They Were Right: This referendum is not (just) about marriage.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get married.

That’s not, by the way, anything to do with my being queer. I don’t know if I’ll ever get married, because I don’t know if I want to get married, and because I haven’t found myself in the kind of relationship that marriage would make sense with. I don’t know if twenty years from now I’ll be married, single, living with my three favourite partners, or traveling the world in a refurbished double-decker bus with a giant ginger cat.

I can tell you, though, that the last of those is the one I spend the most time daydreaming about.

Of course, maybe me and my giant ginger cat won’t be on our own in our double-decker bus (with a balcony taking up half of the top level where I keep my plants. Of course). Maybe we will.

I don’t really care about getting married, myself. If I find someone I want to be with for the rest of my life, then we’ll do that regardless of whether the state calls it a marriage, and it’ll mean every bit as much to the two of us. I do care deeply about the legal rights that come with marriage, and about being able to protect my loved ones and have the families that we create legally recognised. Marriage might do that. It might not. I don’t know what shape my family will be, in ten or twenty years. I’m ambivalent about marriage as an institution. I don’t like the idea that the state can privilege one kind of family and relationship over all others, giving some families (specifically, those based on lifelong monogamous dyadic relationships, if we’re getting technical about things) rights that others don’t have. It is abhorrent to me that the state has the  power to name this a family and that legal strangers, and that we have no way to change this. If we have to have legal definitions of family, I want one that is inclusive of all kinds of families. Of all of the bonds of kinship that we create. If we have to legally encode these things, I want a structure that is flexible. One that doesn’t prescribe one kind of ideal relationship, but instead accurately describes the relationships and families that we do have.

I’m one of those queers your mum probably didn’t know enough to warn you about. The ones who have no interest in emulating heteronormativity and think that, frankly, society as a whole would do well to learn from what we’ve been up to over the decades.

Like I said? I’m ambivalent about marriage.

Yet if this May’s referendum is defeated? I’m not sure how I’ll stand it.

The referendum, you see, isn’t just about marriage. Sure- the wording is clear and the only legal change that we’ll see if it passes will relate to whether gender matters in determining whether two people can marry each other. The practical changes will be fairly minimal, really- civil partnership provides couples with some rights, and same-sex couples are now legally able to be considered parents of their children. There are differences, yes. But most of those differences can be handled legislatively.

The referendum means something far more important than that to me.

We interact with so many people every day. The people I say hello to walking their dogs every morning on my way to work. Everyone I work with. That cheerful lady at the gym with the sunny hello smile. Bus drivers, baristas, the parents you stand aside for on narrow paths. The people you see down at your local. Every person you smile a greeting at every time you walk down a street or go to the supermarket or queue at the post office with.

I don’t spend my days thinking about what all of those people would think about my queerness. Like everyone else does, I get on with things. In the morning I’m worrying about whether it’ll rain before I get in to work and soak my shoes or if I’ve time for a coffee before class.

Sometimes I have to think about what other people think about my queerness. I’m an affectionate person, you know? Especially with people I love. If I’m out with a partner, I have no choice but to think- every minute- about whether or not it’s safe to express that affection. Can I hold their hand, or are we on a street where even walking too close together is too much? One of the things that you straight people might not know, is that that conversation- are you okay with being affectionate in public? How do you feel about holding hands? Does it make you feel vulnerable or safe? Does my dropping your hand feel okay or like a slap in the face?- is one we all have with each other.

I’ve always hated that conversation. I’ve always hated that something as simple and sweet as holding hands with someone I love, or putting my arm around them for a hug (never mind a kiss) is something that we have to feel so scared about.

When you’re queer, sometimes it feels like inside is the only safe place to be.

Indoors or far away, up a mountaintop or lost in a forest where you feel like the only people in the world.

I wouldn’t give up the people I love and have loved for the world- not for the world– but that constant sense of awareness is a heavy thing. It’s a thing you don’t even notice most of the time, the way that sometimes I spend hours squinting at the world before realising I left my glasses on my bedside table. We all live with everyday heavinesses. I don’t know what yours are, and you don’t know most of mine, but this is one of them.

When I let go of someone’s hand when we turn a corner on a street, it’s not because I think that every person on that street wants to hurt us, or even cares that much about how queer we are. Most of the people I talk to see my queerness exactly as it should be- just another thing about me. Essential and irrelevant all at once. It is a heavy thing that there are people who’d make a scene because of who I was walking down the street with. But I live with it, because I know that most people on that street haven’t even noticed, and wouldn’t think any differently if they did.

If this referendum passes, it is a sign from everyone who has ever walked down a street where a queer person let go of someone they love’s hand because we were afraid- and that, by the way, is all of you. It’s a sign from you that we shouldn’t have to do that anymore.

If this referendum passes?

If this referendum passes, it’s a sign from you that everyone who has hurt us- the people who make snide comments or shout from cars or assault us on the street, the families who reject us, the businesses that refuse to serve us, the schools that would refuse to hire us- are not the silent majority they claim to be. That they do not have the support of our society. That you expect them to be better than that.

If this referendum passes, it is a sign from you to every queer kid growing up and figuring themselves out that their society does accept and embrace them for exactly who they are. That their lives will be wonderful and rich and worth living.

If this referendum fails, though?

If this referendum fails, I don’t know how I’ll walk down the street anymore. Knowing that I was wrong. Knowing that the majority of people in this country either actively see me as inferior, or don’t care enough about my rights to be bothered ticking a box in a poll booth. The happy lady at the gym, the old man in the park with the walker and the dog. The people at the bus stop making small talk about how long we’re waiting today. If this referendum fails, I’ll know that most of them see me as somehow wrong. As worth less than them.

Please don’t let that happen.

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They Were Right: This referendum is not (just) about marriage.

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