THOUGHT STRATEGIES THAT WORK

What You Should Know About Marriage Equality

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The impact of inequality

This week has been very disappointing for me. I am devastated by the fact that the Liberal party rejected the private member’s bill on marriage equality, proposed by my friend Dean Smith. I have to be honest; I didn’t think it would have this impact. So I decided to share with you what it means to me, as a gay man who is a gay divorcee and a permanent resident of Australia. This article is my personal story, how I am affected by not having equal rights.
 
In this article, I can’t help bring up politics. I also have to bring up religion. I have no choice; because those arguing against marriage equality do. I will also share with you some of my worries on what this debate may mean for Australian politics.
 
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Marriage Equality

Yes, before I continue this very personal article, you need to know that I married a man. We married on May 7th, 2002. 4 Years after meeting, and one year after gay marriage became legal in The Netherlands.
 
The Netherlands was off course, the first country in the world with equal marriage.
 
Getting married was the right thing to do. Not only for my partner and me, but also for friends and family.
 
Getting married is not solely about the bride and groom. A wedding day is about celebrating your love and happiness with friends and family.
 
Ask any bride if their mother was excited about helping to prepare for her wedding. I know my mom was.
 
Denying same-sex couples equal marriage impacts everybody, because it prevents their families the opportunity to celebrate their child’s happiness.
 
Our wedding provided hope and inspiration to the friends and family that attended. Denying marriage equality takes all of this away. Not only from gay people. But from everybody.
 
But, let’s face it, marriage equality is not about a wedding day.
 
Marriage equality is about two people supporting each other, regardless of sexual orientation. It is a commitment to help each other grow and to work towards a shared future. Calling my partner my husband is about strengthening our bond and our journey towards a shared future. It is a way of expressing that I love him.
 
And love is universal. Love has no boundaries. Nobody has the right to deny another person love. Nobody has the right to tell somebody else how to express their love. In Australian politics, this is precisely what is happening.
 

Divorce Equality

My partner and I broke up because there was no longer the commitment towards mutual growth. We no longer shared a  vision for the future. Growing apart happens in many relationships, regardless of sexuality.
 
The irony is after we moved to Australia, our marriage became meaningless, but only because the law didn’t recognise our marriage. In other words, when we separated there was no reason to get a divorce living in Australia. Getting a divorce in Australia wasn’t possible.
 
To explain the complexity of this, I usually use the following example. I could have married a girl in Australia which would have been fine. However, going back to The Netherlands I would have committed bigamy and broken the law.
 
But the law doesn’t define marriage. It is two people who commit to a shared vision. That is why I turned to a solicitor in The Netherlands to pursue the divorce. She could only process the divorce after I provided the evidence that equal marriage does not exist in Australia.
 
Was it worth the effort? Absolutely. Regardless of sexuality, marriage is about a spiritual and emotional bond. For me, it was essential to break the emotional ties of a marriage that no longer provided that bond. You see, the meaning of marriage is the same, regardless of your sexual orientation.
 

God loves gay people.

Often people hide behind religion and God when they oppose equality for gay people.
 
In the year 2000, I visited the Vatican. I sat on one of the columns inside, close to the main entrance. I struggled. How can I admire this incredible architecture, this house of God, while He rejects gay people like me?
 
I said a little prayer:
 
” Dear God, I am here in this amazing place, devoted to you. But I feel, I don’t belong here because I am gay. Can you please give me a sign that you love gay people.”
 
Okay, maybe those weren’t the exact words. But I definitely asked for a sign.
 
Within seconds, before I could stand up and join my friends, a group of people walked in with a PACE flag. A rainbow flag, representing peace. Because the rainbow is also a gay symbol, I could not get a more evident sign that God loves gay people.
 
I know religions provide a community for people and they do a lot of good. I see the importance of religion in my parents. But people also use religion, as a foundation to create separation and division as is the case now. And that is never good.
 
That is why I say “No” to people, who want to know whether I am religious. I do believe in God, but my God treats everybody equal, and that is often not the case with religions.
 
So I struggle when people hide behind religion and God when they oppose equal marriage. Opposing equal marriage has nothing to do with God. Because when I asked God whether He loves gay people He, without a doubt, said yes.
 

The reflections of our leaders.

As a coach, I often ask people to consider how they would reflect on their life seconds before passing away. 
 
I can’t help but wonder if Tony Abbott will say “I am so proud of myself that I prevented marriage equality. I am so proud of my legacy that caused hurt, pain and division. I am so proud that I denied my sister happiness.”
 
I also wonder, if, at that moment, he will regret his choices.
 
Malcolm Turnbull is a known supporter of marriage equality. Will he be proud of himself when he reflects on this time as prime minister? “I am so proud because when I was prime minister, I had the opportunity to do something which was right, something in which I believed. And I choose, not to stand up as a leader.”
 
Political leaders need to do what is best for everybody in the country. I love the principles of authentic leadership. Being an authentic leader is based on character and self-awareness. It is about using your strengths to get the best out of others. Great leadership isn’t about denying people equality.
 
Is this the Americanisation of politics in Australia?
I can’t help but think that this debate, this denial of equality, is a step closer to the Americanisation of politics in Australia.
 
Sadly, to me, it confirms that politics is about compromise for the sake of power. Not about people.
 
How easy is it, to jump from divisive politics based on sexuality to divisive politics based on race or anything else? It worries me to think that this might give rise to an Australian version of the current American leader.
 

Stand up for what is right.

Over the last couple of years, I have had conversations with Dean Smith about marriage equality. And as a friend I am proud of him for standing up for equality. Especially since I know, he had to overcome his thoughts about equal marriage. Not only that, but he is also putting his position in his party at risk. Would you risk your job for the benefit of others? We need more leaders like him, leaders who are willing to stand up for what is right.
 
Unlike what Tony Abbott says, this is not about religious freedom, freedom of speech and political correctness. Equal marriage is about people; it is about allowing humans to be who they are meant to be. But it is people like Tony Abbott, who make it about religious freedom, freedom of speech and political correctness. It is those who deny equal marriage, who are slowly breaking down these values. Not those who support equality.
 

Should I deny myself marriage?

The fact that I am a permanent resident means that I am not entitled to vote here in Australia. But as a Dutch citizen, I have equal rights to get married. If I choose Australian citizenship, I lose my Dutch citizenship (based on Dutch laws). The consequence would be, that I deny myself marriage as a way to express my love for my future partner. And until this week, I have never thought about that before.
 
Being Australian would prevent me from sharing a commitment with my partner towards a shared goal and vision. It would prevent us from celebrating our love, with friends and family. And ultimately that is what marriage is about.
 

What can you do to help?

But there is something that I learned about myself this week. I started to question what I can do to advocate marriage. And by me sharing my story, I’m setting out to create positive change.
 
So I’m asking you to share my story and like my Facebook Page.
 
I dedicate this article to my loving parents and brother who have always supported me unconditionally.
With equal love to you all,
Markus