Regardless of where one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, there is much to be said for those who maintain a sense of calm and humility in the thick of debate. It’s heated territory, so when I meet someone able to sustain a spirit of respect and avoid the temptation to dismiss or demonise, I find listening easier. For me, Rodney Croome is one of those people. I’ve heard him speak in a number of different forums now. Though as coordinator of Australian Marriage Equality he takes a very public role in the debate, I am always drawn in by the care with which he does so. What’s more, his family heritage ties him to the life of a small Baptist church in the farming hamlet of his youth. What’s not to love? Croome has contributed an essay in the latest issue of the Griffith Review, one that only underlines my respect. Entitled The Promise of Belonging, the essay is a very moving account of the journey of his native and beloved Tasmania from the last Australian bastion for the criminilization of homosexuality (laws tightly held in place until 1997) to the state with the most progressive anti-discrimination laws in the nation. Within this broader story of transformation is Croome’s own story as a gay man. The journey of change has been a torrid one, for Croome and many others. Some left Tasmania never to return. Croome stayed. His observation that it’s ‘impossible to be truly free until we are free in the place that has shaped who we are’ is one that propels his ongoing investment in the issue, his hope for full inclusion for all Tasmanians and all Australians.
“It is this hope that inspires me to campaign for marriage equality. Allowing same-sex couples to marry promotes inclusion because marriage is such an important social institution. To be admitted to such a valued legal and cultural space is a sure sign of belonging. But the link runs deeper than this; it is about features inherent to marriage itself. Marriage is not just a legal contract between two partners. It binds them closely to each other and to their families. It admits them to a universal language of love and commitment. For same-sex couples, the value placed on marriage is the most powerful antidote there is to the poison of prejudice and crimilisation same-sex relationships have endured for so long. In times past, the law’s recognition that women, servants, prisoners, people with disabilities and Aboriginal people were mature and responsible enough to choose their own marriage partner, rather than have that decision made for them by others, was the key to the recognition of their full humanity. It is the same today for same-sex attracted people. The kind of choices, commitments and sacrifices marriage entails run to the core of what makes us human. In the words of a young gay man, Jackson Tegg, in a letter to the Hobart Mercury published last year: ‘marriage equality is important not because of what the law says I can’t have, but what it says I can’t give.'”
For Croome, the journey of his home state continues as he and many others advocate for change to our marriage laws on a national level.
“To be at home among the rocky peaks and verdant valleys that are the contours of your soul, to be as one with the people who nurtured and shaped you, these are some of life’s greatest gifts. Correspondingly, to be driven out and cleaved from these sources of meaning and strength is to suffer a type of violence. Belonging matters all the more because it can neither be seized by those who are excluded, nor granted by those who exclude. When the promise of belonging is broken, as it was in Tasmania for so many for so long, it is only through the myriad daily interactions of all who lay claim to a contested identity that a sense of belonging is rebuilt and renewed. This is what happened in Tasmania over the past quarter century and it is what will happen nationally as we negotiate our way to marriage equality.”
Whatever your view on the issue, this is certainly an essay worth reading.