Every family is different
It’s a long battle, this fight for marriage equality. Some days it seems that we are so close to winning – the opinion polls are all in our favour, the rich or famous are outing themselves all over the place and the journalists are filling their columns with articles in our support. But on other days, that elusive final victory – a change to the Marriage Act – still seems a long way off. When the issue is put to the vote in the next session of parliament it will almost certainly be defeated. We will lose…or will we?
I think we are winning every day, and this is why.
A friend, Julia, came around for coffee with her kids recently. I don’t know Julia very well, but her daughter, Maddy and my son are in the same class and that’s often how these school friendships start. Her other daughter, Freya, goes to a different school because she has autism.
While Julia and I chat, Maddy and Freya, and my three disappear off to play. Every now and again Julia goes to find them and check they are okay, ‘just to be sure,’ she says. She’s not anxious, as such, just keeping an eye on them.
After a few more checks she announces: ‘Your kids are really good with Maddy.’ I have no idea what she’s talking about. ‘Not all kids are,’ she continues, ‘in fact, lots of kids aren’t, but they learn from their parents and some of the adults are worse’. I look at her blankly. ‘She’s just different, you know, that’s all, but people are scared of different, of what they don’t understand.’
Aah, the autism, the penny finally drops. ‘Well we’re different,’ I say, almost without thinking, ‘you know, the same-sex family thing. My kids have a lot of people in their lives who are different so it’s no big deal to them.’
Julia tells me some awful stories of how Maddy has been treated and my heart goes out to them both. I thought people were better these days, more informed, more accepting, but clearly not. What Julia doesn’t say out loud, but clearly feels strongly: she identifies with my family.
Her family, like mine, is ordinary, unremarkable, but she, like me, has to think about how other people react to her kids. She has to gauge each new social situation carefully, and assess how she can best protect her kids from the fear and ignorance, from the negative attitudes and insensitive behaviour of others. I am reminded that there are lots of ways to be different.
Julia is Catholic and at the end of our coffee she tells me her local priest recently spoke out against same-sex marriage in a Sunday sermon. ‘As soon as these girls are confirmed, I’m out of there,’ she says. ‘I’m done with them. The girls can make their own choices when they’re older, but I’m done.’
I am moved by Julia’s declaration, by her insight and her support. As LGBT people we are often so focussed on the awful things said about us by the likes of the Australian Christian Lobby and conservative MPs and social commentators that we forget the many ordinary people who quietly support us from the sidelines.
Later in the week, I am standing in the playground at pick-up when a group of Year 6 kids gathers around me. Out of nowhere, one of the girls asks, ‘Why does Corin have two mums?’ She has a smart, confident air and it feels like she’s expressing a genuine curiosity. ‘Well,’ I say, ‘families are different, some kids have a mum and dad, some live with just one parent and some…’
That’s enough answer for her and she interrupts. ‘You married a girl didn’t you?’
‘Yup,’ I married a girl,’ I say ‘but in Canada, not here. A girl can’t marry a girl in Australia; that’s not allowed.’
‘But that’s not fair,’ she comes back, quick as flash. ‘It’s wrong. I think having two mums is cool and girls should be allowed to marry girls if they want.’ There is general, nodding accent from the little gang hanging out with her. ‘Yeah,’ they say, ‘people are different on the outside, but everyone’s the same on the inside.’
I smile to myself and think about how extraordinarily accepting these kids are; they are a new generation and none of this bothers them in the slightest. That there are rules about who you can marry, and who you can’t, just doesn’t make any sense to them. As they say: ‘it’s wrong.’
And for a moment I allow myself to imagine the smart, confident girl meeting a similarly smart, confident girl in about twenty years’ time and the two of them having an awesome wedding, surrounded by this gang of buddies for whom it will all seem utterly and completely normal.
And then after school I have to go to the post office to renew the kids’ passports, always a nightmare. Not just because you have to do the whole damn thing again if you as much as dot an ‘I’ in the wrong place, but because I have to deal with the whole ‘mother/father’ thing.
Now I don’t know about you, but our local post office isn’t that big and it always seems remarkably quiet so when I have to explain to the assistant that my kids don’t have a father – they have two mothers – and that there isn’t really space on the form to say that – I will likely have to do it with at least half a dozen people listening. I wonder whether I’ll get an assistant who is awkward and embarrassed like last time, or whether it’ll be someone with an ounce of sensitivity.
Fatima reads through the applications, checking I’ve crossed the ‘Ts’ and dotted the ‘Is’. ‘There is one thing,’ I say, somewhat hesitantly, ‘we’re a same-sex family, the kids have no father, but they have two mums. I’m not sure exactly how I fill that in.’
She looks up at me and smiles. ‘I don’t think that’s a problem,’ she says, ‘but would you like me to call the passport office and check exactly what to do?’
‘Yes, thanks,’ I say, relieved.
It might just have been pot luck, but she was a distinct improvement on the last one. These days, it seems, even a local suburban post office understands that some families are different and that that’s okay.
It’s been a good week on the same-sex family front; it isn’t always. You know, I love it when a politician comes over to our side; I love it when another famous person comes out, and I love it when a new opinion poll shows our numbers are up, but it’s the day-to-day acceptance of the people in the community that really makes the difference. It’s the Julias, the Grade 6 kids, the Fatimas, that make me truly realise how far we’ve come.
Multiply my three experiences this week by every LGBT person out there and you have tens of thousands of people – gay and straight – who are changing the world every day without even realising it. I think that’s awesome and I think that means we’re winning. If we do lose the vote – this time – we need to remember what we’ve already won.
Jacqui Tomlins is a member of the Rainbow Families Council and the National Organising Committee of Australian Marriage Equality. She writes a blog about marriage equality at www.jacquitomlins.com called SAME + (Straight Allies for Marriage Equality +) and has a community Facebook page www.facebook.com/#!/sameplus. Jacqui lives in Melbourne with her partner, Sarah, of twenty years, and their three young children.