Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My first demonstration

“Gay, straight, black, white. Marriage is a civil right.”

That was one of the three sets of chants that were repeatedly heard amongst the attendees of the almost-3000-strong demonstration I took part in last Saturday. My first ever demonstration. Perhaps this is one of the “joys” of living in an open society where freedom of speech and the right to protest are respected. But if Australia were truly an open society, why was there a need to hold that particular demonstration in the first place? In case you still do not have a clue what I am fighting for, it is the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia.

You might not be aware of this but the definition of “marriage” has been re-written in major dictionaries of the world. Quoting the Merriam-Webster dictionary, here is the definition of the word.

“1a: (1) the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage
1b: the mutual relation of married persons: wedlock
1c: the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage
2: an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected; especially: the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities
3: an intimate or close union”

So before you formulate any thoughts for or against same-sex marriage, please note that the very meaning of marriage has already been redefined. But what should the proper sequence of events be? Should the acceptance of same-sex marriage in society come before or after the redefining of marriage? This question is really a litmus test that sets the difference between true democracy/the upholding of human rights and political power-play that merely gives the illusion of democracy/the upholding of human rights. The best leader a country can get is one who takes care of his or her entire country even when that very act is against popular opinion. But sadly, the majority of the world’s leaderships is nothing more than a selfish contest for the spot to be at the top. Think Nelson Mandela versus George W. Bush.

“Hey hey, ho ho. Homophobia’s gotta go.”

Before the above chant filled the air, the aforementioned demonstration began with various groups setting up stalls to canvass for the support of same-sex marriage as an immense crowd started to gather at Town Hall Square before the rousing speeches began. Although the issues that were brought up by the speakers were nothing new to the GLBTI (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and intersex) community, it was a chance for still-ignorant passers-by to get a taste of the plight of their fellow mates. At the end of the speeches, the electrifying atmosphere in the air was ready to explode as the chanting got louder and faster. Then commenced the march to Darling Harbour, where the ruling Australian Labour Party was holding its annual conference discussing issues that the country hold dear, including the issue of same-sex marriage. The spectacle of it all was beyond anything I have seen. Placards, banners and flags, policemen stopping traffic to free the entire George Street for the demonstration, the chanting, the indignation. Enough is enough I say and there I was in the thick of it, putting action to words.

The march

A flavour of how the world stands when it comes to same-sex unions. (Click for an enlarged version)

As you can see, Australia seems to not be performing that poorly in this regard. This is especially so since last month when in the areas of taxation and superannuation (the CPF of Australia), the definition of “spouse” has been extended to include all de-facto partners, same-sex or otherwise. FYI, de-facto relationships in Australia refer to unions outside of the man/woman categorisation of marriage. Ision and I are currently by definition in a de-facto relationship automatically but we still need to keep some proof of our relationship in case it gets contested (eg. joint banking account statements, leases with both names, etc). Some Australian states also have a relationship register that formally documents de-facto partnerships in a certificate so that it becomes much easier when the legitimacy of the relationship is put into question (eg. when visiting your partner at the hospital). The state I am in (New South Wales) is to set up a relationship register soon. Discrimination in all other areas like pension, employment, housing and so on have also been abolished. Indeed, Australia seems to be doing quite OK especially for same-sex couples who do not want to have kids (it is still a very big legal hassle at the moment to make everything legitimate if two homosexuals want to start a family). This then begs the question. If there seems to be equality on almost all planes, what is stopping full equality exactly? Before you know it, more questions ensue. Does it make sense that a “legitimate” relationship can actually be placed in the shadow of doubt? Should we simply accept this unequal equality and forever hold our contented peace? With regards to the concept of equal human rights for all being tainted by politics and religion, is there an essential difference between Australia and Singapore?

“What do we want? Same-sex marriage! When do we want it? Now!”

As the chants reached our extremely touristy destination, we made so much noise and gathered so much attention (from the media and onlookers) that officials from the Labour Party conference had to come out to see what the fuss was all about. We were told that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (a Christian by faith) was having lunch when the demonstration was at its climax when it was announced that despite everything, it was decided that the ban on same-sex marriages enacted in 2004 by the homophobic John Howard government was to stay. But that did not stop 80 or so same-sex couples from getting hitched in a mass illegal wedding with real vows and a real pastor. This was really an eye-opener for me and was certainly one of the high points of my residence in Sydney so far.

At Darling Harbour

As the couples sealed their illegal marriages with kisses, I could not help but feel a little depressed that Ision was not there with me (I would make us one of those couples otherwise). Ision’s stance on marriage put simply is that there is no point in doing it if it is not legal. Of course that logic cannot be refuted but a symbolic wedding would nonetheless still hold a lot of weight in my life. Ision also made it clear that he wants us to live together for 3 years before moving on to marriage (that is understandable especially when some of his past relationships ended with love and fidelity not being issues). In addition since we both dislike children and will never have them, getting legally married is not that an urgent need for us. Again that logic sits well in my brain but my heart still pumps with unsettled fervour created by the unfair laws of the land and the impatience of wanting my love for him to be sealed in some way.

Mass Illegal Wedding

However all that has to wait. At the end of our 3 years of cohabitation (the official date being 21st June 2011), if the laws were still against same-sex marriage, we would still want to go ahead with our marriage in the British embassy (Ision holds a UK passport). And as soon as it gets legal in Australia, we will convert that British document into an Australian one (UK does not have same-sex marriages but civil unions which afford couples exactly the same rights as heterosexual marriages). It is only a matter of time before that happens for I have faith in the country I chose to live in over the one I was born in. Following the signing of that piece of paper, we will also hold a wedding ceremony in both Singapore and Australia. Of course a honeymoon trip (to my dream holiday destination, Japan) will be thrown in as well. You might be wondering why are homosexuals trying to follow a heterosexual's formula of living and going to such great lengths to battle over this concept of marriage, of which more than a third ends in divorce. But don’t all couples want the world to observe and celebrate their love for each other in an ultimate act of commitment as well as its legal recognition? Is that too straight a dream to pursue? The very thought of asking that question sets off pangs of unrest in me. Shouldn’t marriage be sugary sweet instead of something played out in a bitter battlefield?

The demonstration came to an end that weather-perfect winter afternoon three hours after it began and I returned home to be in my partner’s arms where all the angst of the day dissolved in an instant. Perhaps love is the only thing worth fighting for in this world. And it warms my heart to know that that war for us has long been won.