Ringing in the change


Friday Forum


Marriage has certainly made the news in the past few weeks.

“The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince Harry to Ms. Meghan Markle.”

“…61.6 per cent of clear responses were yes.” – David Kalisch, ABS chief statistician.

Both announcements, in their own way, reflect the incredible social changes that have occurred throughout the past few decades.

The short tweet from Clarence House, the home of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla (the Duchess of Cornwall), sparked a media frenzy throughout the western world.

The acceptance of an American divorcee marrying into the British royal family illustrates how far society has come. In the 1930s an American divorcee marrying into the royal family caused an international scandal when the King was forced to abdicate his throne.

While perhaps the most apt headline was ‘Successful actress to marry former soldier’, some conservative commentators clung to tradition, questioning Ms Markle’s ‘suitability’ as a princess.

It is jarring to realise that attitudes that seem ridiculous to us were very much in evidence when Prince Harry’s mother was judged good princess material as a shy 19-year-old, and fated to enter a doomed marriage.

While the Queen of England is still this country’s head of state, the second announcement regarding marriage is far more relevant to her subjects in Australia.

The overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote for marriage equality led to rainbow parties throughout the land. Young and old, straight and LGBTI joined together in a celebration of what some commentators have called Australia’s ‘coming of age’.

Along with the celebrations were those who lamented the decision as evidence of society’s moral decay.

Many of those celebrating would recall that in the same year Harry’s father took a suitable virgin as his wife, homosexual acts between consenting adults was still punishable by law in New South Wales, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. In fact, it was only after the intervention of the High Court of Australia that the Tasmanian Government reluctantly repealed the state’s anti-homosexuality laws.

The Tasmanian law was finally repealed in 1997, the year Prince Harry’s mother died.

For some people, particularly those who have led lives of privilege, change can be difficult and confronting. The ‘good old days’ might be real, but only for a very select few.

It is doubtful that older members of the LGBTI community carry fond schoolyard memories. There would be little nostalgia for more innocent times from First Peoples forced from traditional lands who, along with migrants and refugees that struggled to learn the language of their adopted country, faced overt and accepted racism on a daily basis.

Few women trapped in oppressive marriages, or compelled to relinquish babies for adoption, would lament the adoption of ‘no fault’ divorce or support for single parents.

Sometimes legislation is merely catching up to changing social values.

At other times, social norms are slow to change. The recent outpouring of sexual and other types of abuse allegations against those in positions of power reveals that, in spite of legislation, old habits die-hard.

It would seem that some men have yet to acknowledge that demeaning, bullying, intimidating behaviour is no longer acceptable (or legal). Like undisciplined toddlers, many have been slow to learn that their every desire cannot be sated immediately. As the relics of the past stamp their feet and sulk, women are bravely continuing to expose appalling behaviour.

There is no doubt change can be confronting. Whether it is changing jobs, learning new skills, making new friends or asserting your rights; leaving the old for something new and unknown challenges us to reassess long-held views and habits.

The next few months will bring much guilty pleasure as many of us revel in the details of a ‘fairy tale’ wedding between two people we don’t know.

But for all the tradition, pomp and ceremony, the wedding of an heir to the throne to an American actor of mixed race reminds us that marriage represents hope for the future and the power of love. Because – as we have affirmed in Australia this month – love is love.

What do you think are the most profound societal changes, either good or bad, that you have seen?

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