When I first came out as a lesbian in high school, I was scared.
Hanging over my envisioned future were a lot of question marks: a familiar feeling for a lot of LGBTI youth. Heightened rates of mental illness, suicide, homelessness and violence frame the vision of a nonheterosexual adulthood with very real uncertainty. Looking around my community as a teenager, it was safe to assume that many of us would not make it to adulthood. This prediction, I'm sad to say, would become reality.
This uncertainty is mirrored back to us by the media and the education system. The distinct lack of representation of same-sex relationships and gender nonconformity robs LGBTI youth of healthy role models. For our youth, the right to marry our lovers is yet another uncertainty hanging in the balance.
It was no surprise then when Beyond Blue reported that LGBTI people are three times more likely to experience depression compared with the broader population. It's hard to be a kid without a future.
The LGBTI liberation movement has come a long way by mobilising thousands for LGBTI rights. But marriage equality is still not yet a reality in Australia, despite more and more countries doing away with the homophobic ban.
A section of the LGBTI community has voiced dissent to the marriage equality campaign, coining the hashtag #morethanmarriage. They argue that marriage is an out-dated, patriarchal institution and a grossly commercialised industry — and they are not wrong.
But they are missing the point.
When I was younger, I thought I might like to get married. I don't anymore, and I know I am not alone. But for anyone involved in the marriage equality campaign, one thing becomes crystal clear: It's not about me.
In fact, it's not even all about marriage.
First and foremost, marriage equality is a question of civil rights. It is about ensuring that whatever a non-LGBTI person can do, we have the right to do as well.
It's true that there is nothing radical about marriage. But that doesn't mean that those in the LGBTI community who want to be married shouldn't have the option.
More importantly, rejecting the marriage equality campaign doesn't help convince the broader community of the structural problems with the institution of marriage.
According to the 2010 Not so Private Lives report, 54.7% of gays and lesbians would get married if they could. But when polling gays and lesbians with children the proportion leaps to 80.8%.
The importance of marriage equality to LGBTI families should be a serious consideration for anyone questioning their support for the campaign.
It is also more important to youth, with 66.7% of 18–19 year olds and 62.8% of 20–29 year olds saying that they would marry if they could.
Countless couples have waited their whole lives to marry each other — many have died before ever getting the chance.
Of course, the LGBTI community has #morethanmarriage to worry about, but abandoning the only campaign that has consistently mobilised LGBTI people is not going to help build any other campaigns.
The campaign for marriage rights is compatible with campaigns for dignity for transgender people, LGBTI homelessness services and anti-homophobic bullying programs. In fact, the marriage equality campaign has been a springboard for raising awareness and providing a platform for a range of issues. When we finally win marriage equality, the movement will need to harness that momentum to address other issues.
The struggle is far from over and we have a lot to work towards.
At my first marriage equality rally in 2012, I carried a homemade placard that read: “If you don't like gay marriage, don't get gay married”. I thought I was sending a message to bigots — and I was — but looking back on that placard now, it is also a message to my adult self and others like me.
We don't have to 'get gay married' if we don't want to, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't have the right.
[Mia Sanders is a lesbian activist and a member of Socialist Alliance.]