My fight for marriage equality is personal. I want to make my first boyfriend proud

Mark was my first boyfriend. We were 14 when he took me to the 1983 St Francis de Sales homecoming dance in Toledo, Ohio. I wore a new skirt and sweater set with a wrist corsage Mark bought me. It was in the St Francis school gym, slow dancing to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, that I had my first kiss.

I thought Mark was perfect: smart, romantic (he wrote me love notes in year 9 French) and quite handsome. Yet, despite a promising start, Mark and I were a love that never quite blossomed, waxing and waning throughout high school, and eventually going our separate ways for university.
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A few years later I ran into Mark and some of his friends at a bar. It was that night I found out Mark was gay. I confess, my first, stupid thought was, “that can’t be right – he’s kissed me plenty of times.” My second thought was even stupider: “My God, I must be terrible at kissing.”

It seems remarkable to write these words now, but in 1990, I still didn’t know anyone who was openly gay. Today the TV show Glee depicts small town Ohio as a place where a teenage boy can openly express his homosexuality. For Mark, in 1980s Ohio, that would have been unimaginable.

Last week the United States supreme court determined state bans on same–sex marriage were unconstitutional. Fittingly, I learnt of this development from Mark via his Facebook post. Mark and his husband, Geoffrey, are activists, champions for marriage equality, and one of six couples who joined a successful legal challenge to Colorado’s ban on same–sex marriage.

I’m not sure what my 14–year–old, Catholic schoolgirl self would have thought if she’d been given a preview of the past week’s news, and the role her teenage sweetheart played in making it happen. I suspect she’d have been a little horrified and possibly a bit terrified. But my 46–year–old, progressive Catholic self was overcome with a few tears of joy and a whole lot of pride.

Perhaps no other civil or human rights issue has progressed as fast as marriage equality. The change in community attitudes has come swift and sure, sometimes startlingly so, for legislators.

Canada, England, New Zealand, Ireland, and America have all legalised same–sex marriage. On the heels of the US supreme court decision, and only weeks after Ireland’s referendum, Australia may finally have its opportunity to grant all citizens the freedom to marry.

A bill to amend the Marriage Act to allow for same–sex marriage will be introduced to the House of Representatives on 11 August. Co-sponsored by Liberal, Labor and independent MPs, this bill represents the best chance to date of securing passage by the federal parliament.

The leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, who sponsored similar legislation earlier this year, deserves credit for pushing the issue forward, and even greater credit for his graciousness in standing aside for the cross-party bill.

Coalition MPs – such as Josh Frydenberg, Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham – have spoken publicly in support of same–sex marriage, even against the current party platform, to honourably give voice to their constituents and their consciences.
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The pace and scale of change in public opinion is evident, and is rightly prompting our political leaders to listen and take heed. Tony Abbott remains personally opposed to same sex marriage, but has not ruled out allowing the Coalition party room to decide whether to have a conscience vote. Even a year or two ago he would have never countenanced such a possibility.

Abbott is right when he says this is an issue that should not be owned by one side of politics or another. As premier, I took a similar approach to same–sex adoption in NSW: the bill was introduced by the independent Clover Moore, the major parties allowed conscience votes so everyone could have their say, and both I and the leader of the opposition scrupulously avoided partisan politics. Each of these elements was crucial to the legislation’s dignified debate and ultimate success.
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The weeks ahead in Australia will likely be fascinating, exciting, distressing, emotional, anticipatory, and, at times, challenging. I hope the debates in the days ahead are conducted with the best of ourselves seeking the best for all our citizens.

Like my husband and I, Mark and his husband have two teenage boys. Mark often says the world will be a better place when our children’s generation is in charge. They’re growing up in a world that is increasingly blind to the things that used to divide us, like gender, race, or sexual orientation. He’s right, but it is only because previous generations have worked hard to make it so. One big challenge remains: to remove the legal and artificial distinctions that divide a family like Mark’s from a family like mine.

Ireland and America have shown it can be done, and now, I pray, it is Australia’s turn.

Written by Kristina Keneally.

This article was taken from the Guardian. The original article can be found here on July 3, 2015.

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