“I do and I wish you could too” or “I won’t until you can” – The Straight Ally Marriage Equality Quandry

While it’s not something every couple considers, it’s becoming more commonplace to see couples refute or combat the Howard Clause in their wedding ceremony. And I have to say, at the weddings I’ve been to where a statement was read or a point was made that the legally required words hurt and that the couple did not agree with them, I’ve appreciated the inclusion.  Every time the Howard Clause is read, it hurts a bit.

The Howard Clause: “Marriage, according to the law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”

Clementine Ford posted an article suggesting that straight people can put pressure on the government to legislate marriage equality by refusing to get married until their queer friends can too.  Same sex marriage needs straight people to take a stand in Australia (The Age, Feb 3rd)

She makes an excellent point, that all the Marriage Equality affirmations during weddings make no difference to the political landscape, though I think the impact it makes on the emotional landscape of the guests should not be discounted.  This is where our agreement ends.

As a concept, I appreciate the notion that some people are refusing to get married until I can I appreciate that they’re putting their protections off until I can have the same. But I don’t agree with Clementine that straight people choosing not to get married puts any pressure anywhere. Moreover, as someone with straight friends, as someone without the right to get married to the person I love, I would feel terrible (appreciative of the gesture, but terrible) that they had chosen not to get married and enjoy the benefits of marriage for me.

To pick a far-too-recent example, imagine progressive straight people deciding not to have sex until gay men could…

So what is a straight ally to do?

If you, as an engaged straight person, want to stand up for marriage equality, then as part of your wedding preparations book in to see your MP AND your local opposite party candidate. It’ll take probably 2 hours tops to see both of them. Tell them you don’t want to hurt your queer friends with The Howard Clause, but you’ve discovered that you’re legally obliged to as part of your wedding. Tell them you’re taking time out from your wedding preparations to talk to them about it.(Also, I really do appreciate the counterclause in the ceremony – keep that in there)

Tell them you’re angry that you have to blemish your wedding day with outdated bigotry. Tell them that you consider it unacceptable not to counter it. Tell them you’re upset that every government since 2004, Labor and Liberal, have forced you to make your wedding day a political occasion. Be furious with them. Unleash Bridezilla, (and Groomzilla, for that matter). Make them understand that the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 causes straight couples pain as well.

A celebrant friend of mine told me that about 1 in 3 couples who come to her propose a countermeasure to the Howard Clause.  If you want to make a difference, then just not getting married won’t cut the mustard. Including a countermeasure won’t change the law. Your MP won’t even know you’re doing it unless you tell them so and why.  But having 1 in 3 engaged couples rock up on their doorsteps upset that the government is interfering in their wedding and forcing them to hurt people? That’s going to have some legs.

The fact that you can tell me that you’ve chosen not to get married in support of my cause is as much a reminder of what I can’t have as you choosing to get married anyway. Don’t deny yourself the protections I value – I value them for a reason. Deny yourself the simplicity of inaction during your wedding preparations. Don’t deny yourself rights you can have because I can’t have them. Instead, deny yourself the comfort of staying silent and not confronting the people who are supposed to represent you in government. 

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