Not long after the Bligh government passed legislation to allow civil partnerships in Queensland – and before the Newman government repealed it – my partner and I were walking down Mary Street in Brisbane. As he passed us, a stranger took the time to say to us, ‘I don’t care what the government says; I think you should be shot.’
What is it that creates an environment in which that is considered acceptable? I have no doubt that Tony Abbott, John Howard and other high-profile ‘no’ campaigners would agree that death threats of this nature have no place in Australia. But what they fail to recognise is that when they single out same-sex marriage as somehow undermining the bedrock of our society and silencing free speech, when they characterise it as a slippery slope towards bestiality, incest and enforced gender fluidity, not only are they conflating any number of completely unrelated matters in defending their view of marriage, they are also questioning the legitimacy of same-sex relationships full stop. And when they question the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, they are saying something about the place of same sex-attracted individuals in our society, and about their value as human beings.
It is exactly this rhetoric that creates an environment in which someone thinks it is acceptable to threaten my partner and me as we walk down the street. It creates an environment where someone feels comfortable yelling ‘faggots’ as they drive past the Wickham Hotel in Fortitude Valley, where it is OK for someone to throw a rotten mango at my friend as they too drive past from the safe distance of their car, calling him a faggot, and where it is OK for two men to brutally beat another friend of mine, as his partner screams from the other side of a security gate for someone to come and help.
Marriage has, for centuries, been about ownership. There is a reason that, once married, a woman has traditionally taken her husband’s name. There is a reason that a woman’s father literally gave her away at her wedding. Relatively recently, love has come to be part of the equation – at least in ‘Western’ society. To argue that the institution of marriage is somehow emblematic of the values we hold near and dear as a society is a farce. To argue that allowing same-sex couples to enter the institution will undermine that society is no less absurd. But language is powerful, and to make these arguments, to thereby single out same sex-attracted people as different, as somehow ‘less’, does make it acceptable to isolate people, to threaten them, and to beat them.
That is not OK, and that is why I am voting yes.