Running and Protesting

“What a beautiful Sunday morning, the sun is out and the sky is blue, what shall we do dear”?, “How’s about running from the city to Bondi with 65000 others?”….and that’s how thousands of people started their day on Sunday 13th August. London has it’s Marathon and Sydney has it’s City 2 Surf run. Of course decisions weren’t probably quite as last minute but having been at the start of the race and looking at some of the runners you’d wonder if they just got out of bed and thought they’d give it a go.

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The route takes runners from Hyde Park in the city all the way out to Bondi, a distance of about 14.5km or 9 miles. For many it’s a serious race with weeks or months of training while trying to achieve their best time. For others it’s about dressing up in a Chicken suit or getting together with friends and painting yourselves all the colours of the rainbow. For other’s it’s just a nice stroll on a Sunday morning.

The weather was perfect, blue skies, not a cloud to be seen and a pleasant 18°C. The thought of taking part did cross my mind for a few days but rapidly passed. However having gone down to see the start of the race it really made me feel like taking part, instead I ran in the opposite direction to the gym and jogged for 30 mins on the treadmill, not quite the same I guess.

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Because of the massive number of participants the race winner had actually finished by the time the back of the pack were still crossing the start line. He took 45 minutes to do the course so you can get an idea of how long it took to get everyone through the start. Every runner was given a red cap creating a sea of red as they wound their way down to Sydney’s most famous beach.

Later in the afternoon I found myself walking back to Hyde Park as part of a protest against the government’s ban on same sex marriage. Ironically having moved to one of the gayest and most tolerant cities in the world it happens to be in one of the most conservative and backward thinking countries in the world. When Tony Blair was preparing to introduce Civil Unions in the UK, John Howard, the Aussie PM, was busy changing laws in the country to specifically state that marriage is a union between a woman and a man only.

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The protest comes on the 2nd anniversary of that change and was marked by protests across the country in state capitals and rural areas. About 1500 people gathered in Taylor Square on Oxford St to hear a few speeches and wave a few banners. It was a pretty subdued affair but the point was to be there, to be part of the march which held up traffic making it’s way from Taylor Sq to Hyde Park. It felt quite empowering and liberating, cars honked as they passed on the opposite side of the road. Of course it’s difficult to determine if a honk represents a sign of support or a sign of “Get off the f*cking road ya bunch of poofs!”.

This news story from 2004 reports the introduction of the ban. Note the quote which states “Most Australians recognise that marriage is a sacred union the most basic building block of society and the foundation of a family”. Then consider that Channel Ten, one of the most popular terrestrial TV networks here, recently ran a reality TV show called ‘Yasmin’s Getting Married’ in which a woman had 9 weeks to find a husband and get married. Is this the ‘sacred union’ and ‘building block of society’ they’re talking about? And they’re worried that letting gays get married would destroy that institution!! Oh the irony. Luckily that show was canned in 4 days, unfortunately not for being extraordinary hypocrisy but just for crap ratings.

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There should have been more of us. Considering Sydney is a city of 5 million people, even a ridiculously conservative estimate of 1% would put the number of gays, lesbians, bi’s, whatevers, at 50000, and yet there were 1500 of us. As we marched past the homo bars of Oxford St we were applauded and many people raised a glass to us, and that kinda says it all. Too many people are happy to sit on their arse, drinking, letting other people do the work for them.

Many an argument for not supporting this particular protest was the use of the word ‘marriage’. Why do we want to be part of a outdated institution which even a large percentage of heterosexuals choose not to be a part of? As far as I’m concerned I don’t want ‘marriage’ in the conventional religious sense. However the simple fact is I don’t even have a choice. Not having that choice means that should I have a partner we won’t be entitled to various other rights accorded to heterosexual couples who are married, such as pension, next of kin, tax, inheritance, and other financial rights.

One of the most poignant reminders of how this discrimination can affect someone is in death. Let’s say I have a partner whom I’ve been with for years, shared my life with and loved. He dies, be it suddenly or expected. Having been unable to ‘marry’ or have a civil union I have no legal right to be present by my partners bedside, I have no legal right to be present in the hospital, I have no legal right to be at the funeral, all because I am not legally recognised as next of kin. My years of love can be wiped away in seconds if his family choose to do so.

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I pay as much as tax as the next person so why should I not be entitled to those rights. Someone had a placard on the march which said it all; “1st Class Taxpayer, 2nd Class Citizen”….nuff said.

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