Sandy O’Sullivan: An open letter to our community about Marriage Equality
September 24, 2017
Sandy O’Sullivan: Photograph: Supplied
Share this Post
Dr Sandy O’Sullivan is a Wiradjuri woman, and is Associate Professor in Creative Industries at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
I’m exhausted. The constant background noise of the ‘debate’ on Marriage Equality has had a toll on me and on a lot of queer Australians. As a member of a strong, but marginalised community, this debate has been devastating. As you probably know, there’s a national survey on Marriage Equality, and voting is underway. The survey is a Yes/No question on whether Australian voters support marriage equality. Australian voters are being asked to vote on equality. And there’s been a debate about it because there are, apparently two sides of the argument: those who support equality, and those who are against it.
The survey is open to anyone on the Australian electoral roll, sort of.
In some instances, surveys have not been making it to all regional, remote and insecure accommodation and unsurprisingly this is going to affect many in our Community disproportionately.
The government has indicated that if the outcome does not support marriage equality, it will do nothing. On the other hand, if marriage equality is supported by a majority, then they will hold a further vote in parliament. MPs will then be able to vote yes, no, or they can abstain, depending on their conscience and regardless of the position of their constituents. It will be a ‘free vote’, where members of parliament will be able to ignore the wishes of voters., and so no matter the outcome, we may not have an equal right to be married.
Beyond the national narrative, are the lives of real people that are currently being denied equality, and are begging to have it. I’m a 51 year-old Aboriginal woman – and I’m a lesbian. I’m proud to be who I am, and I believe I should have the same right to get married as my straight Aboriginal brothers and sisters. I believe I have a right to equality. I don’t believe I should be treated like a second-class citizen with lesser rights under the law. As a YES campaigner, I am fighting for my rights, the NO campaign are fighting against my rights.
Two weeks ago, in the midst of this campaign, my 58 year-old brother, Dr David Hardy, had a devastating stroke. Naturally it was a blow to him and to our family. David is an accomplished author and his work focuses on making the lives of our Communities better. Two years ago, he wrote and edited the book, BOLD: Stories from Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People that had multiple stories on what it’s like to be older and GLBTIQ in a society that is struggling to treat diverse communities with appropriate dignity. And his ‘side project’ has been as the main carer for our mother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease.
David a staunch advocate for Marriage Equality. He had recently finished touring to Europe with the Australasian Queer Choir and on his FB page he is unmistakably both gay and pro-Marriage Equality. As David began his long road to recovery at a rehab facility, there was an event last week that made me despair at some of the tactics of campaigners who are against equalty. It also brought into sharp relief how petty the entire NO position is and how much it is about equality. At David’s most vulnerable, he was – without permission – added to a Vote No Facebook Group by an Aboriginal person who he has a passing online acquaintance with. David has worked extensively for marriage equality and yet this person preyed on his vulnerability and absence from social media to position him differently. Anyone would recognise this as a diabolical act, but this struggle is petty for people who have nothing to lose except their own moral position on ensuring inequality for some within our Community.
It hurts more that an Aboriginal person would do this, that goes without saying, regardless of how self-involved the person may have been, most in our Community would see this as a dog act. I do expect more, I expect that from our brothers and sisters that know what it’s like to be marginalised and to face inequality, do not gleefully take a position that makes the rest of us less equal. But her pettiness, no matter how abhorrent it was, is not at the heart of why people are voting no. They’re supporting no because they’d rather we didn’t exist at all. If this is not the case how could it possibly be that any human with an ounce of compassion would expect us to never be in love and never form equal relationships.
So, if you’re voting no, I want to ask you why.
Why do you think that my brother, who works tirelessly for others, should be less equal than you?
Why do you think that I shouldn’t have the same rights as a straight 51 year-old Aboriginal woman?
If the answer is not homophobia, you’re lying to yourself. David or me getting married does not affect you in any way. Unless you’re homophobic, then it affects you a great deal.
If you are not homophobic, please put whatever you have going on aside, and vote for this. If you’re straight and you don’t support marriage at all, then this doesn’t affect you. Choices that might support equality would be either for you to abstain or to vote yes, so that others can choose it or not choose it, same as you can right now.
If you vote no, then understand what you’re participating in. You are an agent of making other Aboriginal people second-class citizens in this country, and you have to understand that in doing so, you are an enthusiastic agent of the colonial project. Because whatever your beliefs, you could have abstained.