Are gestures by straight couples at their wedding ceremonies getting us any closer to marriage equality or more about patting themselves on the back? Rebecca Shaw takes a look.
Rebecca Shaw

4 Feb 2016 - 12:33 PM  UPDATED 4 Feb 2016 - 12:40 PM

When I think about weddings as a whole, I am often filled with conflicted feelings. This is partly because I wish marriage wasn’t the societal expected outcome for couples, but contradictorily, it’s also because I dislike the fact that same-sex couples in Australia cannot access this same flawed system.

Yes, I am a complicated woman. I do not want to get married, which is lucky because: 1) that option has not been legally available to me up until this point, and 2) Beyoncé is already married to someone else.

I also don’t believe that marriage equality should be the main issue prioritised by our community (not even close), but I do believe that while the institution of marriage exists as it currently does, all couples should have equal access to it.

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Until we achieve this equality, weddings will continue to be places where conflicted feelings can easily slip into discomfort. At no point is this truer than during the part of the ceremony, kindly added by former Prime Minister John Howard, where the celebrant is required to say the following words:

 “Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

This is upsetting for obvious reasons, as it is explicitly and pointedly included to ensure that same-sex couples are excluded. And the effect it has, unsurprisingly, is to make us feel that way. For queer people, there is nothing quite like sitting at a wedding and hearing that line, knowing that your relationships simply aren’t valued in the same way as the one you are seeing in front of you.

The reason I resent that line most is because it takes me out of the moment. If I am at a wedding, I don’t want to be feeling anything but joy and support. 

There has been a growing phenomenon of straight couples choosing to make a point of the fact that they don’t agree with that discriminatory phrase, ostensibly showing their support for same-sex couples. One of these attempts went viral recently, when guests at a wedding in Coffs Harbour were asked to cover their ears during the line, alongside the bride and groom. It made for a very cute photo opportunity, and it was a nice gesture. The couple was lauded for their action, as they declared (via a FB post) that others should ‘stand up for what they believe in’ too.

The amount of praise that people who do this kind of gesture receive started to irritate me. It became more annoying than if they had made no reference to the line at all. By taking that kind of action, those couples are announcing to the world that they understand that the system of marriage is discriminatory, that they are aware that the line said by their celebrant is archaic and hurtful, and yet – after that line is uttered, the ceremony carries on as usual.

For me, it feels like people are being lauded for paying lip service to the issue. It is heterosexual couples being broadly and loudly praised for burying their head in the sand, or literally covering their ears so they don’t have to be faced with the blatant discrimination of the institution they are participating in.

Occasionally it feels like the moment turns into a ‘look at us doing the right thing’ opportunity, rather than a real, considered thought about the process they are engaging in.

Occasionally it feels like the moment turns into a ‘look at us doing the right thing’ opportunity, rather than a real, considered thought about the process they are engaging in. If you truly believe that strongly that the system is unfair, and so discriminatory, is taking one moment to not listen to a few words really taking that much of a stand?

Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I don’t think the gesture is a nice one, or shouldn’t be done. But I don’t believe that couples should be applauded and glorified for taking this small basic action. Yes, it is lovely to know that your friends and family understand that hearing that part of the service can be hard, and that they believe you deserve equality. It’s just that this can feel mildly hollow when the next step is the signing of the contract that legalises your marriage, because you are the ones who are able to get married.

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Making a point of your displeasure at that line doesn’t change anything for queer people; we still feel the complicated feelings and the sting of the day, even if those few words aren’t heard. We still go on not being able to get married.

I don’t believe that heterosexual people shouldn’t get married while same-sex couples can’t. I very much want to continue to attend the weddings of people I adore, and I will no doubt still cry every time I see a bride walk down the aisle. I bring every ounce of love and support that is contained in my body to weddings, and I will continue to do so.

I want the people I love to have the wedding day of their dreams; I just can’t wait until the day this includes everyone.