Marriage Equality Is Wellness at Work

As Australia finally recognises same-sex marriage, our workplaces are set to become far richer in ways we can’t begin to imagine.

A number of years ago, I worked in the corporate affairs business unit of a large organisation. As was customary before leaving the office for the weekend, our group got together around a breakout table and enjoyed a few drinks and nibbles together. It was a great way of transitioning from a work mindset to what the weekend had in store.

I remember one Friday where we had an occasion to celebrate the recent announcement of a colleague’s engagement. We toasted her wonderful news and the conversation was filled with excitement. We buzzed with anticipation about the wedding dress, bridesmaids, the hen’s night and the reception.

“Marriage Equality Is Wellness at Work”

My colleague gave a detailed account of how the proposal took place and people in our team shared their own engagement stories – both from the asking perspective (mostly male) to the acceptance part (mostly female). It should have been a wonderful, happy afternoon – and for most of us present, it was.

But I remember sitting there feeling the sting of discrimination pierce me with a ferocity that had me on the brink of tears.

That afternoon it struck me just how deep, cruel and unintended this discrimination was.

While most people knew I was in a long-term same-sex relationship, nobody asked me to share my proposal or marriage story, because we all knew it was illegal for me to have one. I was simply excluded from joining in.

Not quite don’t ask don’t tell, but rather a discrimination – or a disconnect – that was so entrenched nobody thought twice about it.

Recently I read comments by David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute arguing that feelings of loneliness and isolation are a pain response that is equal to physical pain. And when I recall that conversation on that Friday afternoon in the office all those years ago, I know he’s right. He went on to qualify the lack of social connection as being twice as dangerous as smoking as a health factor and more important than diet.

Exclusion is exhausting stuff. It takes a lot to conceal feelings of hurt in a workplace scenario, put on a brave face, and listen, laugh and play along with the idea that a big part of yourself is invisible, it seems, to everyone but you.

It’s a small example, but knowing that same-sex attracted people can now be part of that universal ritual called marriage, and participate in informal celebrations with colleagues sharing their own stories of love and commitment is a huge step in the right direction towards happiness and wellbeing in the workplace.

Australia is a diverse country made up of people from different backgrounds and cultures. We bring unique experiences into our workplaces. The fact that same-sex attracted people can participate by sharing something as ordinary as the story of their proposal with their work colleagues is a joyous and extraordinary thing.

Thoughts by Cath

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