In 2010, George Valiotis and Danny Mogford took their love in their own hands and held a togetherness ceremony. Over 50 closest friends and family witnessed two people in love, two people joining in union in the only way they could.
The ceremony reflected their relationship – nurturing and homely. George incorporated Greek traditions to celebrate his culture, and Danny, being Jewish, did the same. George’s mother spoke freely in Greek about their union, and told stories from ancient Greek myths that honoured same-sex relationships.
After this, they made their vows completely unrehearsed and unwritten: straight from the heart and exchanged rings. The rings were given to the couple by Danny’s parents, made from gold that Danny’s uncle took with him when he fled Germany in World War II.
“It was nice to be told by his parents that his uncle Oscar, who made the rings, would have been very proud of me and Danny, and would have loved to have been there himself,” says George.
But still, George and Danny aren’t legally recognised as a married couple. The choice of marriage wasn’t theirs to have. The choice of calling someone your husband was taken away from them due to the Marriage Act. The choice of being someone’s life partner in the eyes of the law wasn’t even an option.
“I think it’s shameful and an absolute abuse of human rights,” he says.
“And it’s shameful because there’s a real power behind being able to go to a hospital and say I am here to see my husband … you don’t want to walk in and say I have legal rights, you want to walk in and say “he’s my partner, he is my life partner, I need you to talk to me about what is going on”.
In Australia, this sentiment is being echoed. Public and political support for same-sex marriage is growing. Over 80 per cent of Australian’s believe that MPs should be given a conscious vote on this issue. And while the Australian Labor Party has given their MPs the vote, the Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott is remaining firm on his choice not to support any reforms to the Marriage Act. This week, Abbott went as far as warning his MPs against crossing the floor to support gay marriage.
But social commentators are saying that the opposition leader is out of touch with what Australian’s want. What the 80 plus per cent of Australians are fundamentally saying is they want discrimination removed from the federal Marriage Act to give same-sex couples the choice to marry or not.
The Australia Marriage Equality national convenor Alex Greenwich has predicted that there is a real chance Australia will see a reform to the Marriage Act in the coming year for two reasons – the strong public support and that Tony Abbott’s stance is going to be viewed as prolonging an unnecessary debate.
For George, the debate is taking too long. Although not necessarily a believer in the model of marriage, he questions why he doesn’t have the same basic human rights as other heterosexual couples.
“I remember asking Danny ‘when do we stop being just boyfriend and boyfriend? What’s our marker for when we are serious? How do we tell the world that we’re not just dating?'”
Voting in favour of same-sex marriage is giving people the basic human right to choose whether or not they want to marry their life partner regardless of gender and sexuality. As it stands, the unions between man and woman are legally recognised.
When George voted in last year’s election, he was torn over which party to vote for. What Australians consider when choosing a political party to govern their country was taken away from George. As a gay man, he voted entirely on which political party would represent his human rights, which he felt was unfair.
“I think it’s shameful that in that same decision [the vote] to decide what’s good for my country – for the economy of Australia and for broader policies – I found myself voting for my sexuality as a priority.”
Although Prime Minister Julia Gillard has given Federal MPs the right for a conscious vote, she is still opposed to changes to the Marriage Act. But a dinner, won at a charity by activist group GetUp!, at The Lodge in February next year may change her mind.
Three same-sex couples will have dinner with the PM during next year’s parliamentary debate on legislating same-sex marriage and try and sway her to changing her stance on this issue. George is hoping that the Australian PM changes her mind too.
“I think a country that fundamentally is built on the human rights of each of their individuals is a more prosperous country.”
“Right now Australia is built on oppressing lots of people; from Aboriginal people to gay people and keeping their rights oppressed because it’s easier for them and I think once we have better attention to human rights then the country will prosper.”