The impetus for marriage equality has been gaining ground for quite some years. Perhaps it’s the pragmatism of most Aussies, or the sense of justice which we place as a primary value which has lead a good majority of Australians to agree that our gay and lesbian citizens should be afforded equal rights under the law – the right to marry if they should choose to do so.
Gay and lesbian couples are currently able to marry in 15 countries which include France, The Netherlands, Spain, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, Uruguay, Belgium and Argentina.
They can also wed in 13 states of the United States, and on the 17th of July this year England and Wales legalised gay marriage after Queen Elizabeth II provided the Royal Assent. As of next year, couples in England and Wales will be entitled to both civil and religious ceremonies, the latter at the discretion of individual religious organisations.
At the Federal level in Australia, the debate for and against marriage equality has been disappointing. Although former PM Gillard allowed a conscience vote on the issue, she herself voted against it reasoning that, as she did not believe in the institution of marriage per se then she could not vote in support of it. However, one might argue that although an existing discrimination does not effect oneself, is this reason enough to vote against legislation which would rectify the situation?
Tony Abbott has always treaded lightly when it comes to the issue of marriage equality, perhaps fearing that his own conservative Catholicism might have become an issue.
Some hope was given to the gay community via this interview as reported March 2010 by Crikey:
Abbott admitted to a “very poor choice of words” on 60 Minutes. Though, he told presenter Doug Pollard today: “I think blokes of my generation and upbringing do find these things a bit confronting. Anything that’s a bit different can be confronting.”
Abbott pleaded for time to, “I suppose, come to a more balanced and nuanced understanding of these things”. “Don’t hang me, please Doug, for an ill-chosen word,” he said.
“Yes, I am quite a conservative bloke. I do have a traditional background but it doesn’t mean I’m incapable of understanding the complexity of modern life.”
Gay groups have immediately welcomed Abbott’s apparent support for anti-discrimination legislation. He told Joy he was personally “not against the idea . . . in principle I would support it”.
However, what is said during an interview and Abbott’s deeds are often quite different from each other.
Additionally, what Tony Abbott says to one group of people is quite different when he has a different audience to appeal to, as by 2013 Abbott’s coming to a “more balanced and nuanced understanding” appears to have completely evaporated.
In the space of a few hours Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has called marriage equality “the fashion of the moment” to a conservative radio host and “a significant issue” to a group of reporters, leaving the LGBTI community unclear as to his position on the issue.
Tony Abbott has always made it clear that in spite of his attitude towards homosexuality being somewhat ambiguous stating that he “feels threatened by gays” while he himself has a sister who is lesbian, that he will never countenance the likelihood of any government which he leads ever supporting marriage equality.
Populism, thy name is Tony Abbott.
More than Tony Abbott’s attitude of feeling “threatened by gays” has been Abbott’s lack of intestinal fortitude when dealing with rabid homophobic Cory Bernardi. One would have to suspect that Bernardi’s comments are more akin to Abbott’s own opinion due to Abbott’s failure to make any decisive statement concerning Bernardi’s comments. Admittedly Bernardi did resign from his position as Deputy Manager of Opposition Business 2012, but was only mildly rapped over the knuckles by Abbott. Abbott was to describe Bernardi’s comments as ill-disciplined, nothing more.
By June 18th 2013, nothing had changed with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting:
Senator Bernardi also stood by his controversial comments last year that the “next step” after recognising same-sex marriage was to support “creepy people” who chose to have sex with animals.
“Bestiality, of course it was an extreme example, but once again it’s linked to the radical agenda of the Greens Party,” he said.
The Fairfax media unable to extract an opinion from Tony Abbott concerning Bernardi’s extreme and offensive remarks, instead interviewed Malcolm Turnbull:
Malcolm Turnbull told Sky News none of the countries around the world that had legalised same sex marriage had gone on to legalise polygamy.
‘‘And the remarks about bestiality are obviously very extreme and extremely offensive and I dissociate myself from them completely,’’ he added.
Mr Turnbull thought it ‘‘quite likely’’ that Mr Abbott would allow the Coalition a conscience vote on legalising same sex marriage in the next Parliament.
Malcolm Turnbull was clearly over-optimistic in the belief that Abbott would contemplate even the remotest of likelihoods that same-sex couples be permitted marriage equality.
On September 16th, the ACT government introduced a bill to legalise same-sex marriage.
The ACT government has a long history of advocating laws to recognise same-sex partnerships, dating back to its civil unions legislation in 2006, which was quashed by the Howard government but re-enacted last year.
”This is something that I have consistently, albeit quietly, championed,” Mr. Corbell [ACT Attorney-General] said. ”It would be something I would be very proud of if the territory were to become the first jurisdiction in the country to legislate for same-sex marriage.”
It has now been confirmed that the federal government will challenge the ACT’s same-sex marriage laws in the High Court as soon as they are passed, or as per Corbell’s statement, as soon as they become operational. Brandis has already issued a warning to gay couples against marrying under ACT’s laws.
As per Mr. Corbell’s previous prediction, George Brandis has confirmed that his government will argue against marriage equality laws on the basis of “consistency”: that the territory’s laws are inconsistent with the Commonwealth Marriage Act. However, I suspect that the real impetus comes from Brandis’ statements suggesting that any reform is ”a threat” to the ”well-established position” that marriage laws are a Commonwealth matter. Or judging by Brandis’ previously stated opinion that “marriage is defined by custom”, that the security of this “custom” is perceived by himself as under threat.
Mr Deputy President, it is true that marriage is defined by law but, equally and importantly, marriage is defined by custom. In the whole history of our civilisation there has never been a time at which marriage was understood to be other than a relationship between a man and a woman.
I’m not surprised but I’m disappointed that there is a failure to acknowledge that this fundamental matter of inequality needs to be addressed.
In 1935 the “half-caste women of Broome” petitioned the WA Parliament declaring:
Sometimes we have the chance to marry a man of our own choice . . . therefore we ask for our Freedom so that when the chance comes along we can rule our lives and make ourselves true and good citizens.
Today, in 2013 we have the chance to allow our gay and lesbian citizens the same rights to marry, and for all Australians to achieve the same rights as did “the half-caste women” in 1935.
As a note: The reasoning given by Attorney-General George Brandis for his government challenging the validity of same-sex marriage rights is “inconsistency” with the Commonwealth Marriage Act. What then happens to Tony Abbott’s promise to shock-journalist Andrew Bolt to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (the section under which Bolt was convicted), thereby making federal legislation inconsistent with States’ and Territories anti-discrimination laws?
We have a battle, it seems, not just with a matter of conscience but also with a matter of consistency. Neither is making any sense. Discrimination (or populism) wins out against both.