Battle for marriage equality


Chris Teoh and Ivan Hinton on their wedding day in Canberra.
Chris Teoh and Ivan Hinton on their wedding day in Canberra.

Ivan Hinton has overcome his fair share of adversity.

Growing up gay in a small country town can either make a person withdraw from the harsh world, feel ashamed and undervalued or it can arm them with resilience, the inner strength and personal resolve to achieve amazing feats.

Ivan fits into the latter. Perhaps not always, but now these characteristics are what defines him.

Attending Tumut Public School, McAuley Catholic School and then Tumut High School, Ivan endured the tough times and isolation of a labelled child.

Called gay and other names from an early age that he would not understand until many years later has certainly left a mark on Ivan.

These taunts, the isolation and the uncertainty of where his future lay though have also provided Ivan with the drive and the passion to make a difference. A real concrete difference.

His aim is to change the way young men and women, who are already grappling with their sexuality, think about their future.

“Growing up I felt so alone,” Ivan said. “When you are gay and young and coming to terms with your sexuality, there are so many other things attached.

“What life path will you have? Why can’t we have one that includes unwavering love and respect and commitment and marriage?

“Gay people often already suffer a disconnect so to add in no access to marriage, it forms a void, a

horrible prospect of never being able to marry the person you love.”

“I left Tumut as soon as I could for my own self preservation. It was tough but I got through it.”

With the support of his parents, Dianne and Ian Hinton, Ivan was able to rebel against his feeling of disconnect and came out on the other side of adolescence as a strong minded and kind hearted man who knew his destiny lay in helping shift the winds of change.

“Now I am obviously delighted and relieved that at my darkest point during growing up I didn’t drive into ongoing traffic like I often felt like doing,” Ivan said. “A great sign of the progress we have made is many of those most unsupportive of me during high school are now Facebook friends and supportive of the push for equality in marriage.

“I didn’t want to miss out on marriage. My parents and grand parents modelled that type of love and partnership so well, I am fighting against missing out on that.”

As the Deputy Director of Australian Marriage Equality, Ivan is presently at the forefront of bringing about a change that many view as a basic human right.

The right to marry the person you love.

On December 7 Ivan married his partner of 11 years, Chris Teoh in a ceremony at Old Parliament House in Canberra.

They joined 31 couples who embraced the union of marriage and were married in front of family and friends under the ACT Marriage Equality Act. It was the second time Ivan and Chris had exchanged vows, with the pair marrying in Canada five years ago.

With limited opportunity for Ivan to prepare for the event due the ensuing media storm that was attached the landmark ceremonies, the wedding soon became a display of community acceptance and love.

“All I had organised was the patch of grass to get married on, the celebrant and a jazz band who are our neighbours to play,” Ivan laughed. “I mentioned that in a media conference then the phone started to ring. People donated, lent and provided at cost our entire wedding.

“It was overwhelming. The Canberra Convention Bureau jumped on board and pulled out all stops, they went beyond all our expectations.

“It was such a community experience, but someone said to me after isn’t that what weddings should be about?

Ivan and Chris’ bliss was short-lived.

Knowing a decision that would end their marriage could be handed down within days of saying I do, when the blow was delivered it was devastating.

Australia’s High Court struck down the landmark law last Thursday which had legally permitted the country’s first gay marriages to occur.

Those who stood side by side in matrimony, like Ivan and Chris, were shattered, their marriages annulled less than a week after their weddings.

What has followed for Ivan has been a time of turmoil, worldwide media interviews and despite the disappointment, his steadfast determination to marry Chris remains intact.

“It was devastating when the High Court decision was handed down,” Ivan said. “It was a definite possibility, but this was not something I could remain subjective about. It is a set back but it was not a judgement about gay marriage. It has provided us with the roadmap forward to make marriage equality happen.

“Until 2004 the marriage act didn’t state man and woman, but it was changed to prevent a lesbian couple who had married overseas having their marriage acknowledged in Australia.”

The high court’s decision affirmed for the first time that the federal parliament has the power to enact same-sex marriage laws.

The court agreed that the parameters of marriage can change over time, there were already precedents. Marriage is not frozen in time and the court acknowledging this has Ivan on the front foot.

“The last 10 days has been like nothing I have lived through before,” Ivan admitted to the Times. “The international media attention is huge, world-wide people are looking for a positive change and they thought it was coming from Australia.

“I have spoken to media from England, Japan, Canada and across Europe as well as Australia. It is an international issue and everyone is looking for signs of progress.”

The knock-back of the ACT Marriage Equality Act was due to the manner in which the ACT created the laws. The ACT went in a different direction to the other states who are also trying to create equality in marriage.

Experienced in law through partially completing a law degree in Canberra after he first left Tumut at the age of 18, Ivan is ready for his fight for equality.

The 38-year-old stumbled into his current position of Deputy Director of Australian Marriage Equality quite by accident.

“I was doing a lot for the cause behind the scenes and then a video I posted on YouTube that included Chris and our families regarding marriage equality and it went viral,” Ivan said. “Quite quickly I became deputy and have been pushing for federal change since.

“Chris and I are surrounded by respect, love and inclusion within our community. People relate to our life experiences as they similar to everyone else and our hopes and aspirations are the same.”

Far removed from the small town fear of homosexuality and reluctance to accept differences that plagued his early years, Ivan rarely sees the hate and intolerance that can accompany gay rights.

He is calm in his manner when discussing those who speak up the loudest against homosexuality.

“The people that are mentally imbalanced are the ones that hate,” Ivan said. “They are a small minority. Those who don’t hate but oppose change, don’t know us or don’t want to as it is much easier to deny someone what many consider a basic right, when you can’t relate to them.

“They put us in a box and refuse to look at the issue of marriage equality as a right everyone deserves.”

The issue of religion is often used as a counter against differing sexual orientations. Ivan believes everyone possessing the right to marry is not a religious issue, nor does the Uniting Church minister that conducted his and Chris’s wedding.

“As a country that celebrates the idea of religious freedom, I do not believe we will have that freedom until we have marriage equality,” Ivan said. “This is not an issue of religion versus marriage equality and inclusion. Regardless of religion, race and sexual orientation we all have the right to equality.

“The strongest motivator in my push for marriage equality is the personal struggle I had growing up in Tumut.

“I was desperately looking for examples of where my future lay whilst living in that isolation. I want there to be hope for the younger people who are coming to terms with their sexuality that one certainty in their future it that they can marry the person they chose to love. Unconditionally.”

Ivan is not the only one charging full steam ahead since the High Court ruling.

Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek, is seeking to enlist the Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in Federal Parliament as a co-sponsor to legalise gay marriage.

Th aim is to put pressure on the Coalition government over the issue and Ms Plibersek says she will introduce a private member’s bill to legislate for same-sex marriage.