While British couple David and Marco Bulmer-Rizzi were celebrating their new marriage with a honeymoon in Australia, tragedy struck. David, a healthy 32-year-old, died suddenly.
On David’s death certificate, his marital status was listed as “never married”, and it wasn’t due to a clerical error. The issue is way bigger than that, and implicates Australia’s issues with civil rights.
David and Marco were visiting friends in Adelaide during their honeymoon when David fell down a staircase. He suffered from severe inflammation of the brain and a cracked skull and was taken to intensive care. There was nothing the hospital could do to save him, and Marco was told that his husband would die within 24 hours.
The story is devastating. Two men, celebrating their love together, suddenly struck by tragedy.
But the horrendous experience did not stop there. It was while making funeral arrangements that Marco was told that in the state of South Australia — where David died — same-sex marriages are not legally recognised. Consequently, David’s marital status was listed as “never married” on his death certificate.
Because of the lack of legal recognition Marco was also denied his next-of-kin status, and it was David’s father who was consulted for funeral and burial decisions. Marco told BuzzFeed, “I was completely overlooked.”
Australia has a difficult history with marriage equality. Most Australians agree that same-sex couples should have a right to marry. Yet it has been difficult to get politicians to make any progression toward equality. In fact, there was significant regression in 2004, when the then-Prime Minister John Howard reformed the Marriage Act to define marriage as being “the union of a man and a woman”. Prior to this, it would have been possible for individual states or courts to define marriage far more broadly.
So, despite mounting support for marriage equality in Australia, the laws have actually become more restrictive. The discrimination spreads further in that most Australian jurisdictions do not recognise same-sex relationships that have been entered into overseas.
After being informed of the horrible ordeal that Marco has faced, the Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill, has said that he will apologise to the families affected. He has also now vowed to change a suite of discriminatory laws in his state, saying that South Australia should recognise marriages entered into overseas. “It is another example of how senseless discrimination of sexual orientation can cause pain and hurt,” he said.
His comment is spot on. It is important to remember that the way laws are shaped can deeply and fundamentally affect individuals. In Australia, politicians float opinions on the possibility of a vote on same-sex marriage after the next election; some deny the importance of reform; some express very niche, and offensive views; and many are held captive by a powerful, and conservative, Christian Lobby Group. All the while, the relationships of citizens and visitors alike are being undermined. People like Marco are all but ignored at a time when they should be supported.
There is a mistake in conceptualising civil rights, including the right to love, as political toys which can be manipulated to advance careers and affirm power. When politicians play these games, they’re playing with people’s lives and emotions. They forget those toys are real people.