Potential Wedding Album confronts homophobic law

April 9, 2011
Claire and Flik from the Potential Wedding Album.

The Potential Wedding Album

In the excellent film Milk Sean Penn, as gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk, said: “Two to one, they support us, two to one when they know one of us.”

The ethicist Peter Singer has noted that while most people would have no qualms about ruining an expensive pair of shoes wading into a lake to save a drowning child, most people don’t donate the value of their shoes to save the life of a child in another country.

Human empathy and willingness to assist tend to be inversely proportional to proximity. This can produce a hurdle for political change — to get people to care, an issue needs to be humanised.

This is the thinking behind a recently-launched project to illustrate and promote marriage equality in Australia — The Potential Wedding Album.

The Potential Wedding Album website is a collection of photos and stories from (so far) more than 370 same-sex couples who want the option to get married in Australia. It also features messages from more than 200 supporters.

The entries are compiled in printed albums that are delivered to the prime minister, opposition leader and other Australian parliamentarians to highlight the people who are discriminated against by the lack of marriage equality in Australia.

Volumes one and two were dispatched in December, volume three in April 2011 and work is under way on volume four.

There’s a broad range of couples and styles in the photos and stories — young, old, posed in formal wedding attire, causal “happy snaps”, with children or dogs, people who deeply desire a marriage ceremony, those who have married overseas and some who don’t intend to marry but simply want the equality implied by the option to do so.

Many of the stories are quite moving, and clearly highlight the importance of equal legal and social recognition to the people involved.

Jo and Nova, who featured in volume one, said: “It is important to us to have our relationship recognised in the same manner as those of our brothers and sisters.

“We made vows to each other, witnessed by hundreds of our friends and family members, yet our government does not recognise this. Neither does it recognise our legal and valid wedding certificate issued in Canada.

“It is time Australia recognised that marriage is a commitment of love and trust between two consenting adults, irrespective of gender.”

Jason and James, from volume one, said: “People don’t write love songs about ‘relationship registers’, and I don’t see myself getting down on one knee and asking my boyfriend to ‘civil union’ me.

“Very simply, marriage is the most basic and widely recognised symbol of love and commitment in our society. To deny that of us because of our sexuality, is to deny us our humanity and our dignity.”

Lynelle and Angela, who featured in volume two, said: “Like many other Australian families, our family has two parents, two kids, two dogs, two jobs, a house, and a car. This marriage inequality impacts our children’s perception of our family, and the value society places on it.

“We don’t want our children growing up believing that our family is sub-standard because their parents were not allowed to marry.”

Same-sex marriage has been very topical in Australia recently and the associated media debate has been heated. Pleasingly, opponents appear to be concerned at the positive momentum for change.

Not so pleasingly (but unsurprisingly) they are fighting back. The Australian said on December 20 that the Catholic Church is encouraging parishioners to visit their MPs to lobby against marriage equality.

Religious opposition to marriage equality is to be expected, although to be fair not all churches are in opposition.

As entertaining as it might be to watch a prejudiced priest stumble though “You … um, well, you on the left, may now kiss the groom” that is not the objective. The objective of same-sex marriage is equality before the law, not equality before any particular religion.

Freedom of religion means religions get to be clubs with their own rules and if a religious group doesn’t want to marry same-sex couples then it is entitled to refuse to do so.

Interestingly, the Catholic Church appears to have conceded that purely religious grounds are not a valid basis for discrimination (or, at least, not a well received one) and has shifted its focus to alternative arguments.

The Australian said the church is encouraging parishioners to frame their objections in terms of “the natural order and the importance of a biological relationship with children rather than on marriage being a religious institution”.

The appeal to “natural order” (tradition) ignores the fact that the meaning of marriage has evolved substantially over time. Thankfully women are no longer considered the property of their husbands within marriage and mixed race and inter-faith marriages are now broadly accepted.

This evolution may well have adjusted someone’s view of the “natural order”, but it has created a more inclusive and accepting society, which is good for all of us.

The legalisation of same-sex marriage, if (when) it occurs, will similarly enhance society’s acceptance of sexual diversity, as well as represent the egalitarianism and fairness that Australians like to claim as national characteristics.

As for the “won’t someone think of the children” brigade — that ship has sailed. Same-sex couples are having children and the research shows that they are as socially well adjusted as the children of heterosexual parents.

In fact, a June 7, 2010 Time article reported that the first study to track the children of lesbian parents from birth to adolescence found they actually scored better on some measures that heterosexual parents.

The weight of history is on the side of change. But complacency is the enemy of progress and it’s critical that supporters of marriage equality keep the pressure on politicians to capitalise on the mood for change.

The Potential Wedding Album will continue to deliver volumes containing photos and stories of same-sex couples and messages from supporters of marriage equality to parliamentarians.

The bigger it is, the more effective it will be, so please take a few minutes to contribute as a couple or a supporter at www.thepotentialweddingalbum.org/contribute.

And don’t think that if you aren’t gay you can’t or shouldn’t contribute a message of support. Popular opinion doesn’t dictate what is right or fair, but history shows that equality for a minority group is often only achieved with the support of the majority.

It’s time.

[Tanya Smith is the coordinator of The Potential Wedding Album.]

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