Hopes to Officiate Weddings on Tiwi Islands

If the Catholic Church would allow it, Father Pat Mara would love to marry a same-sex couple.

“I know a lot of people who have same-sex attraction and I see just the goodness in their heart, the honesty and their desire to have equality,” he said.

Originally a plumber from inner-city Sydney, Father Mara moved to the Tiwi Islands north of Darwin three years ago to become its parish priest.

As a missionary of the Sacred Heart, Father Mara is continuing the legacy of a group of Catholic priests and brothers who first came to the Tiwi Islands in 1911.

“We had a wedding here just a few weeks ago,” he said.

“The old church over here was just chock-a-block with people, and everybody was just so happy and elated and on a high.

“And I think if we could just do that for same-sex attracted people as well and celebrate the love that they have, I just think that’s a really lovely and beautiful thing for the world.”

After the Yes result and the same-sex marriage legislation that followed this week, Father Mara said he had to put some people at ease over concerns that same-sex marriages would start taking place in the Catholic Church.

“I tried to reassure them that, ‘look the sky’s not going to fall in and the world will still turn around’,” he said.

“The understanding, I guess, was a bit minimal.”

A shift since Pope Francis was elected

Father Pat Mara places a small piece of bread representing the body of Christ into the hand of a worshipper.

Father Mara said gay marriage in the Catholic Church could one day become a reality, but perhaps not in his lifetime.

“Things are always shifting in the Church, and since we’ve had Pope Francis a lot of other things have shifted,” he said.

“In terms of same-sex marriage, I don’t think so, not in my lifetime.

“But the only thing that doesn’t change is change, so anything can happen in the future.”

Australia’s support for same-sex marriage is an important step for the relatively large community of Sistagirls, a group of Aboriginal transgender women living on the Tiwi Islands, Father Mara said.

“They’ve been through so much, they’ve struggled, they’ve had suicides and they’ve been treated unfairly and poorly by the community members,” he said.

“So for them it’s important that they have this sort of recognition and acknowledgement.”

LGBTIQ issues on Tiwi ‘bigger than same-sex marriage’

Jason de Santis smiles while writing on something behind a desk.

Queer man — and sometime Sistagirl Jason de Santis — said the LGBTIQ community on the Tiwi Islands was cautious in its public celebration of the vote result, with same-sex marriage still a novel concept to many local people.

“We have to protect ourselves, and celebrating something like that makes us feel vulnerable so we have to be really careful,” Mr de Santis said.

“I’m not asking for violins or anything, but that’s the reality of the situation, that it’s never going to be easy.”

Mr de Santis works at Wurrumiyanga post office on Bathurst Island, and outside of work hours the 34-year-old occasionally dresses in drag as Foxxy Empire.

He said marriage is not on his agenda right now, but he praised Father Mara for the support.

“It’s really lovely and refreshing to know that someone who is a spiritual leader in the community is very open and very positive,” Mr de Santis said.

“But marriage is so not important to me; it’s bad enough trying to get a man, let alone trying to get a husband!”

He said it was nice that wider Australia supported same-sex marriage, but there were much bigger issues that the Tiwi Islands needed to address.

“We’ve got huge welfare problems up here in the Territory,” Mr de Santis said.

“There’s a huge gap in regards to health for gays, lesbians, transgender, intersex, queers in the Territory, especially in remote [areas].”