Unable to save the man he loves, Daniel Lammin discovers that the passing of marriage equality into law means more than just civil rights. It’s a matter of life and death.
Let’s start in 2009. I’m about to turn 23, and my boyfriend Stuart is about to turn 19. He is tall and lanky with a slight lisp, very young and very wise. We are having an argument with his housemate about marriage equality. Maybe it was the ignorance of youth, maybe it was our own personal hang-ups, but we were confused about why thousands of people felt the need to march in protest about it, and why friends of ours were having marriage ceremonies that weren’t acknowledged by the government.
“Why not just wait?” we said. “It’ll happen eventually and the more noise we make about it the less likely the people who are intimidated by the idea will accept it.” His housemate couldn’t have disagreed more and this argument went on for an hour or so before we all decided we weren’t going to convince anyone otherwise.
It’s now 2014 and my opinion of marriage equality has changed completely. Where once I wouldn’t have stood up and demanded my right to marry whoever the bloody hell I want, now it is something I see both as an inevitable right, and a vital one. I have Stuart to thank for changing my view. I want to share how he did that.
I met Stuart in 2009. He had just started at uni and I had just finished. It wasn’t love at first sight, because when I met Stuart no one knew he was gay. In fact, when his subtle flirting stopped being subtle and we started seeing each other, it was only under the circumstances of us being together that he finally came out to his friends and family. We utterly adored one another, not in that first love kind of way, but in that much more frightening, deeper connection where you love one another so much you would do anything for them. I’d get a tight feeling in my chest every time I’d see him and began to realise what it was like to think you couldn’t live without someone.
That isn’t how he changed my mind, though. I imagined I’d probably marry Stuart if the possibility came up, and he felt similarly about me. He was handsome, strange, funny, intelligent, charming and beautiful. Even his shortcomings had my heart fluttering.
What I didn’t know about Stuart, and what I discovered as our relationship deepened, was that he was very troubled and very sick. He suffered from an intense depression, one he was too frightened to do anything about. There were a number of reasons for it (most too personal to go into) but one of the most potent was his homosexuality. He had known he was gay since his early teens and had instantly labelled it as a negative, as something wrong with him. He was already a target for bullying at school because of his lisp and his lanky build, but as he reached that age where calling someone a “fag” or “gay” became a standard teenage insult, he started burying it as deep as he could in blind fear that someone would find him out. By the time he reached university, he had spent years trying to condition himself into being straight, convinced that if he worked hard enough he could change, regardless of whether or not it made him happy. For Stuart, being gay was being invalid, irrelevant, an illegitimate member of a society where loving someone of the same gender isn’t acceptable. On a logical level he understood this wasn’t the case, but the heart never thinks logically. When the brain is predisposed to
“For Stuart, being gay was being invalid, irrelevant, an illegitimate member of a society…”
hating itself, a thousand logical thoughts can’t do much to stop it.
When Stuart and I fell in love, he had begun to accept that loving another man and being loved by one was something he wanted, but he couldn’t shake the idea that he shouldn’t have that kind of love. As our achingly short relationship moved toward its end, he began to slip back into depression and tried to distance himself from the world around him. When we broke up, it was a matter of necessity for him. He wanted to spare me what was coming and how sick he knew he was getting. I was devastated and tried desperately to hold onto him, but his resolve, both that I shouldn’t be a part of his depression and that he didn’t deserve to be happy, was as strong as iron.
In the months following our break-up, I tried to make him seek help but he was either prevented from doing so, or gave up the search. There was little I could do except to tell him, when I could, that he was a good man and that he was better than he thought he was. Even after we had broken up, he knew I still loved him just as fiercely, and everything he did suggested he probably felt the same about me.
Very late one night, around nine months after we broke up, I got a text message from Stuart. I’d come to expect late night messages from him, particularly if he’d had a bad day.
“The heart never thinks logically, but when the brain is predisposed to hate itself, a thousand logical thoughts can’t do much to stop it.”
This was an uncommonly nice message (he had a very black sense of humour), and we texted back and forth for a while. I didn’t think anything of it and eventually fell back to sleep.
The next morning I woke up to find that Stuart had taken his own life. The text messages had been his attempt at a goodbye. I hadn’t realised. The shock of his death hit me like an asteroid hurtling out of nowhere. The possibility of this happening had crossed my mind, but I had never understood how incredibly lost he had been. I loved Stuart more deeply than anyone else I had ever met, and now he was taken away from me and from the world that was so ready to embrace everything he would have become. I remember stopping in the street, confused as to how the world was still going on around me, how it could possibly go along as if nothing had happened, when my whole world had just come crashing down.
As the grief started to subside, I was left with a need to understand why. And this is where I return to marriage equality. As the public discussion intensified and countries around the world began to accept that the union between two people of the same gender was something worth celebrating, I began to see the other repercussions of such decisions. As I began to understand why Stuart did what he had done, and as my anger started to bubble and build, I began to understand why we in Australia need to accept marriage equality and embed it in our culture.
I don’t need to go into the statistics of how many young people in this country take their lives every year, or what percentage of them are from a sexual minority. We know they’re horrific. Four years ago, Stuart was part of that statistic. And when I zoomed out and saw him as part of a much darker whole, I had to accept that he wasn’t a special case or an anomaly. What happened to us wasn’t unusual, and I was furious. As campaigns all over the world attempted to give hope to youth in similar situations, I wanted Stuart’s death to count somehow. I wanted to take this loss and this pain and make it matter. For someone like Stuart, for every young person confused about their sexuality or their gender, imagine how incredible it would be for their country to make a statement and take an action that says that how they feel, who they love, who they are, is not unusual, deviant or wrong. A bold statement that the way they are is legitimate, that they are celebrated and accepted. For a young person on the verge of giving up on being who they are and considering actions too terrible to comprehend, picture how much it would mean to hear their country say that their love is worthy of marriage, and is no different to the love between their own parents.
Marriage equality isn’t just about saying vows and signing a piece of paper. It’s an offer of hope for people who can’t accept who they are. It’s a statement to this entire country that it is better to live and love than to bury their feelings or have their families bury them.
Losing Stuart filled me with a white-hot need to understand why this was allowed to happen, why we weren’t trying as hard as we can to make someone like him feel valued, loved and accepted. His family had tried, his friends had tried and I certainly had tried, but it just wasn’t enough. We are making baby steps in Australia, and I wish every day that Stuart could have been here to see them, that maybe it would have been enough to change his mind and for him to give another day a chance. But these baby steps are not enough. At some point they need to turn into a run, because we’re already out of time.
I don’t want sympathy or attention. This isn’t a sap story to make you emotional. This is a demand, a call to action and a plea for change. My love for this beautiful young man is so strong that it demands his death mean something. We tell these kids “it gets better”, but it’s time for us to make it happen, and legalising marriage equality is a greater step towards that than most people imagine. It’s more than just a human right. I believe it is a matter of life and death, especially for those too young to fully understand what their heart is telling them.
I feel I owe it to Stuart to tell our story. Hopefully it can be a legacy deserving of him.
“My love is so strong… it demands his death mean something,” says writer Daniel Lammin of Stuart (pictured here y Sarah al er .