I’ve been speechless for a few days.
(This will come to a surprise to my Uber driver last night, who heard me wax at length about the five year survival rate of pancreatic cancer (eight percent); to my mother, who heard all about the significance of a senate race in Alabama; and to the rest of my Dungeons and Dragons party.)
This has been an incredible rollercoaster of a campaign, as our nation did its best not to tear itself apart whilst holding a divisive and public survey about same-sex marriage. I’ve written about the topic several times on this blog since I began it as an opinionated year eight student, all the way up to and including as an opinionated third year university student. The inertia after having pushed for this reform for so many years and having it (almost) fall in my lap has been a bit jarring. I am unused to having a moment thrust in front of me and not knowing exactly what to say about it.
Few moments will surpass for me the one I had on the morning of Wednesday, the 15th of November. Standing in Prince Alfred Park in town, my arm around one of my oldest friends, I nervously turned my eyes to the film screens. For the past two weeks, I had expressed with conviction and confidence that the Yes campaign had pulled off a win, joking that soon – to borrow a turn of phrase – gay weddings would be “widespread and compulsory”.
Five minutes before the announcement of the results, and I suddenly wasn’t so sure.
This was a campaign of many difficult moments. It has often been said that one of the features of our modern world is that it brings politics into our homes through more platforms and formats than ever before, that it makes the politics personal. The politics of this issue were already deeply personal, and there was no way to avoid them. Vote Yes flags flying through Martin Place. Coalition For Marriage ads spouting lies about radical gender theory education on every third commercial break.
I decided at the start of the campaign that I would have a big party to collect survey responses and donations to support at risk LGBTQI youth. But as the weeks went on, I felt battered by the constant, repetitious nature of the campaign’s intrusions into my life. Within the space of any given day, I felt like we were headed for a win, a bruising defeat, and then a win again, and then absolutely no idea. I felt tired out by it, worn down, and tired.
One morning my friend next door called me and asked whether I’d looked up at the sky yet. Slightly puzzled, I walked outside and saw it, in big white letters; VOTE NO. My immediate response was a four letter word. (So was my instagram caption.) I was angry, certainly. But on another level, my heart sank. This was expensive, and it wasn’t likely to change a single vote. All it would do is tell people like me that we aren’t welcome to express our love in the same way as others. It wasn’t long after the skywriting that I cancelled the party, deciding against inviting the debate into my home again.
Obviously, I couldn’t avoid it completely. On many levels, I did not want to. I lived my life with a rainbow watch strap from June onwards, sending a signal to people about what my views were. My family and friends know my thoughts and feelings on this topic. Much as it came up every week on Q&A, it came up every week around the Shabbat dinner table. Being openly gay often means being the ambassador for the community wherever we are; everybody wants your take on the latest dip and dive, the latest nuance and controversy. There were so many; the Pansy Lai debacle, the Tony Abbott headbutting, the infamous mass text. I had to have a take on all of them, and be prepared to defend that take for hours ad nauseum.
I was fortunate to have parents who were of the same mind on the issue. Parents who are kind, understanding, and thoughtful. I know that there are many out there who did not have the luxury of leaving the fight beyond the boundary of their front door.
I did try persuading a couple of people to come around to the Yes side; not No voters per se, but those on the fence. For the most part, I stuck to rational arguments about fairness and equality and secular society. Eventually, I got exasperated. Behind the wheel of my car, dropping a friend home, as the question remained unclear, I finally went to the place I hadn’t wanted to go; “how would you feel if you voted no and I could never get married?”
There were highlights of the campaign as well, few and far between. The elected roof body of my community, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, voted to endorse a Yes vote as a matter of secular policy. I knew at the time that this was unlikely to change a single vote, but it spoke to me so deeply and powerfully about the level of acceptance in my community.
Many told me throughout the campaign that it didn’t matter to them how I loved or who I loved, that it was an issue for me alone. One particularly thoughtful friend gave me his ballot paper and said it was mine to do with as I wished; he didn’t feel he should have a say on my right to marry. (He voted yes, in case you were wondering.) The people must have their say, the refrain rang out throughout the campaign. So many of my straight friends wondered when they ever gained the right to have a say about how I lived my life and who I loved.
Slowly the debate grew dimmer and dimmer, and it appeared we were rushing headlong into a foregone conclusion. The Paterson bill stirred up some more outrage for the sake of it. I mused to my mother that sometimes one sees legislation that would be just perfect if a couple of things were removed or tweaked; this bill was rotten in even the section that would have given us the right to marry.
I vacillated about going to the Prince Alfred Park announcement event. What if things weren’t so great? Would I want to be at home, in a safe quiet place where nothing could go wrong? In the end, I did what I’m often petrified of doing and took the risk. And so we waited, as David Kalisch explained what exactly the ABS does. And waited, and waited.
The moment he said the words “seven million”, I began to cheer; a fair few of the people around me awaited the actual percentage to express joy. (I learned later that the same thing happened to Bill Shorten.) I felt elation, and just so much joy. JPY took the stage, to my utter amazement, and had us all dancing along to Love is in the Air, which for us it was. In my arms, one of my oldest friends could not stop crying. I could not start. Not even the sight of Penny Wong bursting into tears burst the dam. (Okay, maybe a little.)
Until today, pulling into my driveway, and the first strains of Same Love rang out of my car speakers. (Remember when they tried to ban it?) I teared up. Because suddenly I could see the future.
I could see myself filing notice with births, deaths and marriages that I was to become a we. I could see joint tax returns. Co-signing a lease. Introducing him to colleagues as “my husband”. Him allowed into my hospital room. My parents’ grandchildren, waking us up in the middle of the night, getting spoiled endlessly by doting grandparents and a beloved great aunt, making us proud and making us smile. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, nursing homes, funerals.
Before, I could see myself spending the rest of my life with someone I loved. Now, I can see myself getting married.