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Yesterday was Saint Valentine’s Day, a day for thinking about love and marriage, and for declaring your true feelings. It was the day that film and TV star Magda Szubanski chose to come out on national television and identify herself as “absolutely gay” to Channel 10’s The Project.

Although her family, friends and colleagues have known this for a long time, it has never before been made public knowledge. It was obviously something important that would make her decide to share this aspect of her life with the public after so many years, and in a statement to newspapers yesterday in support of Australians for Marriage Equality, Magda made an impassioned plea for gay marriage to be legalised.

“The law means that you could be a serial killer and have killed all of your spouses and yet you would still be considered fit to marry,” she said. “But if you are gay, then you are not worthy of these same rights.”

Her “coming out” comes a day after two separate bills to legalise same-sex marriage were introduced in federal parliament. Magda made it clear that she is currently single, and not expecting to get married any time soon.

Now aged fifty, Magda has been delighting audiences since her university days. A gifted comedienne, she created a number of memorable characters for television sketch shows such as ditzy sports reporter Pixie-Anne Wheatley, heavily made-up infomercial saleswoman Chenille, penny-pinching whiskey-swilling Scot, Mary Macgregor, and vile mother Lynne Postlethwaite.

On the popular sit-com Kath and Kim, Magda played netball nerd, Sharon Strzelecki, who was often the butt of her friend Kim’s jibes. As well as hosting several of her own shows, Magda has had roles in Hollywood films such as Babe, Happy Feet and The Golden Compass, and sci-fi TV show Farscape. The public have voted her Most Popular Comedy Personality three times at the Logie Awards, and she has won an AFI Award for her role on Kath and Kim.

In 2003 and 2004 she was voted the most recognisable Australian personality, which helped her become spokesperson for a number of companies, most recently, weight-loss company Jenny Craig, through which she lost 36 kg. Despite being overweight, she has always been a strong and energetic person who enjoys being active.

The Australian public love her for her quick wit, sense of fun, and lively personality, her enormous smile that lights up her face and her big loud infectious laugh. We love her most when she is unselfconsciously being herself, and Magda has been overwhelmed by the public support she has received since coming out yesterday.

Magda’s name is short for her full name Magdalene, which is the title of Saint Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was a very important disciple of Jesus in the New Testament, and the only person privileged to first see the arisen Christ. The Catholic church places her on a short list of saints declared to be “equal to the Apostles”.

Traditionally, her name is said to mean that Mary came from the village of Magdala, which means “tower, fortress” in Hebrew. However, in Aramaic magdala means “high, great, magnificent”, so it’s possible her name was supposed to be “Mary the Great”. I have also seen the suggestion that the name was meant to denote that physically Mary Magdalene was taller than average.

Magda is a pet name commonly used in central and eastern Europe, and although she was born in England and her mum is Scottish, Magda’s father is from Poland, and was in the Polish Resistance during World War II.

Magda is a strong and beautiful name which has cultural ties to Europe, and honours one of the most prominent early Christian women. It also has the familiar nicknames Maddie and Maggie. However, like Edna and Ita, Magda Szubanski is very famous and has such a distinctive name that we would know her from her first name alone. Does her fame overpower the name, I wonder?

Short news report on Magda’s announcement: