Reverend Dr Avril Hannah-Jones
Minister, Williamstown Uniting Church
11 August 2017
This is based on a letter I wrote to several Victorian senators asking them to support marriage equality when a Bill on the topic finally makes it to the Senate. Initially I wasn’t going to share this letter at all; then I was only going to share it with Friends on Facebook. Despite having done it quite often over the last twenty years, a couple of times on national television, I hate ‘coming out’. It makes me sick to my stomach. I am always afraid that people will reject me, and especially afraid that people will reject my ministry and no longer allow me to pastor them, if they know that I belong in that very complicated LGBTIQ acronym. (I claim the B and the Q.) I do not have a partner and am not planning to ever have a partner, so it is easy for me to stay quiet. But today silence feels like cowardice. And if me being open about who I am can help even one young person feel better about who they are, then it’s worth it. Without amazing lesbian and bisexual Uniting Church women like Dorothy McRae-McMahon and so many others I would not be here. I want to follow their examples and live with courage.
I am bisexual. Acknowledging that was an important part of my recovery when I was diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of twenty-two, in 1995. I express my sexuality through a commitment to celibacy. My family, friends and church all find that a little odd; the Uniting Church in Australia does not have a tradition of ministers choosing to live a celibate life in order to better serve God. Nevertheless that is how I identify sexually, as a celibate bisexual.
In one way, the debate on whether or not same-sex couples can marry does not affect me. I have no plans to ever marry. In two other ways I am deeply affected.
State and religious recognition of a person’s right to marry the partner of their choice is one way in which that person is acknowledged to be a responsible human being. This is why the church has recognised the marriages of slaves throughout history, and why in the past the state refused indigenous people the right to marry here in Australia. As long as same-sex couples are unable to marry all of us, all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people, feel that church and state are telling us that we are not fully human, lesser beings than heterosexuals. As a person who expresses my sexuality through celibacy I feel that pain as deeply as my friends who wish to marry their same-sex partners.
I am also affected because as a marriage celebrant I am currently unable to celebrate the marriages of those friends, or of any other same-sex couples who approach me. I love being a marriage celebrant. It is one of the best parts of being a minister of religion. I rejoice with every couple who comes to the church for a wedding, because I believe that God is love and so in the love between spouses I see God. I want to be able to marry all couples who seek God’s blessing, regardless of the sex or gender of the parties. I believe that the God I worship, the God who was revealed to the world through Jesus who told us to love one another as he loved us, encourages and supports committed, faithful, life-long marital love regardless of the sex or gender of the partners.
The Uniting Church in Australia is currently discussing the issue of marriage equality. The Church has not said that we support marriage equality, but unlike many other Christian denominations we have not said that we oppose it. I hope that the Uniting Church will be able to agree that Uniting Church ministers may marry same-sex couples, as the Uniting Church has already agreed that LGBTIQ people may be full members and ordained ministers of the Church. But even if the Uniting Church makes this decision, I will still not be able to celebrate the marriages of same-sex couples until the Marriage Act is changed.
I am aware that some people are arguing that Australian Christians speak with one voice against marriage equality, and that is not true. People of faith hold different views on this question. I must respect those of my Christian sisters and brothers who oppose marriage equality, as I hope they respect me.
I believe, however, that justice speaks with a single voice. If LGBTIQ people are citizens of Australia, we have all the rights and responsibilities of other citizens. This surely includes the right and responsibility to have our marriages recognised on the same bases as the marriages of other Australians.
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This article was originally published on Avril's Blog.