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Think Pieces

why love is love and voting yes is vital

In an open letter, Chapter Music co-founder Ben O'Connor acknowledges that while he's devastated by the public equal marriage survey, he's one of the luckier ones.

Ben O'Connor

Guy (left) and Ben (right) now and then.

I was 19 when I started dating my boyfriend, Guy. Boyfriend feels like a juvenile word to use for someone you've shared every aspect of your life with for 22 years. I sometimes use partner but that can confuse people because we run a business together.

Going through Immigration at LAX last year, I went to the desk and Guy hesitated behind me in the queue, as we often do at airports. When the Immigration official asked if we were together, I replied, "He's my partner." Seeing his confusion, I followed with "my boyfriend of 20 years." He warmly motioned for Guy to come over, "Together so long and you're not married yet? What are you waiting for?" I told him it wasn't legal in Australia, even if we did it somewhere else. He commiserated and welcomed us to America.

I was in the USA again last month when the marriage equality plebiscite was rejected by the senate, and the postal survey was announced. I was glad to be out of the country, while poison was raining down on my relationship and those of so many others. I thought about dear friends who've wed overseas even though their marriage is not recognised by the Australian government. I thought about a lesbian couple I adore who recently had their first baby. I thought about what my life was like when I was a closeted teenager.

When I was a little kid, I didn't want to get married. I just wanted to be really, really good friends with a prince, or a pauper, or a cowboy. I didn't want to marry him, I just wanted to be with him. I read The Female Eunuch when I was 13, and it cemented my anti-marriage stance. Monogamy seemed ridiculous, and a piece of paper didn't define a relationship. I thought of marriage as a bourgeois, capitalist power trap. I knew my relationships would be with men, but I never thought in terms of marriage. How much of this was my precocious radical belief system, and how much was the inability to imagine the real possibility of marriage equality in the 80s and 90s? I don't know.

One of the best things about growing up queer is knowing that the rules are bullshit. Questioning everything is second nature. Straight marriage and straight life didn't make any sense to me, why would I want to replicate it?

I didn't want a straight life then, and I still don't. Guy and I have shaped our relationship ourselves, without role models, without roles. We didn't see our lives reflected in those around us, or in popular culture. Over decades, we have found our forebears through books and music and film and art. We have so many inspiring queer, non binary and LGBT friends, here at home and in communities around the world. For the last 22 years we have built a life and world for ourselves that shelters and sustains us.

"Guy and I have shaped our relationship ourselves, without role models, without roles....Over decades, we have found our forebears through books and music and film and art."

Marriage Equality wasn't something either Guy or I gave much thought to before the early 2000s, when countries slowly started legislating for it. Of course we'd talked about whether we would if we could, we knew we wanted to spend our lives together. Neither of us were particularly interested in marriage, but it seemed like soon that choice would be ours. Then in 2004 John Howard, supported by both major parties, changed the Marriage Act, defining marriage as a 'voluntarily entered-into union of a man and a woman to exclusion of all others.'

After it became law that the celebrant had to say that during the ceremony, I remember the first wedding we went to: the couple asked the celebrant to add that they disagreed with this, and looked forward to when all couples could marry. I remember Guy and I, and the other queer folk at the wedding, feeling really touched. It felt so nice to be included in something.

After a few more weddings, it started to sting. People like us were specifically and explicitly excluded from this institution. It has to be said aloud during the ceremony for the marriage to be legal. That's fucked up. We stopped going to weddings. People kept getting married.

It's inevitable that marriage equality will happen. It's a matter of when, and of how many people will be hurt in the process.

I was 5 when gay male sex was legalised in Victoria, Guy was 16 when it happened in Western Australia. I can't imagine what it was like for him to have to hear all the awful things said in the papers, at school, in parliament. The age of consent there for homosexual sex was 21. That's the age he was when we first met, and he'd been breaking the law for years.

"It feels like our right to be who we are is being questioned. It feels like our right to exist is being questioned."

Having governments deny the worth of our relationship feels bad enough. But having it put to a non-binding public vote? The entire country are invited to an open, no holds barred "debate" about whether all people should be treated equally under law. The right to be treated equally under the law is a human right. It feels like our right to be who we are is being questioned. It feels like our right to exist is being questioned. We're used to this, queer people deal with this all our lives. But now it's amplified, and government sanctioned, and dragged out over months. Months of taunts, and bogus statistics, and hateful rhetoric, and accusations of bullying for calling bigots 'bigots.'

It's exhausting to be bombarded by the volume of awful, hateful things said in the last couple of months. I can't be a good polite homosexual and calmly and rationally explain why we deserve the same rights as other people. I refuse to beg to be equal. I won't let myself be damaged by this but what about people who don't have what I have?

This is going to hurt a lot of people more than me. What about LGBT couples who really do want to get married? What about closeted teenagers coming to terms with who they are? What about the children of same sex parents?

I know that Guy and I will get through the next couple of months. It will be painful, infuriating and upsetting. But Guy and I have each other. For 22 years he's been by my side. For 22 years he's made me feel supported and loved and valued as a human being. I'll be voting Yes as soon as I receive my survey.

Ben and Guy are the magic people who run Chapter Music, a label that has released the best in Australian independent music since 1992.