This is a very personal diary about same sex couples and legal recognition, that I hope will serve as a space for dialogue in this area, and move the conversation into the area of the nuance and detail – from bald legal status for same sex couples, to thinking about issues of cultural acceptance and absorption. It’s about how the personal is political, and how it is affecting me.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this diary compared to issues around efforts to salvage the world from right-wing madness is absolutely, completely trivial. So I leave it up to you to decide whether you want to take a break from reading about how to save the world and what from, and read about something small.
read on for a small thing
What has triggered it is that my partner (Keres) and I recently had the wonderful news that she had been granted Australia permanent residency; and this cleared the way for us to register as a couple in our home state, Tasmania. So to play on Mae West’s wonderful quote (“marriage is a fine institution, I just don’t think I’m ready for an institution yet”), my love and I are now institutionalised.
The state of the Institution in Australia & our State
While the miserable pusillanimous piece of faeces known to the world as the Australian Prime Minister John Howard recently amended the 1958 Marriage Act to make it extra-extra clear that homosexuals could not legally marry in Australia (even though the Act already defined marriage as “between a man and a woman”); several states are nevertheless quite progressive in terms of GLBTI rights, and surprisingly, my home state of Tasmania is the most progressive of them all. This is surprising because it was only a decade ago that homosexuality was illegal in Tasmania, and sodomy could see you sent to prison for a goodly portion of your natural life.
Last year the Labor (left) government passed the Relationships Act, which is considered one of the most progressive pieces of GLBTI legislation in the world, not least because it did not just look at the status of homosexual relationships, but of all dependent relationships (eg carer and care-ee). In doing so, the government made over 170 amendments to other pieces of Tasmanian state legislation, which gives something of a feel to just how institutionalised and assumptive most legislation is in denying basic rights to GLBTI people across all spheres of life.
The Act is not perfect; conservative elements refused to cave and allow homosexual adoption of children other than the biological child of one of the couple (eg if Keres had a child, I could legally adopt him/her; but if we wanted to seek an adoption where neither of us was a biological parent, this would not be possible), which remains a farce given the number of legal homosexual foster parents, for just one eg, in the state. But overall, the Act lays a vital foundation for equality, and I am confident in time that the last barriers will be addressed as amendments to the main Act.
The Relationships Act also does not allow gay marriage; but it did create a register for same-sex couples, the same as there is a registry for de facto (common law) couples, and essentially by registering, we have the same rights as any married couple under any area of State law – for example, this gives each of the right to make decisions about our partner’s health, and makes each of us the other’s guardian if one of us should ever be incapacitated.
Personal experience, thoughts, doubts and lingering indecision
So having laid out why Keres and I are very fortunate in living in a state with such progressive rights for same sex couples, I now want to talk about the personal experience.
Neither Keres or I are into big formal `dos’ – in fact I have distinct “formal-phobia” and Keres is pretty similar. So it’s fair to say that even if we could marry, you wouldn’t be catching us all gadded up in a church or public garden with a celebrant surrounded by family and friends in after-5 (`Scuse me while I shudder and move swiftly along from that image).
However there’s no question that this is a hugely significant event in our lives, yet the cultural environment combined with our own personal peccadillos has left me with a feeling of limbo, of insecurity and indecision about how to celebrate our commitment (in the best possible sense!) to each other.
I have had this feeling for a while, and the process of registering did not help, as it reinforced these feelings. The woman who witnessed our signatures and processed our $128.70 was very nice and obviously understood at least in the legal sense the significance of those pieces of paper, yet she clearly didn’t know quite how to treat us – for example she didn’t congratulate us. Yet if you go into get your marriage licence, there’s no such limbo – people are automatically acknowledged and congratulated by every person they tell of their intention to marry, including officialdom. Conversation about what they plan for the big day and other pleasantries are standard. Apparently two women essentially making the same legal commitment to each other is such a disconnect it doesn’t trigger similar responses in even perfectly nice people.
the power of words
Maybe it’s because there isn’t even a word or phrase. We’re not getting married – so what do you say? Committed? – ooh, nice, no pejorative overtones there. Joined as one? -can I vomit now please. And I want a word, something fierce. I want a word that has equal gravitas, recognition (or potential for), and imbuement with joy and celebration that marriage has – yet I don’t know what it is.
public acknowledgement & celebration
Close friends have asked us what we intend to do – or rather demanded a party! Which is at once nice, but hasn’t entirely resolved my feelings around the issue. There remains sneaking doubts. If we throw a big party for family and friends, will they acknowledge the significance and reason for it, or will it just be a nice party for a good reason? Regardless of whether we want or expect them – would they think they have to bring presents like a `normal’ celebration of two people’s union? Do we need to make speeches or get people to make them so people understand and take the event seriously? Do we have to exchange vows and/or rings? In other words, I’m left with this nagging feeling that if we don’t throw in some recognisable trappings of marriage, people aren’t going to accord us the same acknowledgment and respect – yet I don’t want really any of those trappings! I want the public acknowledgment, and I want it to be accorded naturally, not have it be something that feels in anyway forced or contrived on anyone, including me, us.
Of course, there’s part of me that feels I should just be grateful that we are even accorded these rights – and therein lies the heart of much of the battle for GLBTI equality; always as we slowly crawl and beg and scrabble our way closer to full equality, we are told to settle, be grateful, stop demanding. So actually, it’s not true that part of me feels I should be grateful. More accurately, there’s part of me that acknowledges how much luckier we are than most homosexuals all over the world, but refuses to see that as a premise of compromise, and anyone who thinks it is can get knotted. :p
So here I sit. Keres and I have the rights; can we now devise a way to joyfully and comfortably celebrate them with those close to us? I think so; I hope so.
I’m trying to resist the temptation to `formalise’ (you-can’t-ignore-us-`cause-look-at-all-the-fuss-we-have-devised), or `casualise’ (it-doesn’t-really-matter-stay-cool-no-big-deal-lower-your-expectations-so-you-won’t-get-disappointe
d) whatever we decide to do and decide what the hell it is we actually want to do and can afford to do at the same time. I think part of the result is it makes it hard for is to have a conversation about it. We’re so used, I think, to poo-pooing and critiquing heterosexual patriarchy, what to do now we technically have rights and so are part of it? Having for years ascribed our own meaning to our lives, how does that now intersect with the views of others who matter to us?
I don’t have the answers to this; and I’m less confident than usual that I will get to some. So pile in. Comments, thoughts, suggestions, at the personal and/or meta level welcome. How about we think of a word together? The lack of even a word means trying to envision what I’d say to invite family and friends to an event is a stumper. What would you call it?
So finally, I guess this diary is also in many ways a first step. Guess what bootribbers! Keres and I got …institutionalised.