‘Vote no’: Two simple words more hurtful than any anti-gay slur

Written By Gary Nunn

(Reproduced from The Age Sep 18 2017)

The marriage equality debate is unearthing attitudes I didn’t realise were so strongly felt in 2017. Whatever you want to call them – some use the term ‘homophobes’; other terms are stronger or more neutral depending on who you ask – one thing is clear to me.

The plebiscite is a state-sponsored ballot on how human I’m considered to be by people I’ve never met. And my comfy filter bubble has been popped.

It’s front page news, it’s down-the-pub-chatter, it’s taking up parliamentary time and it’s hard to escape. Late last week, my Prime Minister backed a campaign asking RU OK? No, Malcolm, I’m not, and it’s largely due to your lack of backbone.

Monosyllabic politeness

I take a walk to find the escapism I need. Strolling down Sydney’s Oxford Street, I breathe in, look skywards and spot two words that catapult me back to a nervous teenager again: ‘Vote No’ written in the sky by an airplane. Their monosyllabic politeness is somehow more hurtful than the outright anti-gay slurs I’ve rebutted. This is insidious and professional and it creeps me out. I’m walking down the same street I marched up in summer’s Mardi Gras, but feeling the opposite of how I did then. How rapidly society can regress.

I come home, deflated but not defeated, and switch on my TV, unusually avoiding the news. I see an ad for a new inane TV show, the sort of thing I’m craving right now. It’s called The Bachelorette. It follows last week’s final of The Bachelor where there was outrage because Matty chose Laura over down-to-earth Elise. I look at the line-up of contestants on these TV dating shows: smiling, full of optimism and 15-minutes of fame glory.

Every one of these people outranks me in status in modern Australian society. The hierarchy is as simple as it is stark. They can get married. People like me, cannot. And we’re supposed to watch and feel entertained by these dating shows. I just feel belittled. The juxtaposition is eye-watering.

Fatigue vs inequality 

You’re probably rolling your eyes around now. Feeling fatigued at the onslaught of marriage equality stories. But if fatigue is the worst feeling you have to endure today, congratulations, you’re officially privileged. Have a fatigue-fighting flat-white.

Try feeling unequal. See, the ‘no campaigners’ to marriage equality can trot out whatever opinion or bible scripture passage or fact that they like. That’s their right in a free and democratic society. But when somebody tells you how they feel, it’s impossible to negate that. You just have to acknowledge their personal feeling on good faith.

And I feel unequal. I’d argue, of course, that it’s also a cold hard fact that I am unequal but the ‘no’ camp can twist that around and say I’m ‘equal but different’ in an Orwellian distortion. But they can’t tell me how I feel.

I also feel insulted. The country has been invited to vote on the legitimacy of my relationship, while dating entertainment shows pollute my TV. It adds insult to injury.

Televised distortion 

Forget, for one minute, the irony of being to ask to vote on a simple matter of equality, which is what this boils down to. The entire country is being invited to vote on something deeply personal to me: the validity of my relationship with my boyfriend. To me, that feels no less valid than anyone else’s relationship. But, after an intense campaign, that feeling can become fragile.

The Bachelor/Bachelorette isn’t even the worst offender. That, without doubt, is Married At First Sight. A sign I saw at Sydney’s marriage equality rally summed it up the best: “Strangers can get married at first sight on TV for $. But I can’t marry my soulmate.”

It received 1600 likes and almost 800 RTs. Something struck a chord. I’d wager it was this. In a country with marriage inequality, it’s somewhat hectoring to broadcast a show where complete strangers get married for money and entertainment value. It demeans the – often decades-long – love that same-sex couples share. And it makes a mockery of the already nebulous argument that same-sex marriage makes a mockery of marriage, or devalues in it any way.

It’s a parading of heterosexual privilege on par with some of our MPs. Tony Abbott and former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop infamously charged taxpayers for costly travel expenses to Sophie Mirabella’s wedding. There they were, three white faces of politicians in expensive smart and glamorous clothing, beaming smugly at the camera, basking nonchalantly in their heterosexual privilege. Three of the government’s most outspoken anti-marriage equality MPs. Charging people like me for luxury return transport to a heterosexual wedding, salaried with money from my taxes to spend their time campaigning against my right to marry the person I love, and who loves me back.

It’s a picture that shames Australia as the western world looks on, either utterly bewildered or actually laughing at how ludicrous this has all become.

While the world laughs, anti-equality MPs beam, someone from Married At First Sight is excitedly blind-folded and also-ran Elise from The Bachelor sobs, I acknowledge all their different feelings.

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