By Liz Atkins

Same-sex marriages have been legal in Australia since December 9, 2017, so I was shocked last week to see that the exemptions in the latest NSW Public Health Order relating to the Northern Beaches allow for masks to be removed “for the purposes of the groom kissing the bride”.

Yes, you got it – the groom kissing the bride! I say nothing here about the 1950s’ view that a bride is to be kissed and not to initiate the kissing. But I do take issue with the assumption of heterosexual nuptials only. Are no same sex marriages held in the Northern Beaches? Or are we required to keep our masks on while kissing?

Perhaps this is simply an oversight, but it sends a message to all of us that when drafting laws which relate to the health and well-being of all citizens of NSW, LGBTQI+ people are ignored or forgotten. Personally, after the money, time and effort that was spent on the “voluntary postal survey” and the effect of that on LGBTQI+ lives, I am astounded that any drafter or any Minister signing off on an order can forget that there are brides and brides, and grooms and grooms in modern Australia.

The importance of inclusive language, even in emergency communications, cannot be overstated. We know that queer young people suffer from not seeing themselves reflected in language, literature, film, advertising and elsewhere. Inclusive language makes us feel included, valued and empowered. Non-inclusive language makes us feel ignored, not valued and irrelevant. It perpetuates discrimination and entrenches prejudice. Not to mention that it’s illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation or their gender.

While I can’t find any reference in NSW government guidance to inclusive language, it does refer officials to the Australian Government Style Guide. That Guide does cover inclusive language and specifically says “avoid terms that discriminate on the basis of a person’s gender or sexual identity”.

It’s not difficult to find such language in the context of talking about a wedding. The Marriage Act now allows the terms bride, groom or partner to be used on a marriage certificate. This Order could have said something along the lines of “for the purposes of one party to the marriage kissing the other”.


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