medicalisation and a range of other codes so insane that one older bloke, just in his fifties, I met was both raped and charged with sodomy. Then, because he happened to identify as a gay man, treated for mental illness. After a life like this which will never be touched by change, it just seems fucking rude to say “we’re taking your pension”. Whatever law decrees, he was never going to be just like the straight folks after years of strictly codified cruelty.
      We’ll meet here again in a few years when the yet-to-be-imagined effects of marriage upchucks its particular poison.

  16. I think there is truth to what you say, but I disagree. I came out as queer tomboy in the 1990s, left home as a teenager and have watched the changes you describe. I think you have romanticised marginalisation. I’ve been radicalised, enlightened and liberated by being forced into the margins, and for that I’m happy. I love most parts of my life, and my path. I do mourn for young queers who might not be exposed to the truth of the world’s confines, even if it has come via first-hand exclusion.
    I lived in India for some time and saw the dilemma first-hand. There, marriage really really can be an archaic institution and feminists are fighting for the right not to marry, or to be poly, kinky, de facto, to practice casual sex, serial monogamy etc. Many lesbian feminists there oppose same-sex marriage. But reforming heterosexist institutions is a bigger project, and should be decoupled from the same-sex marriage debate. I don’t think it’s the job of queers to hold up the sky on this campaign. Life will not change for our heterosexual friends via the exclusion of a few queers. Allowing same sex marriage also, in some ways, begins to break down the rigid assumptions upon which marriage is based.
    So in my roundabout way I’m saying that yes, the privileged status of marriage (and romantic couplings per se) must be reformed, and we’re way ahead of that in Aus. But focus on that as a project in itself, and let the queers who want it step through the rites of passage and feel that they, and their relationships are acknowledged and sanctioned by their families and communities. Young queers will grow up with more acceptance and will not know what it’s like to do it tough, to critique privilege from the outside. But that’s not all bad.

    1. Again. I did not at any point make a moral injunction to queer people. I am just saying: marriage is bullshit. And the only reason that I mention queer culture (with the caveat that it can be dysfunctional and transphobic, but the clear example of how well it worked in the case of HIV/AIDS where Family absolutely did save lives in a very material way) is to say “look at the other possibilities for living”.
      It was never rainbow-land. It was just different to the way we imagine mainstream culture functions but regularly fails to. Informal networks of care form everywhere, just quite visibly in queer culture.
      Again. I am not telling any individual person “you should do this”. I am talking about the policy aims of activism. Two different things.
      As I have said elsewhere in comments, I have no particular love for queer culture which can be very tedious. And I am not in the habit of saying “oooh look at these wise and mystical oppressed people” about any group as though the consolation prize for being marginal is beautiful wisdom.
      But given that Rich in the NY Times and just about everyone else is claiming this marriage fuckery as the logical endpoint of years of LGBTIQ activism, it is time a few of us who remember this recent history call out bullshit.

      1. Also, this marriage bullshit is passing whatever I say about it. And thank god because then those dull cisgays can stop being such bores about the expensive “meaningful” weddings they plan to have.

  17. Here’s my two bob. Let’s smash that last and oh-so cherished bastion of heteronormative dominance and RUIN marriage for homophobic straight people.

  18. Helen, I agree. Marriage is bullshit. But at what point exactly does your argument that my personal and intimate relationships impact others stop sounding scarily similar to the arguments run by opponents of same-sex marriage on the Right i.e. “Your relationships take away from mine!”? At what point may I kiss, hold-hands, fuck, or marry without fear of marginalising or devaluing those who arrange themselves differently?

    1. If I happen to come to the same conclusion to those on the Right (and I don’t, by the way. I am not Standing In The Way of this ridiculous outcome. I’m just writing, if repeatedly, about how the “right” to participate in an exclusionary institution is not the same thing as equality) then this is not sufficient reason for me to say “I am wrong”. I got here by reason. (Which, even if you disagree with it, is still apparent.) They got there by ideology.
      To say, as the Right does, that your relationship diminishes my privilege is not the same at all as what I am saying which is your demand for privilege compounds others’ inequality.

  19. Cory Abetz and Eric Bernardi rail against this gay marriage thing as a slippery slope leading to polyamory and bestiality. We need to cut to chase and we both at once. You can only marry the person you love if you each also marry 2 other species. The Nationals will support for this as it certainly provide a boost to Australian farming. There are about 120k weddings in Australia each year and therefore a demand for 500k animals to participate in domestic nuptials. This will go a long way to dealing with Indonesia’s rude lack of appreciation of our livestock. I literally cannot wait for Barnaby Joyce to announce this at a press conference.
    Altho some pinko liberals will probably want to marry an un-Australian species like a Southern Corroboree Frog rather than a true blue, fair dinkum cow or sheep.
    N.B. I am not suggesting that people suddenly start having sex with animals. Marriage and sex are two very different, mutually exclusive things. But I see no reason why an echidna should not have access to my superannuation in the event of my death.
    Love doesn’t just make a family. It can also make a farm. Altho you’d probably need some kind of irrigation and a crop rotation system as well.

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