Thoughts on marriage equality

As Louisa Wall’s Marriage Equality amendment bill is pulled from Parliament’s members ballot Rainbow Youth member Toni Duder reflects on what it means for her as a young New Zealander.

I CHALLENGE you to try and find a crappier route than the one that goes between Dargaville and the Bay of Islands. It’s the back way, along Murray’s Road that only the logging trucks and locals take.  My Mum and I have been doing that trip for about as long as I can remember to visit my Nana in Waimate North.  I have to admit, the drive is beautiful in its own lost, lonely sort of way. Its corners curl tightly against cliff faces and the native trees create a canopy over the road, scattering the sunlight in a disorientating way through their branches. There is always the threat of an arrogant hawk – you know the ones sit in the middle of the road and keep their heads ducked resolutely over their kill until you think you’re going to have to slam on your brakes. And if they didn’t annoy you so much, the lazy, graceful way they beat their wings and lift themselves out of the way is almost beautiful. That drive, I find, seems to lend itself very well to conversation. I can’t remember what Mum and I used to talk about when I was little, but in recent years the conversation has centered on the past. What I was like as a child and what she was like as a rebellious teenager in the 70s. These drives help me make sense of where I came from.

THE LAST trip we made up there was in late January. I was driving my new car and using the accelerator a little too liberally for Mum’s taste. She sat stiffly in the passenger seat while we discussed marriage. I had always pushed the thought of marriage to the back of my mind. Not far off into the future, but more off to the side, because it didn’t apply to me. Marriage has always come with a predetermined set of connotations: the old, the new, the borrowed, the blue. The boy. The girl. And about there is where I stopped ticking the boxes as a potential candidate for marriage. So when Mum asked me if I’d thought about it myself, I pointed that fact out to her. Two girls can’t get married. “Civil Unions and marriage aren’t that different,” she reassured me.

BUT THE term “civil union” had never appealed to me. Civil Unions strike up connotations that don’t even remotely resemble marriage. Civil unions are ‘civil’. I was 12 when the Civil Union Act passed in 2004, and I remember thinking:  “Civil? How boring!” People are ‘civil’ to someone they don’t like very much. We’re ‘civil’ when we go somewhere uncomfortable, like a stranger’s house or a really posh restaurant. Love isn’t civil. In fact, it’s probably the least polite emotion.

NOW, a point of reference here, I’m not a law student. I’m doing a BA in Film and English. I took one law paper in my second year and even then, I missed the lecture on LGBT legal rights because I slept in. The legal aspects of the Civil Union Act of 2004 are not something that I have engaged with. But it isn’t the legal aspect of the Civil Union Act that concerns me. It is the way that the Act differentiates me from others in my society. While straight couples get the option to choose between a civil union and a marriage, same-sex couples do not have that right. I told Mum that getting a civil union wouldn’t match up with how I define the commitment I want to make to the person that I love.

MUM pointed out to me that I probably have it better than any other generation in New Zealand before me, and I agreed.  I constantly am supported and validated by people my age. But there are a few who water me down so the most interesting fact about me is my sexuality. They introduce me in one gushed run on sentence: “This is Toni and she likes girls yep, she’s a lesbian.” When this happens, I’m always left feeling a little ridiculous. I mean, if you’re going to outline my personal preferences to every person you introduce me to, I’d rather the order be more:  “Hi, this is Toni, she prefers everything to eggs, chicken to fish, Mad Men to any other show on TV, cats to dogs, winter to summer, and the original three Star Wars movies to the new ones.” If I could have it my way, my sexuality would have no bearing on how I walk in the world. But ultimately, irrevocably, it does. And the Civil Union Act is just one more thing that singles me and my sexuality out from other people.

IT’S SUDDEN the end of Murray’s Road, marked by no obvious turn off onto the next. One moment you’re in the trees, and the next you’re not. But it was at about that point in the drive with Mum  that I admitted aloud that I did want to get married, I’d just never let myself think about it before.

ON THE 9th of May this year, when Obama voiced his support of gay marriage, I became hopeful that this would create dialogue about it in New Zealand.  As it turned out, our Prime Minister didn’t think that there is enough ‘clamor’ in New Zealand for gay marriage. Well, I was up for a spot of clamoring if it meant that I would be treated like any other Kiwi. Thankfully though, before my clamoring could reach stages of anarchy like rainbow flags and chanting, it was announced today that a same-sex marriage bill, submitted by Labour MP Louisa Wall, has been drawn from the Members Bill Ballot. So whether or not the Prime Minister sees it as an important one, the issue of marriage equality is about to take centre stage, as the bill be
comes one of 5 to be voted on and debated in Parliament. This comes as one of the most welcome pieces of news for myself personally. New Zealand is my home; I’ve have played outside well into the lazy summer evenings when I swear the sky is wider than anywhere else. I’ve brought a sausage sizzle from outside the Warehouse and dripped the Wattie’s sauce on my t-shirt. I’ve grown up on Suzy Cato and Shortland Street and All Blacks games. I consider myself a Kiwi over and above everything else that I am, including being a lesbian. I should have the same rights as everyone else.

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