Comment: O Brother, Where Art Thou On Gay Marriage?


Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he will "do the right thing" and attend his gay sister's wedding. That's his choice - but he's twisting himself in knots, writes Rebecca Shaw.

From everything I have heard (and seen on sitcoms), one of the difficulties of wedding planning is deciding where to seat your guests in order to avoid conflict.

For example, you obviously cannot sit Aunts Dottie and Kit near each other lest the night end in a glassing. Can you put your adult cousin Fred who will only eat chicken nuggets at the kid’s table? And who will be sacrificed to sit next to your racist grandfather? Or maybe there are enough racists in your family to fill a whole table?

In any case, the process seems exhausting. So, spare a thought for Christine Forster and her partner Virginia Edwards. You may have heard of Christine. She is the sister of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Ms Forster and Ms Edwards recently became engaged to each other.

(I’ll wait a moment so you can look outside to see if the world still exists.)

Same-sex couples who embrace aspects of conventional weddings may have to deal with some unique obstacles. Perhaps your elderly great-aunt does not quite understand the relationship and thinks you are just best friends (looking at you Bert and Ernie), or perhaps your cousin Joe who still says ‘Woolly-Woofters’ might not want to attend.

Or maybe you have a brother who has made it clear he does not consider your relationship equal to his, does not believe you should have equal rights, is the Prime Minister of Australia, and is actively suppressing your right to have a legal wedding by challenging the ACT’s same-sex marriage laws in the High Court. That is the unenviable position that Christine Forster is in.

Ms Forster and Mr Abbott have both said that the topic does not cause problems in their relationship. Mr Abbott has said that if Forster has a ceremony of some kind, he will attend. He has said, “I’ll do the right thing”.

Nobody has the right to judge Ms Forster for her decisions, and none of us can know the dynamics of their relationship. All I can know is that were I to marry another woman, I would want my brothers there. But if any of them were less than 100 per cent supportive, I would not invite them. I cannot imagine what kind of complicated feelings Ms Forster must have knowing that her brother is not only less than 100 per cent behind her marriage; he is actively working to prevent her and other queer people from having them.

If Mr Abbott is so opposed to equal marriage that he is determined to stop it, how then does he think it is the ‘right thing’ to do to attend a same-sex wedding?

If the simple reason is that it’s the wedding of his sister, it indicates that Mr Abbott believes that something is righteous for his family members, but not for the rest of us. If he disagrees unequivocally with the idea of same-sex marriage, as he has made clear in the past, why is he showing his support by attending one?

This renders his generally consistent (even though I disagree with it) position inconsistent. He is someone who has repeatedly broadcast his total disagreement with the idea on historical, moral and religious grounds. He is someone who is preparing to fight against it in the ACT. And now he is someone who is prepared to attend a same-sex wedding.

I wish Ms Forster and Ms Edwards the happiest of weddings, and I look forward to the day when equal marriage is law in Australia. But perhaps I would respect Mr Abbott more if he declined to attend because at least then he wouldn’t be a hypocrite.

Rebecca Shaw is a Brisbane-based writer and host of the fortnightly comedy podcast Bring a Plate.

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