I've fallen in love with my coun­try all over again

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - David Marr

For a mo­ment my ex­hil­a­ra­tion was mixed with rage. The crowd in Prince Al­fred Park was cheer­ing. The place had gone off. Ap­plause was rolling across the coun­try. Even in the news­room of the Aus­tralian there was whoop­ing when the news came through – yes: 61.6%.

But I was fu­ri­ous, too. How could we have been put though this wretched ex­er­cise? Why has pol­i­tics in this coun­try been for so long in the grip of preach­ers and moral­is­ing politi­cians ob­sessed with doom, sin and sex?

They long ago lost the num­bers but they never lost their clout.

What­ever may­hem they pro­voke over the next weeks, equal mar­riage will be­come law. And when that’s done and dusted they may, at last, lose their power to make change so hard in this coun­try.

This is shap­ing as a dou­ble vic­tory. The doom­say­ers have their con­stituency, one that can­not be ig­nored. But to­day’s re­sult said once again and em­phat­i­cally, they don’t speak for Aus­tralia.

But for a cou­ple of grim days in Septem­ber when the Guardian Essen­tial poll sud­denly slid away, the vic­tory for yes was never in doubt. Even so we’ve been anx­iously talk­ing num­bers for months. How high could the yes vote be? Might it reach the 70s? Could we live with some­thing in the 50s?

The re­sult loomed as a ver­dict on Aus­tralia. It would put a fig­ure on our com­mit­ment to fair­ness and good sense, to our free­dom from old big­otry and even where we stand in the 21st cen­tury.

But this morn­ing it sud­denly felt per­sonal. I had a nasty sense of wait­ing for my exam re­sults. I haven’t felt that for more than 40 years. This was a na­tional ver­dict about my lot, too. That fed my anger.

But we passed: the na­tion gave it­self not quite a credit but a good sound pass. And we – the coun­try and its LGBTI com­mu­nity – will never feel the same about our­selves again. Just look at the score­board.

Those fig­ures are bet­ter than they seem. They have to be read against an old truth: Aus­tralians are easy to scare. The fear of where changes might lead is so strong here that it de­feats nearly ev­ery at­tempt to fix our rack­ety con­sti­tu­tion. It sets its prob­lems in stone.

That was the fear the no case tried to mo­bilise with its clap­trap about re­li­gious free­dom. It looks as though it worked, to some ex­tent. The $10m to $15m spent by the no case seems to have knocked 2% to 3% off the vote. No doubt they reckon it was money well spent.

But it was not enough to de­feat a na­tion de­ter­mined to set­tle this mat­ter for our­selves, not one way or an­other but with an em­phatic yes. This was our vote, our ver­dict. It’s not a gift from above. Can­berra stood aside. We did it for our­selves when the politi­cians lost their nerve.

I’ve fallen in love with my coun­try all over again.

For old men like me this is an­other step on a once-unimag­in­able jour­ney. Sex was a crime when I made my first stum­bling en­try into the gay world. Even when those crimes were wiped from the books, so much com­pli­cated shame was left to be ne­go­ti­ated. The busi­ness of com­ing out was end­less.

The smoth­er­ing re­spectabil­ity of of­fi­cial Aus­tralia back then came back to sex. It was all about sex. But cen­sor­ship col­lapsed. The press re­laxed. Gays, les­bians, trans­sex­u­als and queers be­gan to be ac­cepted in pub­lic life.

The ob­vi­ous be­came un­re­mark­able. Aus­tralia be­came a bet­ter place. We could put our en­er­gies where they mat­tered. To­day’s re­sult is fresh proof we live in a won­der­fully mud­dled, lively so­ci­ety that hap­pily ac­cepts all sorts of con­fu­sion and con­tra­dic­tion. We’re real, re­laxed and alive.

We’re not bust­ing to be pure. That’s the mis­sion of the re­ac­tionar­ies who are with us al­ways, and al­ways ob­sessed with sex. I’ve lis­tened to the likes of Lyle Shel­ton and Eric Abetz for 40 years and all they ever bang on about is sex. Their grim mes­sage is al­ways the same: change the sex rules and the roof falls in.

The roof is up there still, se­cure as ever, yet that’s all they’re preach­ing now.

I’m not sur­prised they waited un­til the vot­ing was over be­fore let­ting us see their draft leg­is­la­tion. God’s work can call for sly mea­sures. They knew the bill wasn’t a vote win­ner. They didn’t want its out­ra­geous de­mands de­bated when that might af­fect the na­tion’s ver­dict.

So they waited, hop­ing that in the end equal mar­riage will be de­cided where the preach­ers and ul­tra­con­ser­va­tives have had such suc­cess in the past: in the cor­ri­dors of par­lia­ment. They de­manded equal mar­riage be de­cided by the peo­ple but they didn’t trust the peo­ple. Plain bad faith.

And on the is­sue of pi­ous bak­ers for one last time: not even the cra­zi­est Chris­tians claim it’s a sin to bake a cake, or drive a limo or rent stack-away chairs with white satin cov­ers to a cou­ple of poofters get­ting mar­ried. We’re not talk­ing damna­tion here, just dis­com­fort.

And for that they want to col­lapse the anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws of the na­tion.

How do we treat the losers? With the un­der­stand­ing they don’t ex­tend to the rest of us. And while they fu­ri­ously lament the re­sult, we should re­mem­ber an­other old truth about Aus­tralia: change is fought hard here but when it comes we set­tle down with change quickly.

In a few months, we will be faintly puz­zled that same-sex mar­riage was the sub­ject of such pro­longed, ex­pen­sive and painful con­test. It has been a ter­ri­ble time for many in the LGBTI com­mu­nity – young and old – in the last few months. But it has been this too: a fresh time for com­ing out.

What a pa­rade Aus­tralia has seen of cit­i­zens mak­ing the most po­lit­i­cally ef­fec­tive ar­gu­ment of all: I’m one too. And then most of the rest of the coun­try took a bal­lot pa­per to a let­ter­box to make it clear that’s just fine by them.

I’m off to cel­e­brate a big day in a won­der­ful, at times per­plex­ing, coun­try. My coun­try more than ever. Here’s a last truth about this place we demon­strated to­day: we al­ways come good in the end.

• Sup­port our in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism – and help make the world a fairer place – by giv­ing a one-off or monthly con­tri­bu­tion

For old men like me this is an­other step on a on­ce­u­nimag­in­able jour­ney

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.