Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, made this point painfully clear when he lamented over Twitter “that as we remember servicemen and women we remember [the] Australia they fought for - wasn't gay marriage & Islamic!” What makes Jim Wallace’s statements particularly troubling, is that claims Australian identity at the expense of sexual and religious minorities. Specifically in the context of the military, such a rhetorical gestures also ignores and invisibilises the existence of gay men and lesbian women in the armed services.
Gay men have been able to serve openly in the military since 1992. In 2009, following amendments to Federal de-facto laws, same-sex partners of those serving in the defence forces have been entitled to access veterans’ benefits. So when Mr. Wallace defends the ANZAC legend by perpetuating the belief that gay marriage is antithetical to our values, he denies the lives and contributions of gay men and lesbians to our country, and disrespects the relationships they may have.
Australia is an evolving nation. Since 1915, Australia has legislated for an end to the White Australia Policy, recognised Indigenous Australians as citizens in the Constitution, reformed marriage laws to permit no-fault divorce and end marital rape, and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
ANZAC Day evokes our belief in mateship, egalitarianism and the “fair go”. These values are not static, nor should they evoke a parochial image of what Australia represents. We are a nation of differences, and it is the ability to respect and value such differences, that makes for strong nationhood.
Surely then, the ANZAC legend promotes values of fairness and equality, not segregation or discrimination?
So when Mr. Wallace raises the question of gay marriage, then as a matter of respecting the equality of all citizens to have their consensual adult relationships recognised, is not so foreign to the ANZAC legend. Marriage is not simply a question of rights. Marriage is the primary civil means through which intimacy and citizenship is publicly legitimated by the State. Denying same-sex couples access to marriage, promotes a hierarchy of relationships. Couples are granted equal rights and entitlements but different statuses, essentially situating same-sex relationships as ‘inferior’ or ‘lesser than’ heterosexual ones. How can we expect to promote a culture of respect and a “fair go”, when the law does not afford same-sex or gender diverse couples the respect it extends to heterosexual couples?
As we commemorate ANZAC Day, we not only reflect upon the events of World War I, we also remember what it means to be Australian. An Australia built on mateship, equality and fairness should not allow for any one group of people to be discriminated or marginalised on the basis of their identity. So why does equality for all, regardless of sex, sexuality or gender identity still cause great anxiety for some?