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Monday 10 April 2017

Marriage Equality: Australia's Slow Motion War

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 23rd August 2016

Three years after New Zealand legislated for marriage equality and attendant inclusive adoption reform, Australia may not get there until after February 2017.

There are many variables to consider about why this is such a vexed issue in Australian politics. In the early eighties, the Hawke administration tried to follow New Zealand's lead and pass its own Bill of Rights Act. It didn't, which means that unlike New Zealand, Australia has no bedrock guarantee of human rights and civil liberties. Its federal, state and territory antidiscrimination laws are purely territorial and legislative in effect. The second is the extremism of John Howard, the right-wing Liberal Prime Minister in power at the turn of the millenium, easily influenced by right-wing nostrums from overseas. He is to blame for Australia's draconian refugee and asylum policies, as well as the federal legislative ban against marriage equality, used to attack Australian Capital Territory initiatives toward it. The third impediment is the former backwardness of the Australian Labor Party under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, which delayed the implementation still further, out of step with the more inclusive New Zealand and British Labour parliamentary caucuses, the German Social Democrats and Canadian New Democrats. The fourth is the deposition of former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the factional balancing act that locked his successor Malcolm Turnbull into the straitjacket of a referendum on marriage equality.

This has led to headaches for both proponents and opponents of marriage equality, as Michael Kozol noted in theSydney Morning Herald(31.07.2016). The pro-marriage side of the debate has had to adopt a contingency approach and tactical dichotomy. Part of it is fighting against the imposition of a referendum model on Australia's marriage equality debate, using the argument that its sheer expense should rule it out, as should the ethical premise that civil liberties and human rights should not be put to a referendum vote- although in the case of Ireland in 2015, national revelations of the scale and extent of Catholic clergy pedophilia had led to rejection of church moral authority when it came to marriage equality and insured an overwhelming victory for LGBT legislative reformers. Nor is Australia alone in having a stubborn and relatively reactionary centre-right governing party over this issue- Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats (Germany) and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party are the most stubborn holdouts in Europe. Be that as it may, then, why doesn't Australia hold a plebiscite and get it over with?

Turnbull could have decided to renege on the plebiscite policy and announce that he's decided to allow the Coalition a free conscience vote on the issue in parliament, which would probably see a multipartisan House of Representatives majority, although given that neither the Coalition, ALP or the Greens have a decisive federal Senate majority, much horse trading will need to be done to insure that either the plebiscite or a bicameral legislative reform bill get through the system. One headache is Queensland's right-wing extremist One Nation Party, which now has four Senators that could potentially obstruct matters (despite the fact that Pauline Hanson herself is divorced). However, as noted below, he has finally decided to proceed with the referendum.

Or, the plebiscite could go ahead. Amusingly enough, here the progay side seems to have a tactical advantage, given that Australian Marriage Equality has been lobbying for their cause for over a decade, and the Christian Right is trying to stop its own extremist elements sabotaging its cause with homophobic rants and raves, which occurred in New Zealand, England, Wales, France and the United States, as well as forming a coalition. One such article, written by ACL leader Lyle Shelton, was published in theDaily Telegraph(16.08.2016), part of the right-wing Murdoch newspaper chain. Shelton noted that Australia already had substantive relationship equality, thanks to Kevin Rudd's premiership, apart from inclusive adoption reform, against which it is fighting a losing battle in Australia's states and territories. Now that Queensland has stated that it will shortly legislate for adoption equality, that only leaves South Australia and the Northern Territory without it. Given Australia's federal structure, unlike New Zealand, marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform are two seperate issues. Shelton also mentioned the comprehensive anti-bullying Safe Schools Coalition programme, which was subjected to a smear campaign from his pressure group. That article was not about 'fact,' it was about a populist fearmongering campaign.

Moreover, the logistical effort may be too great for some of the smaller Australian Christian Right organisations- one, Salt Shakers, shut down in Melbourne recently because it couldn't find a senior manager. If they're expecting funding from the US Christian Right, they may be in for a long wait- the impending Trump rout may end up having a contagion effect and decimating Republican presence in the Senate, perhaps the federal House of Representatives and perhaps also some state governorships and legislatures. They'll have their own hands full trying to deal with that, meaning that funds will need to be earmarked for the United States alone. Faced with a hostile president and legislature which can also reinforce liberal judicial appointments, its satellites will be in for a lean time. Is even Family First so cravenly dependent on US Christian Right propaganda, strategy and tactics that it will replicate failed examples? The Australian Christian Right certainly is. That may be why, whether it results from legislative reform or plebiscite, marriage equality will finally arrive in Australia. Would that New Zealand's Parliament could be so inclusive when it came to the statutory inclusion of gender identity as a direct ground of prohibited discrimination when it comes to employment, education, accomodation, goods and services in our own national context.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has just confirmed that the plebiscite will be held in February 2017.


Australians for Marriage Equality:http://www.marriageequality. com

Star Observer:


Elle Hunt: "Marriage equality plebiscite to be held in February 2017"Guardian:20.08.2016:https://www. news/2016/aug/20/marriage- equality-plebiscite-to-be- held-in-australia-in-2017- reports

Michael Kozol: "Plebiscite Yes Campaign takes form amidst division between marriage equality supporters"Sydney Morning Herald:31.07.2016:http://www.smh. political-news/plebiscite-yes- campaign-takes-shape-amid- division-between-marriage- equality-supporters-20160728- gqfkbf.html

Not Recommended:

Australian Christian Lobby:

Endeavour Forum: au

National Civic Council:http://www.national-civic-

Lyle Shelton: "This is not about bigotry or homophobia- this is about fact"Daily Telegraph:16.08.2016:http://www. rendezview/this-is-not-about- bigotry-or-homophobia-this-is- about-fact/news-story/ e9d2d13b9d89f3c84e59c23533d438 37

Craig Young - 23rd August 2016

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