Choosing yes, from Manila to Singapore to Melbourne

 

If someone told me 20 years ago I would be writing this story down in Australia, I would have laughed in their faces.

It would have made me laugh even more if they told me I would be sitting on the couch with my annoying yet cute cat, in a committed relationship with an amazing person who finds my quirks endearing (though probably irritating at times), living in a state of domestic, stable, almost-at-the-edge-of-boring coupledom.

I would have doubled over if they’d suggested this would be just the way I’d like it. That I’d be happy, partnered and living in Australia. Who would have guessed that – as an added bonus – my perfect mate would turn out to be a woman!

My partner and I have been together for almost six years now.

We met in Manila, our birthplace. We lost contact for years, until we coincidentally saw each other in one of the train stations in Singapore where we were both based at the time. It took several months before the stars aligned for us to be together. Somewhere in there is the plot for a chick flick but, for all intents and purposes we are just like any other couple.

We live in the same house, we split the chores and the bills, we share meals and stories of our days, meet each other’s’ friends and families, plan weekends and holidays. We argue, we bicker. We are as ordinary as they get.

After a time together in Singapore, we made plans to move to Australia.

As far as the paperwork was concerned, it didn’t matter that we are both women as long as we could prove that we “shared a life together to the exclusion of others”. Documents should be easy peasy, given that that was exactly what we did, right? WRONG.

Not in Singapore where we endured the bank teller’s questions as to why we were opening a joint account when we didn’t share the same surname. We said we were housemates and it would be the rent and utilities fund. Definitely not in the Notary Public’s office, where they assumed we are cousins because we were processing our immigration papers at the same time. And my personal favourite, not for the shipping company representative who kept on referring to “my friend” when I would clearly say “my partner”.

Despite these challenges, Australia recognised us as a genuine de facto couple.

We smiled for weeks.

Life has been kind to us in Melbourne. It was a slow adjustment to life here as an openly gay couple at the start, because it was second nature for us not to attract attention in public. Growing up gay in Asia does that to you.

By “attracting attention” I mean making sure that whenever we were in public together, we looked like friends instead of a couple. We soon found that people didn’t mind, and that we really shouldn’t care.

We were free to hold hands and sit close together. We could kiss each other goodbye when we separated on our way to work, me heading to my train and she getting on to her tram. We had no problems setting things up with the bank. We didn’t have to awkwardly explain why we don’t have a boyfriend, fiancé, or a husband.

To say that I am puzzled as to why Australia needs a postal vote on marriage equality is an understatement.

If the immigration requirements welcome couples of any permutation, then the government must be accepting as well, isn’t it? How can allowing a same-sex couples enjoy the benefits of a marriage be a threat to “traditional family values”? Is it wrong to dream and plan your own family? It may just be a piece of paper but marriage also provides a solid, official, law-bound declaration of a decision to spend the rest of one’s life with another. Why are we getting denied the chance to plan our perfect weddings and hyphenate our names?

I remember having a conversation with my parents when I was very young. We were watching a movie on the television and I blurted out “what if I marry someone you don’t approve of?” They looked at me and replied, “as long as they love you, it will be OK”. I don’t think they knew at that time that their own daughter would want to spend her adult life in a “wrong” relationship.

If I were to ask them what makes that relationship “wrong”, it would be because the Catholic Church said so.

Never mind that we are faithful and loyal to each other. Ignore the fact that we are also worried about the economy, the threat of war, and retirement, like so many in our community. Who would care about the fact that the more I see how my partner takes care of me, of us, the more that I believe that God loves me?

Some people say that being gay is a choice. I’d like to ask them: why would anyone choose to be treated like a second class citizen? Why would anyone in their right mind choose to be shunned by their own families because they are considered a disgrace? Who would choose to live a life where society says that they don’t have a right to call their union a marriage just because they are not one man and one woman?

Surely, only the deepest kind of love could enable a person to make the most challenging of choices in order to “share a life together”?

And still, the optimist in me sees some hope in this postal survey.

If only because it forces us to question our motives, our morals, our ideas of equality. It begs to ask if we are putting ourselves on the right side of history.

I am hoping for a favourable outcome for the “Yes” vote, though I know that the battle is far from being won. It really is quite simple in my head. I pay my taxes and I follow the rules and the law in Australia. I don’t get a free pass on speeding or a tax discount just for being gay. Why then should I have less rights than anyone else?

 

Carina Nodora

Author: Carina Nodora

Carina Nodora likes to think that she wisely chooses her battles. She's lost some of them but won the important ones. Her most recent victory is deciding who gets to clean the cat's litter box (hint: not her). She finds it weird to write about herself in the third person but does it from time to time to annoy her friends. She also hopes to live long enough to see a world where people are judged by their actions and not by skin colour, race, religion, gender, or political affiliation.

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