I have a very close, conservative extended family. We have all the love and respect in the world for each other, but sometimes, they unintentionally break my heart.
My family all live in regional and rural Victoria and NSW. I spent my school holidays milking cows, sweeping the floors of the shearing shed, and driving tractors. It’s fair to say my aunts, uncles and grandparents were integral to helping me become who I am today. They’re all very proud of me, and I love them to bits. When I came out to them eight years ago, though, they were confused about how to react.
Much time has passed since; they’ve realised I’m the same James I was before I came out, and they’ve adjusted to the idea of me being gay (although some of them still struggle to say “gay” aloud).
This past weekend, we had a funeral for one of my uncles—an event which brought about the rare reunion of all my extended family in the one place.
I love spending time with my family. Unfortunately, though, it’s not easy for us to put the three deadly no-go topics of conversation aside. My postgraduate degree majored in sexual health, and I’ve always been open when talking about sex, and my Oma is German, confident in her opinions and religious. We can deal with that, but politics complicates issues.
Our country delaying marriage equality is holding back Australia’s conservative families from being more comfortable talking to their same-sex-attracted loved ones. Not a visit goes by without me being asked if I have a “special friend” or a “... friend”. ‘Boyfriend’ or ‘partner’ isn’t that hard to say, is it? This year, after telling one of my relatives about my dating woes, I was politely asked if it had gone so badly that it was enough to “bring me back” to “the other side”. I smiled and said that wasn’t going to happen. We don’t choose a side.
Then there’s the issue of kids—I’m immediately ruled out as a child who will potentially give my parents grandkids. All the family comments are about my brother impregnating his girlfriend. It's fine, because he’s actually in a stable relationship, whereas my longest relationships haven’t survived more than a seasonal fling, but when a loving, well-intentioned older relative told me while I was holding a six-month-old baby that I could “get one of those” because she’d seen Elton John with two of “them”, I started thinking, ‘how much longer will same-sex-attracted and gender-diverse Australians have to wait until we’re not looked at as something that is anything but “normal”?’
I’ve always dreamt of having a family, with the picket fence and the two kids. Always. When I realised I was gay, that didn’t change. I just replaced the image of a wife with a husband and didn’t think anything of it. The problem is that we can’t legally do that. As my dear aunt pointed out, yes, same-sex couples can now adopt and parent children across the country (except in the Northern Territory), but we can’t be wed to the ones we love. We can’t subscribe to that very value of society that holds families together (or at least attempts to).
Sure, not everyone wants to marry, but taking that step forward in gaining equal rights for same-sex-attracted couples, how will our relationships ever be seen as legitimate, real and just as loving as heterosexual married couples?
It’s reported that one of the most conservative members of the Liberal Party, Peter Dutton, has said he thinks it’s inevitable that marriage equality will happen and that he wants it dealt with in this Parliament. There’s not much stopping it from it happening now – we just need action.
It’s not necessary for me to list the advantages of allowing marriage equality, but I will remind you that it saves the lives of young people.
It breaks my heart that I feel the need to write this, as I love my family more than anything – but I know I’m not alone. People from regional and rural areas find it incredibly difficult to come out, as do those from diverse ethnic backgrounds, especially when their families are politically, religiously, and morally conservative.
The delay in giving same-sex-attracted people the right to marry is keeping us from re-establishing our close family ties.
It’s time for our representatives in Parliament to listen to their constituents from all sides of politics, and have that free vote.