Equality & Fear
I started this post sometime in September this year. About the same time when the heated debate was ongoing in Australia. The debate on Marriage Equality. I was afraid to even raise a whimper to speak. I didn't know where to start. Some of my social media posts on the topic invoked a small amount of passive aggressive vitriol I wasn't prepared to face.
I am far away from the heat in Australia, yet the fierce debate happening at home have had an effect on me. I count myself fortunate. We have been fortunate to experience what equality means, in very real terms. As well as the complete lack of. And, I don't take any of it for granted. Today, history was written in the Australian books and all of us can now belong.
Perhaps it's time I told a little bit of our story.
To start, perhaps I need to go back to that conversation with a friend a few years ago. M is someone I have known for a long time, but much more ahead in his journey with his sexuality. Much more courageous than me. I had recently come out while dealing with a bad breakup with a sociopath I had dated as my first same sex relationship. I shall save that story for another day. I was having lunch with M, who was concerned about my mental health with the events that led to that juncture. I remember saying to him, pursuing marriage equality is unnecessarily hyperbolic and honestly an institution I believed to be dead anyway. Why do we need a piece of paper and all the fanfare around it to be in love?
"'Well, the difference is if, touch-wood, when your loved one is unconscious in hospital, you won't be allowed to be in the room, nor make any life or death decisions," M added, "or what to do with his estate because you are, under the eyes of the law, not related by blood or legal marriage. You would have no rights with the closest person in your life."
That archaic piece of paper turned out to mean a whole lot more behind the veil. That conversation was a pivotal moment in my burgeoning understanding of marriage equality.
In 2016, my partner and I found ourselves in the US. He got a new job with his global company. It was several months later that we were putting on our pressed shirts, headed toward Miami-Dade County for our ceremony that would last no more than 10 minutes. It didn't matter that we didn't have rings. The celebrant happily performed the ceremony without these symbols and within the hour, we were downstairs having our first sidewalk hotdog - our first meal as a legal couple. The only celebratory reception we had was a Skype after party with several friends in Singapore and Australia. Which was lit!
Soon life started to form in ways I never knew could. Now that we are a legal family we could have shared bank accounts, insurance coverage, tax benefits. I was given a dependant visa, subsequently, work rights. It allowed me to stay in the US for as long as his work visa is valid. Both our names can be on official documents - rental, utilities, etc. Something as simple as having a debit card in a shared account to be able to go grocery shopping while my partner is at work makes the world of a difference. The company recognised us as a family unit, paid for both our moving costs and plane tickets when we had to move to Hong Kong at the end of that year.
Life took a turn when we got to Hong Kong. It was like we had gone to the other side in Stranger Things - all the rights we experienced dissipated the moment we landed. As a spouse, I am virtually a stay home partner with no rights whatsoever. No spousal visa, so we had to think outside the box within the boundaries of the law. I have to leave the country every 90 days or so and make sure I don't overstay my visitor visa. I have no medical insurance coverage because I am an alien. When we rent, we had to tread carefully in case of discrimination. I have to be virtually invisible in all official matters. My name isn't on the rental agreement and if anything happens I cannot deal with the lease legally. In fact, I best never get sick because, well, no medical insurance. I can't hold a bank account or anything official because, well, you get the idea. I have no work rights, so we survive on one income. To say it puts a strain on our relationship is an understatement.
In our situation, we get by. But without the legal rights, we have to live as second class residents. We miss our life back in Miami and it's not just the nostalgia but the stark reality of having rights versus none here. Days like these make me realise how much a simple yet polarising push on marriage equality can mean the difference being able to afford hanging out with our friends on weekends and making excuses for being busy because money is tight.
Equality and rights have real life financial consequences. And that's just the tip of it. We have been fortunate to have experienced marriage equality in the US. What it is like to be equal like everyone else. So when there are those who expound on the values and morality of protecting traditional marriage - it makes me question what exactly is that damage, when all that this equality push is an extension of the law, to include those of us on the fringe who love differently. How does that destroy or erode traditional marriage? I simply don't understand what there is to protect when all that is asked of you is to extend an olive branch to your fellow human beings who are drowning.
“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
My fellow Australians voted in a resounding YES in the recent plebiscite, and today, Marriage Equality passed as law of the land. While it doesn't change anything for our current situation here in Hong Kong, my heart is swelling with joy and courage, thinking of all the couples who can now be equal in the eyes of the Australian law. It's only a matter of time, before that courage fuels the rest of the world to take a leaf from the progress achieved today.
There is hope yet.