It is a day I remember well. It was a Friday and my three-year old daughter and I were heading to a local park to celebrate her friend's third birthday. We had driven there and found a parking spot in a street nearby. We had to cross a busy road which was single carriageway each way. I thought we should do the right thing and walk further down to get to the pedestrian crossing. As the cars whizzed past us on the narrow road, I held onto my daughter's hand tightly and made sure she was on the non-road side of the footpath. I was 30-something weeks pregnant at the time, so there was likely a bit of waddling going on.
We made our way to the pedestrian crossing, and as we stood there waiting for the cars to stop, they continued to zoom past us. What should have been the safest place to cross was feeling very unsafe. I felt rattled enough to pick up my daughter and hold her on my hip. And there I stood, a heavily pregnant woman with a three-year old on my hip, big bags hanging from my shoulder, standing at a zebra crossing going completely unnoticed while cars drove over the painted stripes. We waited some more. Finally, the cars came to a stop in both directions, and we crossed.
Later at the birthday party, I mentioned how treacherous it had been out there. One of my friends told me that a woman had been hit on that pedestrian crossing in the recent weeks and had been killed. We looked at each other with heavy hearts. But there was more. She had just dropped off her four-year old daughter to the daycare centre right next to the park we were in.
Fast forward a year and half and there is even more to this heartbreaking story. The woman who was killed was Elise Ryan and she had just given birth to a baby just three weeks before the accident. This was a truly horrific scenario. Her long-term partner, Lara Ryan found that she was not readily recognised as Elise's partner in the days and weeks following the accident. They had been together for ten years, had two children together, previously held a commitment ceremony, and had the same surname. However, as they were a same-sex couple, they had not been able to have their relationship recognised in a legal sense.
When Elise was taken to hospital after the accident, it took some explanation of the relationship before Lara was understood to be Elise's partner and treated as such. For the death certificate however it was not so straightforward. Lara was not recognised as a spouse, and was not listed on the certificate. The process of dealing with the paperwork related to the death of her beloved partner was made even harder for Lara. If only she was just able to say, "I am her wife." If only she was able to receive the legal recognition and protections that straight couples do.
This brings us to the current postal vote. We are being asked one question: Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? It is not about LGBTI people having children. This is already happening, and from what I've seen, happening quite nicely. But if you do find yourself getting stuck on the issue of same-sex parents and you have fears of the breakdown of the 'family unit', take a moment to think about some of the issues that are currently leading to breakdown in families with straight parents. There's the divorce rate alone. But also the more complex and damaging issues of family violence, drug and alcohol use, and chronic gambling. You are right to be concerned about the family unit. It is a fragile structure. But legalising same-sex marriage is not a threat to family wellbeing. It is simply ensuring that all couples can have their committed relationship recognised by law, regardless of their sex, gender or sexual orientation. It is ensuring that we are each treated equally under the law.
So I'm saying YES. Yes, you are entitled to equality. Yes, you are a much-needed and much-loved part of our community. You are not the other. You are us. You are our gardeners, our vets, our doctors and nurses, teachers, lawyers, filmmakers and writers. You are our architects, engineers, farmers, dentists, chefs and comedians. You are the parents driving kids to band practice and soccer training. You are the foster carers who look after children who were not safe with their family of origin. You are our friends and neighbours.
Love is love is love is love.