Why we should avoid using the terms “same sex marriage” and “same sex wedding”

CreativeOTHRS Uncategorised

Until the postal vote was announced as the mechanism by which Australians would decide whether or not all Australians would be given the right to marry in Australia, the terms “same sex marriage” and “same sex wedding” had rarely appeared in public debate. The battle-lines had been drawn on either side of the much broader and inclusive term, “marriage equality”. The introduction of the term “marriage equality” into the debate some years prior had been a masterstroke by the team advocating for equal rights for all Australians. The people who introduced and normalised its use were clever enough to understand that a majority of Australians would support it as they’d know that the denial or refusal of it meant we weren’t giving all Australians a fair go, one of the main social mores that underpin Australian society.

And so, when the Liberal and National Party coalition introduced the term “same sex marriage” into the debate, it knew that it was appealing to the conservative heartland and its hatred of this thing called ‘same sex’ or ‘homosexuality’. Those views and the vile homophobia they encouraged had been relegated to the past.

Or so we thought, until the term “same sex marriage” was reintroduced at the start of the postal vote period. The one thing that term has going for it is that it’s well branded – most people have an idea of what’s meant when it’s used. It also rolls off the tongue easily. And that’s the main reason the media picked up on it and used it so readily during the postal vote period.

So what’s wrong with using it, now that we have marriage equality?

There are three main things wrong with it:

  1. It relies on and reinforces an outdated view of the existence of the simplistic binary form of ‘sex’ – same sex implies a male marrying a male or a female marrying a female. What about someone who is indeterminate? And, whilst we know that gender identification is different from ‘sex’, the problem with using ‘same sex’ it also potentially excludes people who identify as bisexual, intersex, trans or genderfluid, who may or not marry someone of the ‘same sex’. By using the term “same sex”, we’re invalidating or, worse still, erasing other genders that exist.
  2. In a narrow sense, it reinforces latent homophobia. In recent decades, LGBTI+ advocates and activists had worked hard to avoid using terms associated with “sex” as they hearken back to when homophobes’ fear and repugnance of anal sex (also known as homosexual acts) led to Acts of Parliament being passed to make it illegal to carry them out or be associated with them. For many years, those views were reinforced by the police and the judiciary, further isolating and marginalising LGBTI+ people. And so to continue using terms that take us back decades to what were very dark times for the LGBTI+ community is a regressive step.
  3. It reduces the significance of the fact that the fight for marriage equality was always about that – giving all Australians the same rights at law, rather than continuing the homophobia-based denial of those rights to members of the rainbow community. The use of “same sex marriage” was an attempt to convince Australians that it was simply gay men who wanted to marry gay men and lesbians who wanted to marry lesbians rather than acknowledging and embracing the diversity within our community – and, of course, there were those hysterically wrong predictions about how many LGBTI+ couples would get married and the economic boon that would follow, as evidence that we we all going to rush (dare I say, mince!) to the pink altar along a rainbow encrusted aisle! But the reality is that lots of LGBTI+ couples don’t want to marry – and never will. And even though not all of our LGBTI+ community are ‘same sex’, an overwhelming majority within that community sure as heck did want the right to marry.

The Main Things I Have Found in Working with LGBTI Couples Getting Married

CreativeOTHRS Uncategorised

Main finding #1: Many LGBTI couples are private and closeted

As I am about to take my 50th LGBTI wedding booking since marriage equality became law in Australia, one of the main things I have found is that lots of LGBTI couples looking to get married are very private people – and deeply closeted.

And, in a way, that’s hardly surprising. Given the amount of harassment, vitriole, discrimination and vilification that LGBTI people have had to endure for much of their lives, it’s simply safer for couples to remain in the closet. It protects them and their privacy. It’s a way in which they can take control and maintain a level of comfort and safety within their lives. And whilst it’s easy for those in the broader community who have never been discriminated against or led a closeted life to judge them for continuing to live their lives in the closet (“I think it’s so sad” or “why can’t they just admit they’re gay and get on with their lives?”), such judgement indicates a low level of engagement with the diverse community that is the LGBTI population.

LGBTI people are emerging from decades when it was not only a societal norm to view LGBTI people as a group to be spurned, hated and reviled, but the legislative framework in Australia condoned it, backed up, of course by the police and the judiciary. And so, it should surprise no-one that a proportion of our rainbow community remains deeply private and fundamentally untrusting of those institutions. And whilst it is easy – almost patronisingly flippant – for people who don’t belong to the LGBTI community to say that marriage equality is here, that we should be grateful for that and we should now all just get on with our lives and treat everyone the same, to make such a suggestion underlines just how little such people understand the rainbow community.

