Imagine this: you are born into a world in which anyone can get married to whomever they choose. When you are deciding who to marry, or sleep with, or date, you just look around at everyone and choose someone who makes you feel happy and who you get along with. It’s not ‘normal’ for there to be a bride and a groom, it’s just whatever.
This is the world that Emily wants to live in. If you hear her talk about her experience at ANU, it seems that within the microcosm of this liberal university, and at least within her circles, this world already exists. In this bubble, it’s not the norm to date someone of the opposite sex, it’s just whatever. For Emily, as a woman who is still coming to terms with her queer identity, living in this world has allowed her to overcome internalised homophobia that she didn’t even realise she had and embrace her sexuality.
This internalised homophobia, which Emily highlights that most of us have (whether we want to admit it or not), comes from growing up in a heteronormative world. The unequal legal recognition of relationships is one way in which heteronormativity is cemented. So, for Emily, the legalisation of gay marriage is “exciting” because it means that a new generation of people will not view those who identify as LGBTQI+ as different or inferior but as normal and equal.
In Emily’s opinion, one of the most harmful by-products of the postal vote is that, as someone who is only just becoming comfortable with her own sexuality, it has made her second-guess herself. She says that: “By allowing people to voice hate speech and have their shitty opinions publicised, it makes it harder for people like me who are trying to undo all this shitty stuff to hear someone say ‘it’s not natural’. ” Even more scary, is that fact that these people are voting on what Emily perceives as being an issue of rights: “It’s like having a postal vote on whether or not women can work.”
While I’ve read a lot of articles about the effects of this debate on school kids who are unsure about their sexualities, hearing Emily speak really made me reflect on how fragile all of our identities are. I can remember almost every piece of criticism I have ever received (one friend called me “stumpy” in year eight) and rarely have these comments gone to the core of my identity. I cant imagine how must that feel.
So, everyone should have a right to marry who they want. But what about a right to express their opinions? We live in a democracy, where we have a bloody implied freedom of political communication, shouldn’t people be able to voice the fact that they don’t think queer people should be able to get married?
In response to this, I can see Emily’s mind tick back to her most recent comment: “Everyone has shit opinions but that doesn’t mean it should determine someone’s life.” So, it seems for Emily, as for many people, there is a line. Of course, people are entitled to their own opinions, but that doesn’t necessarily extend to a right to publish these opinions, to force them on others or to write them in the sky. Especially when these opinions “make it impossible for some queer people to live their lives … [you] have to remind yourself that you are valid and part of the society that you live in.”
I think it is difficult for everyone to work through the supposedly inconsistent rights that have become part of this debate. In fact, much of the media on the postal survey demonstrates that there is profound disagreement over what is at stake in this survey. Is this an issue of freedom of speech? Of human rights? Of a person’s right to have their relationship and love recognised? Right to equality?
Speaking to Emily and hearing the impact a ‘no’ vote would have on her personally, I can’t help but feel that this debate needs to be pared back to talking about what it means to the individuals who it personally affects. For Emily, a no vote, which she thinks is possible, would be “terrible and shocking and so sad.” It would be backwards. Even Emily’s country of origin, America, has legalised gay marriage. And for Emily, who is a self-professed romantic, “getting married would be sweet.”