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SSM: Australia's Chinese community express concern about same-sex marriage

Two people kiss behind a rainbow flag
90,000 extra Australians enrolled ahead of the same-sex marriage postal survey.

ABC News: Margaret Burin

Many members of Australia's Chinese community were brought up to believe same-sex relationships are abnormal, and with the SSM debate becoming more prominent in recent months, a divisive split is emerging.

The ugly side of the debate has deterred many from speaking publicly on the issue, including Nancy and April who represent both sides of the debate but wish to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.

Nancy: SSM being legalised would be like 'opening Pandora's Box'

Nancy moved to Australia eight years ago and is a stay-at-home mother of two school-aged children. She admits her English is limited and most of the information about same-sex marriage she has received is through Chinese social media channels.

Nancy says she neither supports or opposes same-sex marriage.

"If [same-sex couples] just want a certificate so that their relationship will be recognised, I am totally fine with it as long as our life is not affected," Nancy says.

She believes, however, things are far beyond being that simple.

Although Nancy can't identify what will be released once the "box" is open, she said the Safe Schools program which was also heatedly debated in the Chinese community, is a very good example.

"For example, everybody is talking about things like we won't be putting in dad or mum when filling in forms, instead we have to put in 'parent' which doesn't identify the gender," Nancy explains, saying this is what has been discussed in the WeChat group chats.

Nancy says most of the people in the WeChat groups she is in are against same-sex marriage or the Safe Schools program. They tend to think these are two issues that are related. Like Nancy does, they fear once same-sex marriage is legalised, kids will be more exposed to same sex information and more likely to become homosexual.

"The kids are a piece of blank paper. You are writing something that has not naturally happened in their life," Nancy says.

"What they've seen since there were young kids is that there is a mum and a dad in a family. Suddenly, mum and dad become one gender. Kids are curious and love to copy. I am afraid they would think this is fun or this is normal."

April: "We not only want the right to get married, we want real equality"

April is an accountant who has been living in Melbourne for over 10 years. She has known she is gay since high school.

"I believe people shouldn't be treated differently because of their sexuality. No matter you like boys or girls or even both, that is your personal preference," April says.

In China, gays and lesbians were on the list of mental illnesses until 2001. Generations of Chinese people have been growing up with a strong perception that being gay or lesbian is abnormal.

marriage equality
Marriage equality is important to April, who wishes to marry her partner.

Pexels.

April is lucky she has the support from her friends, but coming out to her parents was much more overwhelming.

"Like other parents, my mum initially was cautiously trying to find out if it's possible to change me," April says.

"She would ask if this is a psychological issue which could be cured. And my dad is very worried that I might end up with no child and having no one to look after myself when I am old."

April says her parents now accept who she is, but some of her gay friends however, are not so lucky.

"Most of my gay friends who have come out to their parents are having a really hard time with them, and have even stopped talking to or seeing their families," April says.

April has a girlfriend in China. She would like to bring her over to Australia so that they can start as a family. As same-sex marriage is not legalised in Australia, they can't get married and April can't apply for a spouse visa for her partner.

Her partner is currently applying for a working holiday visa to come to Australia and live with April for at least 12 months before she can apply for a de facto partner visa.

April hopes same-sex marriage will be legalised in Australia, not only because she needs it, but also because it's the first step towards marriage equality and real equality for LGBTI people.

"We not only want marriage rights, we also want a real equality. When the dream comes true, there won't be any difference between same-sex marriage and opposite sex marriage. It won't even be necessary to discuss this issue."

Fears over debate on SSM

Associate Professor Olivia Khoo from Monash University studies Asian culture in modern Australia, and observes there has been "a divisive split" amongst the Chinese community on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Because of that, neither April or Nancy would like to make their full name public. Nancy says what happened to Dr Pansy Lai, who appeared in a No Campaign advertisement, was quite frightening.

"People having families like me fear that our normal life will be disturbed or even our life safety will be threatened. It could affect my families or friends," Nancy says.

April is worried that if her name and image was published, her parents who are now living with her in Melbourne would be under huge pressure.

"They have made many new friends here, some of whom are from the church. They clearly indicated that being in a same sex relationship is a crime. I think these talks must have harmed my parents," April says.

Dr Khoo says this is understandable.

"I can understand why people wouldn't want to be identified when speaking out about such a polarising issue, particularly when they face ostracism, backlash, or other negative repercussions from their community," Dr Khoo says.

Both Nancy and April still say it's important to have a healthy conversation among all sides on this issue. Only by doing so people can understand each other better and have a more complete picture of the truth.

This story was originally published in Chinese for Australia Plus.