Marriage equality not just about rights

MICHAEL BARNETT
Last updated 13:07 03/09/2014
Michael Barnett

TAKING A STAND: A religious upbringing kept Michael Barnett (right) in the closet for much of his youth. Now happily married to Gregory, he's fighting for LGBTI marriage equality to help save young lives.

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Through my teens and into my twenties, I told my parents I didn't want to get married and have children. What I neglected to tell them was the reason why until I was 26.

From the age of 9 or 10, I realised that god was not real. My parents wanted to perpetuate their Jewish identity through me, and so gave me a Jewish education in which I was taught to believe in god. I saw through this concept, but followed the path of least resistance, which meant playing along with the game.

Around the same time, I developed a crush on a boy in my class at school. He was all I could think about and it consumed me. I was good friends with him and we spent time together. This type of physical attraction stuck with me through my school years. But I wasn't gay. That would have made me a poofter, and I wasn't that.

My grandmother once told me she didn't approve of poofters because they did dirty things. Hearing this from her locked the closet door that took a whole 16 years to escape from.

Telling my parents I didn't want to get married or have children was my way of avoiding having a girlfriend. It was a safety mechanism. I feared being kicked out of home if I disclosed I was attracted to other boys.

As an adult and now married to a man, what drives my activism - to ensure the federal Marriage Act does not discriminate on gender - is far more than the desire to see my New Zealand marriage recognised or to see same-sex and gender diverse couples being able to solemnise their relationships in marriage. It is also about saving lives.

For many, growing up same-sex attracted or with a gender that doesn't match on the outside what it feels like on the inside can lead to a path of self-destruction because of the intolerance, especially from narrow religious perspectives, and the inability to reconcile faith with sexual identity.

I know people who attended Catholic and other Christian schools and were told almost daily that homosexual people were an abomination. Add to that a brutal schoolyard bashing if you were suspected of being gay - an experience that also plagued me throughout my school years - and it's no surprise they tried to end their lives, not once but repeatedly. Their parents fuelled the problem with their intolerance, voicing their homophobia, disowning their children and pushing them to the brink. Some of these people just needed counselling, the less lucky ones an ambulance.

My passion is to turn around this scourge of intolerance, open people's eyes to the harm they are inflicting, selfishly in the name of their faith, and realise it is killing their children. They should be celebrating the love their child has found in a life partner rather than unwrapping the metal cage that was once their car from around a tree on a lonely highway.

Give all your children the same hopes and aspiration that they can have that special day if they want, and that you'll love them unconditionally. If your son wants to marry his prince charming or your daughter wants to marry the princess of her dreams, support them. If your child is or wants to marry a transgender or intersex person, let them know you'll celebrate the love they have for each other, not in spite of any differences but because of them.

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Tell them you'll support them in whichever way they want to recognise their relationship, whether it's in marriage or not. Let them know you'll love their children equally if they want to start a family.

Children want and need to be loved and included. I didn't want to be different, but society told me I was because men weren't allowed to love or marry men. Remove that barrier, and there'll be one less reason for young people to feel isolated and vulnerable.  

I lived 16 years with the enemy of isolation and hopelessness. Never in my dreams did I imagine I would one day meet a beautiful man, fall deeply in love with him and end up being asked to marry him. If that was the impossible dream, then actually getting married with our families around us in one of the most picturesque locations on the planet exceeded my wildest imaginations.

And yet it happened. I did all of that. I pulled through, and now I'm the happiest I've ever been. My parents are bursting with pride. They love Gregory and are proud to be his in-laws (although technically, in Australia at least, they're his out-laws).

Allowing two people who love each other so much to get married will make the world a better place. It will save lives. Don't we all want that?

- Daily Life

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