Dear the Internet,
I don’t want to go on and on about marriage equality – after all, it’s going to be passed eventually in Australia, bring people nothing but security and happiness and make exactly zero difference to anyone else.
However, there’s an argument that gets used a fair bit – heck, Mark Latham used it on The Verdict only last night as a way of telling gay people to stop annoying him about the issue, which is what reminded me of it – which is that you don’t need a piece of paper to validate your partnership.
And that’s absolutely correct, just to be clear. You can support marriage equality as the removal of a pointless piece of discrimination without feeling that you need to enter into it yourself, or necessarily support the institution. I know plenty of people that don’t see the need to do it themselves, and it makes no difference to the strength of their relationship – and neither does it mean they can see any reason to deny others the option simply because they don’t need it themselves.
However, I’d like to explain why I am a fan of marriage. It definitely changed things – just not between, y’know, the two people that got married. We were pretty damn into one another before we got hitched, and we remain so today.
That’s because weddings aren’t just about the people that wed, as I learned in 1989, the year my mother and stepfather got married.
Both were sole parent to three children apiece, families they’d created with their late spouses.
He’d moved interstate to be with mum, which wasn’t an easy thing for his family, and was living next door to our house so things were still very separate. The plan was that we’d all live in the one house after the marriage – and I, as the eldest, had already kinda figured that I’d be there for a couple of years at the absolute most so had the least to lose from the arrangement.
It was a volatile time for all eight of us, with the marriage bringing up a lot of fairly predictable grief for the six kids aged between seven and seventeen who had lost parents and could see their lives once again changing dramatically.
Even so, we six kids did get along pretty well among ourselves, even if there were differing levels of enthusiasm about blending our families, and a few excitingly dramatic screaming matches (But there was also Press Gang and Degrassi Jr High – yes, ABC’s Afternoon Show with James Valentine/Michael Tunn, you were the scaffolding upon which our family’s fragile bond was constructed.)
The wedding was very nice – lots of family and friends and people saying lovely things – but much to my surprise, something fundamental changed in the wake of it.
I didn’t think my relationship with Lance would change all that much at the time, since I really liked the guy and was glad he was marrying my mother. But my relationship with my stepfather’s family changed dramatically – his sister was now my auntie, his parents were now my grandparents, and most importantly his children were now my siblings. These people were now going to be part of my life for the foreseeable future. And something just… clicked.
I’m not going to pretend it was all smooth Brady Bunch sailing from then on in, but the struggles that followed were those of a family. And not to put too fine a point on it, the six of we sibs are still stupidly close. It helps that my brother and sisters are all amazing human beings, admittedly, as are the growing number of in-laws and children that have joined the tribe since.
I felt the same thing in May when I married my wife: there was a shift in my relationship with her brothers, her parents and (especially) her nieces. That’s because when you’re a kid there’s a fundamental difference between a chap being some-guy-that’s-seeing-your-Auntie, and being Your Uncle – not least because it makes clear that this person will be sticking around, and is another adult that can be relied upon.
And of course the other way for kids to know that someone’s there for a long time and can be relied upon is, you know, for them to be around for a long time and be consistently reliable. Again, the paper doesn’t change things – but we’re a species that responds well to symbolism and ritual. I still melt a little bit inside whenever my nieces call me Uncle Andrew, even if it usually means I’m about to run around the park with one or more of them on my back.
Also, as I made clear at the time, outside of weddings how many opportunities do you have in life to stand up in front of all the people that you adore most in the world and say “seriously, how good is love?” Not nearly enough, if you ask me. And it’s something well worth celebrating.
So: can we get this stupid niggling civil injustice sorted out, Australian Parliament? That’d be great.