It’s been a slow time for marriage equality since the plebiscite bill went down in the Senate back in November. (It seems as though it’s been years since November, for unrelated and obvious reasons.) There was that flare up back in March when suddenly Peter Dutton thought the situation was a problem but that passed us by about as quickly as it appeared. (Did it ever appear? These days, one reads so many reports from anonymous sources that provide a detailed timeline of events, only for it all to come to nothing. The tree may not have fallen down in the forest. Who can tell?)
So it doesn’t entirely beggar belief that we’ve spent the last six days talking about Margaret Court not wanting to fly Qantas because gay people or whatever. We’ve endured a great deal of the typical cycle; comment that offends one side of the divide comes up, person who made the comment ends up on The Project and then The Bolt Report, op-eds saying that the person who made the comment should be stripped of honours, op-eds saying that the response is overblown, etc etc. (It almost seems as though this was the only thing that could take the conversation off Yasmin Abdel-Magied. That was two weeks of the news cycle we’ll never get back.)
But ultimately, even if we’re being vilified, there is still something gratifying about being back on the national conversation. Even Tim Wilson seems to acknowledge that we’re only talking about it this much because we haven’t talked about it anywhere else – like, say, in a large Canberran enclave with green (or red) seats for members.
Should Margaret Court Arena be renamed? In all honesty, I’m not that sure. The arena was nominally given that name in recognition of Court’s tennis achievements, which are considerable and praiseworthy. The argument then goes that we shouldn’t judge peoples’ professional achievements based on their character.
But fundamentally, the decision to name a stadium or an arena after a sportsperson is about more than just how well they played. John McEnroe only has a tennis academy named after him because he founded it. It’s unlikely that we’d see a Lance Armstrong Velodrome or, as was suggested around my Friday night dinner table, a Ben Cousins Stadium. That’s obviously not to suggest that choosing not to support same-sex marriage is the same as using drugs, but to speak to a larger point.
Sporting heroes are not honoured merely for achievement, but for sportsmanship.
Inevitably, skeletons emerge under scrutiny. This is not the first time Margaret Court has made comments that deserve a second look. In an interview with The Guardian in 1970, she described apartheid as South Africa having race relations “better organised than any other country, particularly America”. And whilst people are entitled to their religious practice, there is something inherently uncomfortable about someone leveraging their sporting profile to argue that their religious beliefs be imposed on the rest of civil society.
The voices of sportspeople on all topics carry weight, but we have seen the impact that they have on this topic in particular. Riding the wave of Ian Thorpe’s coming out in July 2014, marriage equality reached its zenith of popularity; 72% in a Crosby/Textor poll. The numbers have ebbed and dipped since; the issue makes it in the news, then disappears for months.
It’s always worth it to consider what it is we truly, honestly want, at the end of the day. It’s like when I bust my guts trying to do nice things for attractive straight boys; you need sometimes to take a moment to centre, and acknowledge: “even if I do this, he’s not going to sleep with me.” Changing the name of Margaret Court Arena isn’t going to marry a single same-sex couple in this country. We might claim some kind of moral victory, but at the end of the day, we’ll be no closer to full equality than at the start.