I’ve been thinking all week about Penny Wong’s appearance on Q&A, in which she was asked the question about gay marriage.
As a member of the ALP Cabinet, she “agrees” with the cabinet position which remains opposed to gay marriage. As a member of the ALP she has also been fighting for a number of years for recognition of gay and lesbian relationships. On Monday night she spoke about the discrimination she has experienced in Australia as someone who is both Asian and Gay.
In the gay activist realm on the internet there have been those who have condemned her and those who have sympathised with her position. Those who have condemned her have argued she could have said…. “It’s not my position, but it’s the position of my party”. Those who have supported her have sympathised with her position as someone who has fought for gay and lesbian law reform within a party that remains deeply conflicted over the issue of sexuality-based politics.
Chatting on Monday night she expressed the argument that leaving it up to a “conscience vote” would not have achieved as much as has been achieved. Without saying it out loud, she was noting the strong influence of the Catholic Right in the ALP, where, if you left it to a conscience vote, you’d actually have a lot of ALP members opposing gay and lesbian law reform.
On a personal level, I’m not an advocate of gay marriage. I don’t think it’s the right thing for me as an individual. But also on a personal level, I support gay marriage. I don’t think it harms other people or institutions, and to claim so is an under-estimation of others. A sense that heterosexual marriage would be in danger because of gay marriage suggests heterosexual marriage is a somewhat fragile institution. It’s crazy to suggest that men and women won’t want to get married, or that it won’t continue to be the basis for contemporary Australian society under-estimates both the individual and collective. I think there’s room for both types of marriage in our society, as has been demonstrated in lots of different communities overseas.
But it’s also interesting to examine the fragility of the argument for marriage within gay and lesbian communities.
For me a sign of this is the way in which many people speak about their relationships. As I’ve read various blogs and have listened to various people speak about their relationships I’ve noticed a lot of those in gay relationships who have emphasised the duration of their relationship. “We’ve been together 20 years”, “We’ve been together almost five years”, that kind of thing. I did it myself. And to be brutally honest, have “sexed up” the duration to the nearest half-year in the relationships I’ve had. In some ways it can come across as an over-compensation for the perception/stereotype that gay relationships aren’t enduring.
I understand that by saying “we’ve been together 20 years” (or whatever) challenges those notions. But in other ways, I think I’d rather hear people say, “we’ve been intensely in love for a number of years”. Being with someone for a long-time doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t any more important, or any more intense. And even if someone has only been in a relationship for a short time, does that matter? Does that mean the relationship is any less valid if it’s lasted only six months, as opposed to six years or sixty?
Within gay and lesbian communities there’s no uniform view. I have friends strongly in favour of gay marriage and those emphatically opposed.
The reality of 2010 is that many countries have accepted gay marriage, and that Australia is in the process of getting there also. It’s gonna happen. The question is when and how.