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It’s as though we’re on a merry-go-round: round and round we go but we don’t actually get anywhere.  All we get are spinning heads and headaches and a wish – a burning desire even – that we can get off this wretched thing and get back to living our lives.  Except some of us can’t live our lives, not really, not fully, because the law’s not on our side.  Yet again the Australian Government is investigating the pros and cons of allowing same-sex couples to marry, and yet again I find myself sitting at my desk, wanting to have a voice about this.  So here it is, my voice: I, Nigel G. Featherstone, Australian citizen, a humble scribe, fully support any amendment to the Marriage Act that allows gay couples to tie the knot.

As an openly gay man in a loving and committed relationship of fifteen years, I only want for the partnership that I’m in to have the same social and legal recognition and protection as our parents, our siblings, and our friends.  After all this time together I simply want the opportunity to stand in front of my community and have my relationship acknowledged for what it is: a mature, devoted bond, with all the highs and lows and challenges and routines of any other Australian couple.

I also want young gay men and women to know that their sexuality and relationships have a legitimate place in contemporary Australian society.  On May 15 2006 the ABC’s Four Corners program broadcast ‘A Deathly Silence’, which investigated why in 2005 a 17-year-old Sydney school boy called Campbell O’Donnell killed himself.  Quoting from the program’s official transcript, Campbell was described as ‘quirky, loyal to his friends and a born mediator’ and academically he was a high-achiever, being dux of his school four years running.

However, the note Campbell left behind read in part: ‘Almost every day I see a boy, some fantastic-looking guy that makes my pulse quicken but also makes me want to cry, and it makes me feel sad… There is nothing in the whole world that has caused me more hurt than this.  Nothing.’  In response to her son’s sexuality, Campbell’s mother said: ‘I think the big issue for Campbell that came out in his adolescence was how do you form relationships?  How do you move on in the gay world?  How do you?’

The proposed amendments to the Marriage Act that are currently before the House of Representative’s Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs provide the recognition and protection my partner and I are seeking, as well as an answer to the questions asked by Campbell’s mother.

First and foremost the proposed amendments recognise that discrimination has no place in any modern society, and that for the law to not recognise same-sex relationships is a position based on discrimination.  The proposed amendments also provide those people in same-sex relationships with certainty about issues such as consent to medical procedures, and they ensure greater clarity when resolving property disputes in the event of dissolving relationships.

The proposed amendments legitimise gay and lesbian lives in the eyes of the broader community.  They send an unambiguous message that homophobic attitudes and anti-gay violence is not acceptable.  Every so often my partner and I, while looking like any other adult couple (except one of us isn’t a woman), are confronted by uncomfortable social situations and verbal abuse, and at least once a year we fear for our safety – the most recent was doing something as innocuous as walking along the mainstreet after doing the grocery shopping.

The proposed amendments also recognise that this is about what the State endorses as an adult relationship, not what the church endorses.  They recognise that in the last ten years there have been significant shifts in the community’s attitude: poll after poll shows that a majority of people now support same-sex marriage.  Modern societies around the world are moving forward on this issue; to-date, Australia has not – it simply can’t get its act together.

Most importantly, however, the amendments send a crystal-clear signal to same-sex-attracted youth like Campbell O’Donnell that their sexuality is valid and valued.  There is no doubt in my mind that changing the Marriage Act to allow gay couples to marry will save lives, especially the lives of young people.

Even though the ACT Civil Union Legislation has been reduced to an almost ineffectual level by Australian Government interference, the ACT’s determined leadership on this issue has sent a very positive, healthy message to the nation that discrimination based on sexual preference is not acceptable.  Perhaps if this message came louder and clearer from the federal government, a young man like Campbell O’Donnell may still be alive, and my partner and I could get on with our lives without being hindered by the law and harassed by unnecessarily fearful members of the community.

In the end, of course, it’s just about love, isn’t it.  Two people loving each other the best way they can: fumbling their way through the great big tangly mess of it all.  The sex is one thing; the ability to accumulate cultural and material wealth is another.  But it’s love – companionship, intimacy, affection – that is a human being’s greatest task, a human being’s greatest legacy.

What is marriage if not love?


This story was first published in The Canberra Times on 30 March 2012.  In a slightly edited form, it has also been submitted to the Inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 by the Parliament of Australia’s House of Representative’s Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs.  The closing date for responses to the inquiry is 20 April 2012.  The Committee’s site has a survey that takes only a couple of minutes to fill in.

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