As an Australian gay man, I must confess I was ambivalent for a long time on the issue of gay marriage. That ambivalence came from a concern that gays fighting for an old fashioned, conservative institution like marriage could somehow de-radicalise queer politics.
I was worried that by placing gay marriage at the centre of our politics rather than other issues – such as the rights of gays in countries that still persecute them for their sexuality, or fighting against inequality of access to HIV medications in the developing world – that we were somehow indulging in the politics of privilege.
But over the years, after lengthy conversations with several Australia marriage equality activists, my views began to change. Watching and then partaking in marriage equality rallies in my home city of Melbourne, and feeling supported within my own family, I came to recognise that basic equality matters because its absence shrinks the human spirit and diminishes us all.
After viewing the unity, solidarity and goodwill generated by the vote in Ireland last weekend I now recognise that gay marriage can be the pivot that shakes loose the shackles of oppression against the LGBT community across the board because it simply recognises us as an ordinary part of society, deserving of the same dignity and freedom as everyone else.
It was disturbing, therefore, to hear one of the Vatican’s top official diplomats, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, describing the referendum result as a “defeat for humanity.”
For the Vatican to describe a popular democratic vote in favour of gay marriage in such terms is shameful to say the least, especially when viewed in the context of the revelations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Australia, Ireland and elsewhere.
Surely now is the time for the Roman Catholic church to show some humility in reflecting on its own tarnished record rather than assuming the moral authority to tell an entire nation that its democratic will is a “defeat for humanity”.
On the contrary, gay marriage may represent one of the final hurdles to recognising that all of us, including the LGBT community, share a common humanity and deserve the same respect and fellow feeling.
No doubt for a Catholic country like Ireland to vote overwhelmingly in favour of gay marriage is a stiff slap in the face to a seriously damaged institution. We are now witnessing the rhetorical backlash.
In Australia, in the same week Bill Shorten prepares to bring a vote to the parliament on the issue, more shocking evidence spews forth from the royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse that serial paedophile and former Catholic priest Gerald Ridsdale, a man convicted of abusing over 50 boys over three decades, was protected by the upper echelons of church hierarchy.
Through its words and deeds the church has again demonstrated that it is unwilling or incapable of connecting the dots between the sexual repression that stems from rigid adherence to outdated moral codes and anti-human dogma.
The church stands guilty of the most shocking litany of abuses, and yet it won’t bend an inch to hear the popular will of the people on gay marriage. Until it does so, it’s difficult to see how the Roman Catholic church can really stand a chance of reconnecting with the modern world in which sexual diversity is recognised as being synonymous with shared humanity.
My journey is one that took me from heated exchanges with marriage equality activists to joining them on the front lines of protest. One wonders if we’ll ever live to see the day that the Catholic church is able to make its own journey to reconsider its position in the glaring light of the changes taking place around it.
This article first appeared in the Guardian