The first time I heard the polar bear joke, I was watching a television show over two decades ago. In it, a catholic priest was attempting to tell a woman that he loved her and I assume, that he would leave the priesthood to be with her. I think I may have held back a tear or two at the time, but I've always remembered that joke because there have been times when I can relate to the polar bear or, in this case, the priest.
Recently, I returned to Australia for a holiday with my wife. If you've ever made that journey from the northern hemisphere, it's a long one. I remember glancing at her as we flew over the north coast of Australia from our stopover in Singapore and having two thoughts. Firstly, I was thrilled to be returning home and I was thrilled she was with me. My second thought, however, left me feeling uneasy. I was embarrassed and disappointed that I was dragging my wife into a country where our marriage meant nothing in the eyes of the law.
We left England as a married couple, with the same rights as every other married couple in the UK, and if I'm being perfectly honest, it's a great feeling. I was saddened to have to accept that we wouldn't arrive at our destination with the same feeling, the same rights, and the same opportunities.
In case you're one of the many misinformed people of the world, marriage equality has not reached the shores of the so called "Lucky Country".
I'm no longer surprised by the shocked expressions of friends in the UK to hear that Australia doesn't have marriage equality. I no longer defend Australia when friends admit to not realising how "backward" Australia is. I simply nod when they joke that even New Zealand and America have marriage equality. Yes they do and it's fantastic. The latest comparison is Ireland. Even Ireland has marriage equality and those poor people had to have a referendum to make it happen.
What I do defend is Australians. Australians aren't backward. I believe the majority of Australians are in favour of marriage equality and I sincerely hope that next year, they vote for the political party that simply promises to do their job and legislate accordingly.
Jumping on my political high horse certainly isn't my favourite pastime, but I'm tired of being dismayed and disappointed by a country that is slowly becoming isolated from the rest of the world. I understand that there are countries in the world where gay people are murdered, pushed off buildings, and tortured, but I honestly think Australia can do better.
I loved being home in August. I loved spending precious time with my family and friends and I loved sharing that with my wife, but I couldn't help feel a little like the baby polar bear in the joke, not so much about who I am, but about where I belong.
In July, I left England to return home to Tasmania and three weeks later, I left Tasmania to return home to England.
Oh, and for those of you that don't know, here's the joke:
One day, up in the frozen north a polar bear and his son were out for a stroll. Daddy bear sat on a lump of ice to admire the view and sent his son off to play. Two minutes later Junior came back to dad and says, "Can I ask you a question Dad?"
"Sure, son what is it?"
"Am I a real polar bear, Dad?" asks Junior.
Dad smiles and says, "Of course you are, son. Now go and play."
So off Junior goes again to throw some snowballs at the seals. Soon he returns.
"Hey Dad, are you sure I am a real polar bear? Is there not a wee bit of brown bear or black bear in me?"
Dad smiles again and says, "Look son, you've got big hairy black feet, a white coat, and a black shiny nose, of course you're a polar bear, now off you go and play."
Once again Junior runs off, slides down the ice, chases a couple of seagulls and after ten minutes of fun he returns with a puzzled look on his face.
"Daaaad....are you absolutely sure I'm a polar bear?"
"Look son, I'm a polar bear, your mum's a polar bear, your granny and grandpa are polar bears. Why are you asking all these questions?"
Junior looks up and says, "Because I'm just so damned cold here! "