Christine Forster & Tony Abbott: Siblings at war on marriage equality

‘It hurts, it’s going to be horrible & it will test us’: Christine Forster on her brother Tony Abbott

“I’m not going to sway him and he’s not going to sway me,” Sydney Liberal Party councillor Christine Forster says in relation to the position her brother, Tony Abbott, takes on same-sex marriage.

“It will test us if it plays out over the next few months as it have over the past 24 hours.”

He is a former prime minister and she’s a councillor so they enjoy, and endure, a public profile few siblings experience.

While some families can keep their battles behind closed doors, Abbott and Forster cannot. And not when it comes to same sex marriage.

He is one of the staunchest opponents to marriage equality, calling it a PC bridge too far.

She is openly gay and wants the right to marry her partner.

Despite this difference they are close and Forster says while the past 24 hours doesn’t change that she admits it takes a toll.

“The reality is, it does [hurt],” Forster told Women’s Agenda. “When he comes out with something like “Vote no” on the plebiscite and push back against this, it does actually impact me. It trivialises and belittles an issue that is deeply personal and extremely important to me. He knows that it’s very important to me and it really hurts.”

Forster says Abbott views it as a wholly political issue. How does she reconcile that with the fact it is so personal?

“It’s a question I struggle to answer. It is what it is. He takes a view that this is a position on a political issue. We’ve both known where we stand on this for quite a while and we’re not going to change each other’s minds.”

Same-sex marriage is progress that conservative Abbott is unwilling to accept.

Notwithstanding the will of the Australian public and notwithstanding the rest of the world.

Even the fact marriage equality is excruciatingly close to his own family won’t sway him.

For Forster the plebiscite is a contest we shouldn’t need to have and she doesn’t doubt the campaign is going to be ugly.

“It’s about equality before the law and that is not the case in Australia at the moment,” she says. “It’s going to be horrible. He’ll say something and I will respond. I will say things and he will respond. My hope is that our relationship survives.”

Will it?

“Knowing what we both hold dear, I hope so,” she says. “We have supported each other through thick and thin and this won’t change.”

The idea that understanding is only possible when an issue impacts an individual personally is uninspiring. It woefully underestimates the human capacity for compassion.

Which makes it all the more woeful that someone in Tony Abbott’s position can see the real impact of marriage equality, and can still render it unpalatable and unimportant.

Technically marriage equality is about giving homosexual couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. But the effect is far bigger than allowing same-sex couples to wed.

The effect is the implicit recognition and validation that it gives LGBTI men and women.

It is the effect that a teenage boy or girl who knows they are gay, doesn’t fear that as unfathomable, because they can see it is accepted.

That is deeply personal as Forster knows as well as anyone.

“At the end of the day it is political and our relationship transcends this. He is my brother – we are a family. Despite the fact I believe he is absolutely and utterly wrong. He is never going to be right on this.”

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