The road to marriage equality in Australia has been a long, hard haul. And it hasn’t been made any easier by the fact that many gay men cheering loudly for the YES camp in the streets and on social media are ambivalent, at best, behind closed doors.
My partner Wayne and I had a commitment ceremony some 15 years ago. We figured that if we waited for ‘gay marriage’ to become law many of our nearest and dearest would be dearly departed. And we were right.
But because there was no legal standing to our ceremony, we were able to write our own pledges – and we studiously avoided those words ‘to the exclusion of all others’.
Years ago, when I was editor of a gay newspaper in Sydney, Wayne and I conducted interviews with gay couples to see what made their relationships tick. While love, commitment and communication were at the top of the agenda, what became clear was that the relationships gay men worked out for themselves were a far cry from traditional marriage.
Not least was the fact that many were not sexually exclusive. Some couples had a ‘don’t ask don’t tell policy’, others shared their playmates together, while still others went their separate ways at the sauna and then went home together afterwards.
Like many others, Wayne and I maintained an ‘open’ relationship. (To my mind the ‘open’ bit is not so much what you do with people outside your primary relationship but the honesty you bring to discussing it with your partner.)
And there was an absolute need for honesty: with HIV largely untreatable in the ’80s and early ’90s, hiding the truth from your partner could literally be a death sentence.
And so each couple devised their own unique relationship, one that suited their needs, not society’s. As with our heterosexual peers, many didn’t stand the test of time. But I’m glad to count among my friends a number who’ve been together 20 or 30 years and are still happily ensconced.
In May, while many gay friends were busy proposing to each other, and politicians were madly arguing the toss, an old friend returned to our lives. Jeff came for a brief visit – and he hasn’t left since.
Yes, we are now a triple (sorry I can’t stand that word ‘throuple’). Imagine, on the eve of the marriage equality survey – while we were girding our loins against everything the NO camp might throw at us – we realised we actually didn’t give a toss about marriage or what it represents.
But we argued for equality because we do believe gay men have the right to be, as the Tele headline writer so eloquently put it ‘as miserable as the rest of us’.
And while the survey itself was a trial by fire, the result has encouraged and emboldened many in the LGBTIQ community to come out or to be more open: to hold hands in the street, kiss in public, to expect (at last) to be treated equally and stop trying to ‘pass as straight’.
I hope that the outcome will see young gay kids more comfortable in their own skin, less likely to be bullied at school – and less likely to attempt self-harm or suicide.
What I hope I don’t see is society becoming more homogenous. Already we are seeing many young gay men who have few – or no – gay friends. With dating now largely driven by social media apps, the venues and events that provided a safe space for gay men and lesbians to get together and support one another are dwindling.
I like to think that, while we have much in common with our heterosexual friends and peers, we also have something special to offer both broader society and each other: our own culture, developed over many centuries.
A perfect example is Tropical Fruits, the Lismore-based LGBTIQ group forged during the difficult AIDS era, which attracts thousands to the town each New Year for a huge celebration, the likes of which Lismore would never see otherwise.
The funds generated stay in the town, and the group itself is buying a permanent home, sponsoring an LGBTIQ youth group and funding many other worthwhile activities in the community.
My generation came out during a time when equality was a distant dream – and perhaps that has given us a different perspective on how human relationships can evolve. And while I’m grateful that Australia has voted to enable all those people who wish to embrace the institution of marriage to do so, personally I wouldn’t want my life any other way.
There don’t need to be wedding bells on the horizon to celebrate love and romance.