Go travelling abroad and it’s a case of now we’re married, now we’re not.
‘FILL out one form per family please, for transit through LAX.”
I roll my eyes at Sarah and take the form from the steward. There’s nothing like international travel for defining who you are: nationality, place of residence, marital status. For most people, ticking these boxes is unproblematic; for us, it’s a different story. ”Family?” I say to the steward. ”We’re a same-sex family – two mums, three kids, married some places, not others – one form or two?”
He looks at me blankly. ”Oh, er â€¦ not sure. Hang on a minute.”
My partner, Sarah, and I were married in Canada seven years ago – we happened to be in Toronto visiting Sarah’s family when the law changed. Friends and family came from all over the world and a Uniting Church minister performed the ceremony by a lake at the family cottage in northern Ontario. It was everyone’s first same-sex wedding and – though I say it myself – it was an awesome affair.
When we returned to Australia, we lodged an application in the Family Court to determine the legal status of our marriage, but the then Howard government intervened to stop us by amending the Marriage Act to specifically exclude the recognition of foreign unions between two men or two women.
”Same surname?” asks the steward, tentatively. ”Well, I’m Tomlins, my partner is Nichols and the kids are Nichols-Tomlins: is that the same enough?”
”Um â€¦ don’t know,” he stumbles, ”I’ll check with the cabin manager.”
Recent changes to a whole raft of discriminatory federal laws – including tax, superannuation and Medicare – have gone a long way to acknowledging our relationship and our status as a family, and changes to state law have ensured that I am recognised as the kids’ legal parent. At least now my name is on their birth certificates.
”Probably best to fill out two forms,” says the steward, finally. ”Just to be sure.”
With regular visits to family in Canada and England – where our relationship is also legally recognised – we have become very used to playing ”now we’re married, now we’re not”.
When we pass through Canadian immigration, I touch my wedding ring with my thumb and smile quietly to myself. It feels different. I feel different.
The introduction of gay marriage in Canada shifted the overriding social mores to our side. Quite simply, it said that being gay was OK, and that you should not expect to be treated any differently because of it. It said that you are valued equally as a member of this society.
These days, the gay community presents a confident, some might even say brash, face, but that belies the fact that many people still quietly struggle with their sexuality and the horribly negative views that are blithely espoused by certain sections of the community. The message that comes with the legalisation of same-sex marriage is important for the entire gay community, but is critical for our more vulnerable members, particularly gay teenagers.
In England – where we spend the second half of our trip – Civil Partnerships were introduced in 2004. We stay with my oldest friend, Ian, and his partner, Nick, who had their Civil Partnership last year.
”Things just flipped when CPs were introduced,” says Ian, ”almost overnight. Before, there was always that little niggle in the back of your mind about how someone might react, but that’s gone – whether you’re dealing with the bank, your council tax, or the health service – it’s just not an issue any more.”
A few weeks after arriving home, I’m starting to think that maybe, at last, the political tide is turning. Gay marriage emerged as an issue at the beginning of the election campaign and refused to go away. The newly elected Greens MP, Adam Bandt, has announced he will introduce a motion on marriage equality to be debated on November 15.
I wonder if this is a tipping point. A recent Galaxy poll shows that 62 per cent of Australians support marriage reform, and in households with children under 18, that figure rises to 72 per cent. A remarkable 80 per cent of 18-to-24-year-olds support gay marriage.
One of the oft quoted arguments by those who oppose us is that marriage is about family and children. A range of recent studies from eminent universities have clearly demonstrated that by all significant indicators, our kids are doing just as well as kids raised in heterosexual families. I think that message is starting to get through to the broader community.
Pretty much everyone in our local community treats our family with the same decency and respect as any other – and almost all the same-sex families I know say the same. The vast majority of ordinary Australians do not see being gay as anything very extraordinary and regard our family as just like theirs.
At the airport in Los Angeles, the immigration officer scrutinises our forms and asks us the nature of our relationship. ”Married,” I say tentatively with a smile, ”at least where we’re going, not where we’re coming from.” Today, we’ve got a good one and he nods and smiles back. He stamps the paperwork and lets us proceed as one family, married with kids. I’m hoping that pretty soon things will change here and that the Australian government will nod and smile too, and let us proceed as one family, married with kids.
Jacqueline Tomlins is a Melbourne writer and member of the Rainbow Families Council.
- Lesbian couple vow to take battle for same-sex marriage to court (telegraph.co.uk)