Like a lot of queers of my generation, I have problems with marriage. Don’t get me wrong, marriage equality is a fight worth having; I abhor the discrimination represented by a ban on same-sex marriages. My qualms about an ancient institution rooted in misogyny, control and slavery are only tangentially relevant to the debate.
Inequality is bad, and until we get rid of it our country will continue to legalise homophobia. The idea that one can be anti-marriage but pro-marriage equality is a vital point to understand, and one that is often lost in the rancour of public debate.
For the last week I’ve been travelling in New Zealand with my Kiwi boyfriend, crossing the Tasman to see his home for the first time. New Zealand legislated civil unions for same-sex couples around five years ago now, and most would consider it an advance in civil rights that puts Australia to shame. But I wonder whether something really is better than nothing.
My partner told me that the legislation of civil unions rather than marriage in New Zealand was justified in part by opposition to the institution of marriage from both within the queer community and without. While I buy that as a justification for civil unions, I think all it does is highlight the need for full equality. Disunity of queer opinion on marriage is the exact reason we need the equality of opportunity required to enact those opinions.
I know a number of New Zealanders who have had civil unions, and heard them refer to their husbands and wives, and recall, fondly or otherwise, their weddings. But in my eyes, to put it bluntly, they’re not married. Civil unions are not weddings, and civil partners are not spouses.
Civil union bills have surfaced from time to time in Australia, and more are coming up. I worry that New Zealand’s civil union legislation has contributed to the relatively lower profile of the country’s current marriage equality lobby. People seem happy with what they have. To my mind, the introduction of civil unions at home would only serve to delay a social change even naysayers recognise as inevitable.