Thoughts & Scribblings
Recently members from our celebrant professional association The International College of Celebrancy were asked to submit opinions around whether same sex marriage should be supported through the organisation. This is a slightly tweaked version of my submission:
“I believe there is no way that any professional association can, in good conscience, argue for the right to discriminate against a section of the population. While we might feel like we are giving up some of our ‘power’ as celebrants, for me it is not possible that a position reserving the right to refuse service to those in same sex relationships can be argued in any ethical way.
The entire same sex marriage debate is about the idea that all people in our community are equal and that they must be treated equally before the law, hence the term marriage equality. This is predicated on the concept that Australia is a society that values and protects the notion of equal treatment for all its people, regardless of gender, race, physical ability, religious belief or sexuality. In line with these values, all Australians are protected from discrimination under our laws. Other service providers are not permitted to refuse service to certain groups or minorities, and nor should celebrants.
There is so much for our profession to gain from changing the marriage laws. To start with, there would be an instantaneous spike of potentially around 10% to our business, so the financial benefits for celebrants are self-evident. Furthermore, I have seen so many of my clients compromised by the laws as they stand. The present inequity creates discomfort around a male/female couple’s free choice to marry, when loved members of their families and communities are refused the same freedom. Over and over again I have observed the way that this so-called ‘protection’ of the institution of marriage is genuinely damaging people’s experience of their own wedding celebrations.
The decision-makers in Canberra do not understand this effect because they don’t see it, but we do. Apart from the obvious advantages of creating a more equitable society for LGBTIQ people, as a celebrant I foresee a profound emotional benefit to my heterosexual clients if same sex marriage was legalised. These couples would finally be able to marry their partners without feeling angry and guilty about laws that they don’t agree with, and that undermine the experience of their own marriage ceremony.
I absolutely understand that this is a tricky issue for celebrants as our celebrant advocates have fought for many years to improve the recognition and capacity of our profession in this country. However, if the College or CoCA decides to fight for the right to refuse service on the basis of people’s sexuality, they will certainly not be doing so in my name.
All the best for the representatives tasked with sorting through this tricky terrain.
The decision to jump into the adventure married life forces couples to think deeply about the institution of marriage itself.
What I am observing in my work as a celebrant is that more and more couples are showing their acute discomfort and the situation in Australia where a certain part of the population is denied the right to marry. This excluded section of the community are of course the brothers, sisters, mums, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends of those who are granted the privilege of marriage. The result is that this forced inequality becomes very uncomfortable for the heterosexual couples who want to solidify their partnership with a legally and culturally sanctioned marriage ceremony.
In this sense, the denial of marriage rights to all couples, actually compromises those who do have access to it. The discriminatory nature of the Marriage Act, from what I am witnessing, far from protecting the institution of marriage, feels like it is actually damaging it.
An example: a couple I saw last week who were wanting to be married told me that they are so uncomfortable with the situation with marriage inequality, that they have seriously considered choosing a commitment ceremony over marriage. Another bride-to-be also explained her unhappiness with the content of the Monitum (that marriage in Australia must be stated to be between a man and woman), because her adored sister who she wanted as her bridesmaid, was a lesbian. What a awful position these laws put her in!
These are just two of the many examples I am coming across where straight couples feel utterly compromised by laws which discriminate against people who are central in their lives, and who are of course the very people they wish to share their own wedding day with.
These marrying couples simply do not hold the view that gay and lesbian relationships are of lesser value to anyone else’s, so they feel that by engaging in what is a discriminatory institution, a kind of hypocrisy is forced upon them. This genuinely damages people’s ability to fully enjoy the wonderful process of committing to the person they love by taking part in a marriage ceremony.
This is not a political statement, this is an observation. While the dialogue around the way this inequality functions is quite understandably focused on the effect it has on same sex couples, what is not so often discussed is the way it affects the rest of the community as well.