The attainment of marriage equality was always going to be only one more little step in the path towards genuine equality for LGBTI people. Moreover, the process by which it was gained, providing 80% of Australians with an opportunity to vote on whether or not LGBTI people should have the same legal rights as every other Australian when it came to marriage, also gave the nay-sayers the social and political licence to go in hard against that right. And, predictably, they did. The harassment and discrimination during the period of the postal vote did enormous damage to members of the LGBTI community.

And it will take years to recover from that. It’s not just the rainbow community that will take time to heal – when daggers were thrown at us during that debate, those daggers also went through the hearts of our friends, allies and supporters, erasing progress in social justice and trust that had been built in the years prior.

So, next time a deeply private LGBTI couple comes to me as a wedding supplier, as someone who lived a closeted life for more than four decades, I can truly say that I understand – indeed empathise – with them and their decision to remain closeted. It behoves other wedding suppliers to do the same, if they’re serious about providing products and services to the LGBTI community in a respectful way.

Let’s get the language right, now that we have marriage equality in Australia

CreativeOTHRS Uncategorised

I write the following as a cisgender gay male, who is also an authorised marriage celebrant. I also am the co-founder of The Equality Network (wwwtheequalitynetwork.com.au) which has been established to educate straight wedding suppliers and others about how to work respectfully with LGBTI+ couples.

Currently, discussions are taking place between representatives of of celebrant associations in Australia and the Attorney General’s Department. Some of these discussions are focused on the wording of the Marriage Act 1961 associated with the recent amendments that enabled marriage equality to take place in Australia – eg whether or not the wording in the legal vows should be broadened to include terminology more pertinent to LGBTI+ couples.  

I must say that I find it unbelievable that discussions about the LGBTI+ community are being held and decisions affecting us are being made by a group consisting predominantly of cis straight people. As someone who has been a career senior public servant, I know that good policy (where it affects people) is created in collaboration with the people being affected. But not in this case. Imagine policy and legislation being created that affected indigenous people without any consultation or opportunity for input by indigenous people. Privileged straight people shouldn’t get to make decisions that affect LGBTI+ people, by themselves. But it continues to happen. And that fact is an indicator of how far we still have to go until LGBTI+ people has equal rights with other Australians.

The wording in the legal vows

Let’s be clear about the fact that marriage and the entire wedding industry that has evolved around it, is highly gendered. The words and terms, the rituals and symbols associated with (straight) weddings reflect that, over time, (straight) married couples have lived their lives along gendered lines. He mows the lawns, she does the washing, he fixes things, she cooks meals and so on. And the words Bride and Bridegroom, as well as the litany of other wedding-related terms, have also been highly gendered. And they remain so – and that’s great, if you’re straight.

But gay and lesbian people don’t live our lives along gendered lines. Despite it being hard for some straight people to get their head around who might be the male and who might be the female in a gay relationship, that remains their problem to struggle with. But it has relevance in the wording in the Marriage Act.

At the moment, there are words in the legal vows that cause offence to gay and lesbian people. I have now married arguably more couples from the LGBTI+ community than any other celebrant. My comments that follow are based on my discussions with those couples.

“Husband” and “wife” are gendered terms. Numbers of gay and lesbian couples I have married have been angry, upset, and offended at having to use either one of those words or the equally abhorrent “spouse”. It’s like having that square that people of colour have to place an X in alongside the other square labelled “white”. It’s abhorrent – and seen as the second-best consolation prize. It’s hetero-normative and it’s inappropriate.

When I have pointed out that those are the only choices available, they have asked me to register their disapproval of that terminology.    

When I have asked what terms they’d prefer, they are quick to respond with “committed life partner” or “life partner” or “partner”.

I understand that there is a view in AGD that the word “spouse” applies to a married couple and that “partner” applies to someone who is not married.

With respect, that view is held through a straight person’s filter. Try to imagine that you’re a member of a community whose country’s legal system has denied you the right to call each other husband or wife until a few months ago. Imagine, too, that your federal legal system required celebrants to state – in front of family and friends – that even though this day of your commitment ceremony was as special as you could get because you were denied the right to get married – that this ceremony was not a legal marriage ceremony. The federal legal system rubbed our noses in it, as well as those of our families and friends.

And now that the Marriage Act has been amended to refer to “two people” being able to get married, the terminology remains the same old, tired, out-of-date, offensive, gendered terminology.  

We members of the LGBTI+ community have been forced to use terms such as de facto or partner when endeavouring to define and explain our relationships. We have done that forever. We are comfortable using those terms. Many of us are also comfortable using the term “husband” or “wife”. But just as there needs to be an inclusive approach to describing our “sex”, as outlined above, there needs to be a more inclusive approach to the legal vows. Based on my discussions with the gay and lesbian couples I have married, I’d suggest “committed life partner” or “life partner” or “partner” be added to the other three options in the legal vows. There is no need to add any other words – it could just read “lawful wedded committed life partner” or “lawful wedded life partner” or “lawful wedded partner”.