My mother and the non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey on same-sex marriage

Here’s a modest contribution to Australia’s ‘debate’ on same-sex marriage.

My mother and the non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey on same-sex marriage

My long-dead mother would have voted yes.
She’d be five score and four this year and still
devoutly Catholic, her faith no less.
The Church’s many scandals couldn’t kill
her heart’s still centre. I believe she’d bless
a Jack who’d wed a Jack, a Jill a Jill.
You say she’s voiceless now to say I’m wrong?
I’ll put my case. Read on. It’s not too long.

Point 1. Back then, I doubt Mum would have thought
that marriage was a right. More like a duty,
a sacrament, life sentence – though the sort
she had embraced. Outside it, rooty-tooty
[not her term] was forbidden. She was taught
that when you wed you’re locked, her nuptial beauty
(she wore her mother’s veil) proclaimed a life
henceforth not hers: five children’s mum, Dad’s wife.

When my first son was born some forty years
ago, we’d skipped the patriarchal rite.
She wouldn’t talk. No worse if I’d hurled spears
into her heart, it seemed rebellious spite.
But she might lose a son, her worst of fears.
‘Your baby’s in my prayers,’ she said one night,
and later (did a priest give her the nod?)
she said, ‘You’re married in the eyes of God.’

Heart led. Head followed as its mate,
not as its slave. Her reasoning was sound.
The sacrament needs neither priest nor state:
what’s sacred is the vows. And so the ground
had shifted. It was 1978.
And not just her. She asked her friends and found
her story echoed back. That coin was spent.
Non-marriage had become a non-event.

Point 2. A woman heard mass every day
in Innisfail for decades, but she never
took Communion: public price to pay
for marrying a man divorced. Whenever
Mum spoke of her, compassion steely-grey
and horror at the cruelty would hover
in her voice. The Church gave so much pain.
Thanks be to God the State was more humane.

Point 3. She rarely spoke of sex. She burned
her Female Eunuch (‘Why write about that?’).
She was in her fifties when she learned
that same-sex sex existed – in a chat
with youngest daughter. Memories now churned
to yield new meanings: like the nun who spat
such puzzling venom when two schoolgirls kissed
each other’s lips (they’d aimed for cheeks and missed).

Or Rod, the tenor star of Merry Widow,
White Horse Inn in local Choral Soc:
she’d called him pompous, now knew he was ho-
mo-sexual – a wonder, not a shock.
To see his lover (male) he had to go
two hundred miles each way. She didn’t mock.
Lover? Not her word. Mate? Boyfriend? Friend?
The language failed her. Could it ever mend?

Of sixteen grandkids, two came out as queer.
The Church said they offended God above.
’Don’t shout it from the rooftops,’ said her fear,
but they were hers and when push comes to shove
head follows heart. Her heart’s deep idea:
Thou never shalt disown the ones you love.
She’d pray for them, part hoping they’d be cured,
most wishing for them happiness assured.

Point 4. The love and marriage song, the rhyme
with horse and carriage broken. Church and State:
you can have one without the other. Crime
if Church law hurts these children, but she’ll wait:
a pope will change it. State law: now’s the time –
the State asks her opinion – now that gate
can open. Put an end to this distress.
She’d opt for love, her love, and she’d tick Yes.

She’d sympathise with Abbott, I suppose,
and his split lip. She’d certainly abhor
Ben Law’s most famous tweet, and hold her nose,
but she’d tick Yes, Yes, Yes. Of that I’m sure.

Go little verse, more heavenly than prose,
float up to meet the eyes of Esme Shaw.
I hope, on reading it, not only she
but all the saints and angels would agree.


13 responses to “My mother and the non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey on same-sex marriage

  1. Beautifully told and I’m certain it is spot on .


  2. I like the sound of your mum:)
    I can’t guess how mine would have voted.
    if not Yes, then hopefully they would have cancelled each other out!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jonathan: From here in Atrani (through the pedestrian tunnel) from alongside Amalfi – having walked the Pathway of the Gods to-day from Bomerano to Nocelle – a luncheon overlooking the Sea – and just down there (2,000 steps down, btw) Positano – to which we later walked – then the ferry to Amalfi – your appealing verse built around a marvellous mother reminds me of the nonsense going on back in Australia and that we are speaking of lives twisted by fundamentalist zealots such as Tony Abbott – the flaunting in red of his generative parts of far more ugliness than anything else I can compare it with – and your mother whose compassion for those whose love was expressed beyond the parameters she grew up with – an example to the nation. Bravo. Send it to The SMH – needs a wider audience!


  4. Thanks, Jim. It’s nice to have a glimpse of your travels. I hope you don’t get travel sick on the winding roads of the Amalfi coast. I sent a couple of queries out, but decided it didn’t make sense to wait any longer for a response, so the poem found it’s home here. I’m glad you like it


  5. Yes back in your mother’ day it was very different. As I pointed out in a recent blog on the Australian same sex marriage debate I can remember the time when Catholics were not allowed to marry non-Catholics in the church. Sounds like the same prejudice to me as what same sex couples are now experiencing. Thank God the Catholic church now has progressive thinkers like father Frank Brennan from the Australian Catholic University


    • Hi Debra. Your comment reminded me that back then it was unlawful for Catholics to married Protestants, but a marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptised person was not only unlawful but invalid. I don’t know if the Church’s position has changed on that, but I can’t see how it could. Yet there has been no statement that I’m aware of from the Bishops who oppose the legalisation same-sex marriage saying that they propose making it illegal for Catholics to marry Jews, or Muslims, or Sikhs. Anyway, it’s too late for arguments now.


  6. Yeah I’m not sure but Frank Brennan said on Q&A that his bishop and himself whilst believing in the sacrément of marriage in the church were not opposed to the légalisation of same sex marriage

    Liked by 1 person

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