Written by Elizabeth Plant
Two days ago I was sitting in my local café, in an area which, I later discovered, had a majority NO vote in this Marriage Equality postal survey – or what I like to call “This Whole Ridiculousness”. I was sitting with another Pastor, a straight male, with my phone on speaker listening to the results live stream through the radio station while also waiting to be interviewed. (The interview was a total shamozzle and a completely hilarious fail – another story entirely).
My wife Bec was away on a work trip and would be mid-flight when the announcement was made. I had promised her that I would message her as soon as I knew what the result was so that when she landed, she would hear it from me first.
I am NEVER going through something like this without her again!
Up until David Kalisch began to speak, I was okay. I hadn’t slept the night before, keeping watch on Facebook and praying for peace over those who couldn’t sleep, battling the anxiety and insomnia that has become part our existence over these past few months – noticeable from the bags under our eyes and the slight slump in our shoulders. But I was okay. Basically.
I had a confusion of feelings, wanting him to hurry up and spit it out and at the same time needing time to stand still. There was silence except for the white noise of the café and my own pulse. As David announced the numbers, they came at me like waves every few seconds in my mind… “79.5% of voters…”… “12,727,920”… “7,817,247 of clear responses were yes”… “61.6%…”… a quick mental calculation and then – shock.
I covered my mouth with my hand and with tears I buried my head in the shoulder of my friend and cried. He put his arm around me and gently said, “Congratulations”. In that moment, we two Christians, one LGBQTI and one straight, represented what This Whole Ridiculousness should have been about.
My first thought was for all of the people I have spent time with physically, emotionally, online and spiritually over the past few months. I felt a relief that perhaps these friends that I have counselled may be thinking for the first time, ‘They don’t hate us!’ – a burden that so many of us have carried over years and decades, in our flesh and bones, in our memories and our scars… ‘We are not enough’. Their faces ran through my mind like a film on fast-forward.
It took a while for the result to sink in. I stayed in that café for another two and half hours, ignoring the vibration of my phone and the constant flow of messages because I needed to try and process what had just happened. After a while I managed to check my Facebook newsfeed and saw rainbow after rainbow after rainbow! I made my status. I was still in shock, but happiness was seeping in.
Bec and I had organised for our home to be open that night, regardless of what the decision was. And to be honest, I hadn’t actually prepared for a win. Deep down I believed the answer would be ‘yes’, but after decades of hearing ‘No!’, it somehow seemed unwise to assume. These past few months have seen so many unexpected horrors that I needed to stay in a space where I could give and receive consolation and encouragement should the vote not go our way. Providing a space to grieve was something we had to prepare for.
Now that we finally had an affirmative vote, I didn’t really know how to celebrate. Even as I write this, I realise this was partly because, as part of a community that has had hopes for equality, acceptance and love crushed time after time, I am used to not setting expectations for change anymore. Hoping for it, yes, but not expecting. My joyful response didn’t come at once for me, it was more of a slow leak.
That night, I went to bed lighthearted and overflowing.
The next morning, I woke up lighthearted and overflowing.
Things were different.
Then during the day, my heart started to ache. Because the work isn’t done. Because the cost has been so high. Because not all of the responses have been positive. Because throughout This Whole Ridiculousness, rifts have formed between friends, between families and between faith communities. Because a ‘yes’ vote doesn’t undo or heal the damage done. Because of the violence and hate our community has had to endure, and still endures. Because of the lives that have been lost and stolen.
More than that, and perhaps surprisingly, it’s also because I know that people on the ‘No’ side are genuinely aching and sorrowful because of their religious beliefs. And their pain hurts me because they are family too. And I know it is unnecessary pain, but I understand it. Nothing I can say or do will help. I want to reach out and say to them what I have been saying the past few years to the Christian LGBTQI family, which is that God is not surprised. Our hope is not in government or in leaders or in democracy. Our hope is in Jesus. He is our defender and our shield. He is the author and the finisher of our faith. Our eyes and focus and love and devotion and hope are in Him. But it’s not yet my place.
I wasn’t too happy about this pain that I felt, and I told God so. He is always with the brokenhearted. Even if we don’t think that they should be hurting or if we don’t understand why their hearts should be broken. He reminded me to, “Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice.”
It’s important to take the time to rejoice. Too many people didn’t see this moment. Too many people didn’t make it. And for some reason, here we are. Getting to witness this. To be a part of it. To process it. For such a time as this. There is much weeping that has been done, and is still yet to be done. But standing together in the rejoicing, whether it is by dancing down Oxford St draped in a flag and glitter, or sitting on my lounge room floor holding a party favour and a rainbow paddle pop, or being with someone you love and a bottle of champagne, or just a quiet cup of tea… we need to rejoice together. It is what strengthens us for the times we will be weeping.
And even as I write this I realise again where my pain sits – our validation didn’t come from the Church. It came from our country. And this is MY ache. My pain has largely been caused in the name of the Church, and yet it has been eased outside of it. The number of Christian allies is rising and I am so, so grateful. But this is the ache that I carry.
I am still processing. But one thing I know for sure, God was not surprised by This Whole Ridiculousness. I know that God has our back, that He loves us and that we are okay with Him. He told me years ago to stop waiting for the wider Church community to validate us -to bless and to pray, to worship and seek.
He hasn’t failed me yet. And my hope remains in Him.
Feature image: http://instagram.com/story_of_us
Elizabeth and her wife Bec are pastors of Spark Church in Penshurst, Sydney