Walls aren’t always made of concrete

13 August 2010

Written by: Meghan Lodwick

On June 12, 1987, then US President Ronald Regan stood before Brandenburger Tor to deliver a message: Berlin had become a stark symbol of the bitter division that was the Cold War – 750 years of history reduced to a cross-section of two polarized ideals. ‘The wall cannot withstand freedom,’ he beamed.

Ahead of Regan, lay the West: a progressive, prosperous, liberating example of what society could and perhaps should be. While fittingly behind him, lay the East: a stale, regressive vacuum of a State, many of whose leaders were desperately clinging to the tatters of wilted, misguided philosophies.

But walls are not always made of concrete. The Berlin Wall was a barrier put in place by a ‘backward’ governing body that aimed to curb the ‘human spirit’ and implement the kind of control that found, as Regan put it, ‘even symbols of love and of worship an affront.’ Worryingly however, many social barriers continue to stand firm today, enforced by fearful politicians, which seem hardly much different. The illegality of gay marriage is one of these.

Change is of the essence.

The state of California’s recent overturning of ‘Proposition 8’ – legislation that had rendered gay marriage illegal – highlights that with enough political and social will, such lines of division and inequality might yet be bulldozed to their very foundations.

On August 4, 2010, District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, ruled ‘Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry, and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.’ Put simply, he found that the government doesn’t have the right to interfere with an individual’s access to life and liberty – marriage being encompassed within these things – ‘without due process of the law.’

And so California has begun tearing down a wall that although not physical, is one built on discrimination, division and injustice; a barrier that has denied thousands of citizens their fundamental freedom in a country that champions itself as the ‘land of the free.’

In response to Judge Walker’s announcement, (US) House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote on her Twitter page, ‘very joyful (that the) court ruled against #prop8, it is a stain upon the CA Constitution. All families must be treated equally!’ Her elation was echoed on Twitter by thousands, with birthandbloom, a gay Californian resident, tweeting, ‘#prop8 ruling makes a damn fine 3rd anniversary gift for M and I, even though we acknowledge marriage isn’t everything.’

So where are we at then here in Australia? Well, sadly our own politicians aren’t quite moving to this progressive beat. Family First Senate candidate Wendy Francis this week defended her comments she made on her Twitter page recently, which suggested that same-sex parents were engaging in a form of child abuse. She has since added that children from families with gay parents are comparable to those of the stolen generation.

And even Australia’s first openly gay cabinet minister, Senator Penny Wong – who is Asian – recently said, ‘…by virtue of who I am, prejudice and discrimination are things I have some firsthand knowledge of…’ refuses to weigh in to what many members of parliament still deem a highly controversial debate. Senator Wong has fought hard for some important legislature changes to various issues related to same-sex relationships, yet when it comes to gay marriage, has fallen short of publicly challenging the official Labor Party line.

‘I have a view that you join a team, you’re part of the team and that’s the way, you know, we operate…’ she explained recently on the ABC’s Q & A program.

Across the Pacific, the Californian judicial system has now found that their government’s determining of just who can get hitched is not something that it really has the right to be involved in. And while it’s a small step in what will likely be a long journey, the state certainly seems to be on the right track. Back here in Australia however, such a journey still seems light years away from the starting line.

So while Prime Minister Jullia Gillard’s ‘moving forward’ rhetoric is clever political speak, the reality is that this mantra of hers won’t be baring any ground-breaking fruits of social policy, such as the formal recognition of gay marriage, any time soon.

How could she justify her stance on same-sex marriage, she was asked this week, given that as a woman, tradition had once dictated she ‘could not vote, own property or run for Parliament, let alone become Prime Minister’ of the nation?

Her response, as expected, revealed nothing about how or why Australian politicians continue to uphold such an outdated position. ‘…I suspect what I’m going to say now is going to disappoint you, but I’m going to just tell you the truth… We believe that the Marriage Act should stay in the same way that it is now, so marriage would be defined as marriage between a man and a woman.’ Hardly a justification.

Oddly, both major political parties continue to fight against the tide of strong public support for, or at least acceptance of, marriage being a right for all, whatever one’s sexual orientation. And therefore like the Berlin Wall had in the late ‘80s, the absurdity of the ban on gay marriage in 2010 has become embarrassingly obvious. It is a policy rooted in stale and wilted philosophies, and is a wall of division that needs to come down.

It’s been just over two decades since the demise of the great iron curtain. The removal of this barrier once seemed inconceivable in the West. And yet, it is now almost hard to imagine that such a crude line of division ever existed in the first place.

Whoever does win this strange political race in just under two weeks time, ought to start truly believing that Australia can move to a better place – away from the regressive nature of inequality we’re currently bogged down in, and toward a modern existence that allows for all citizens to live and love freely, and to have these rights acknowledged by the country they proudly call home.

‘Beliefs become reality,’ said President Regan, on the fateful day of 1987. It was written on the wall behind him.

Luke S.H. Raggatt recently finished his Bachelor of Jounalism at La Trobe University. He is now enrolled in a Master’s of International Relations.