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"Camp festivities with a serious message"
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"Camp festivities with a serious message"

Neil ThomasAustralians supposedly pride themselves on a society built on the egalitarian notion of a “fair go” and are supportive of the “underdog”. Yet social attitudes toward gay marriage are still worryingly conservative, writes Neil Thomas, a 20-year-old from Perth, Western Australia.

March 5 saw Australia’s annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a massive and spectacular parade through the city’s streets to celebrate the diversity of sexualities in Australian society.

It unites those who do not conform to the binary-gender heterosexual norm and is welcomed by those of us supportive of the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual) community.

The parade also provides an opportunity for the LGBT community to unite to deliver an important message to Australian society and politicians – their desire for equality before the law.

This year many parade floats carried the theme of equal right for non-heterosexual couples, with participants dressing up in wedding gowns and suits. Presently, ‘gay marriage’ (more accurately, marriages not between a man and a woman) is illegal in Australia and opposed by both major political parties.

If the right to freedom of religion is preserved and purely religious organisations are not forced to conduct ceremonies their religion does not endorse, then gay marriage delivers the benefit of LGBT equality and results only in harm either imagined or the product of religious and social intolerance.

What is particularly hypocritical in Australia is that ‘traditional’ societal values support gay marriage. Australians supposedly pride themselves on a society built upon the egalitarian notion of a “fair go” and supportive of the “underdog” who fights against the odds.

However, this “fair go” does not seem to apply to LGBT “underdogs” and reveals the underlying social conservatism that pervades Australian society, particularly the low-middle income suburban families that comprise the majority of ‘swinging’ voters given disproportionate political influence by Australia’s voting system.

Conservatism is linked to a psychological fear of uncertainty and correlates to the above demographic, typically burdened by mortgages and living under the semi-constant ‘threat’ of an adverse change in circumstances. Conservatism in this way is the refuge of the insecure, whose desire to uphold an accepted social value structure in order to provide guidance, purpose, and justification for the life choices which they are able to make.

This explains many of the (what I consider) invalid and irrational arguments against gay marriage and why Australian politicians have not yet legalised it.

On a personal side-note, I am currently in the Netherlands, where gay marriage has been legal since 2001, and there is no sign that the institution of marriage has been degraded. Heterosexuals still wed and enjoy fulfilling relationships. Dutch society has not degenerated into moral bankruptcy!

A key mission of the Royal Commonwealth Society is facilitating interaction between a diversity of people and promoting understanding of both human commonalities and different perspectives.

This philosophy of tolerance and inclusion underpins my belief in gay marriage as I consider the full potential of Australian (and international) society is limited by constraints upon equality of opportunity and expression.

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Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. All articles are published in a spirit of improving dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

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