Tuesday, December 6, 2011

a gay little party

One hot topic at the recent ALP national conference was whether party policy should be binding in favour of gay marriage, or whether parliamentary members should have a conscience vote on the issue: Both options would represent a departure from previous party policy.

There were quite a few people writing letters to editors, moaning about the insignificance of this issue and that it was a distraction from more serious matters such as pay rises for MPs, whether it is okay to lie about carbon tax proposals, and how to expand the current party membership to at least 17 before the next election.

In The Age today Dennis Altman – an early campaigner for the decriminalisation of homosexuality – suggested this is a serious issue because it is a human rights issue.
[Interesting, he says, that this human rights issue is open for a conscience vote when the equally important policies relating to asylum seekers were not.]

On the same page of The Age Amanda Vanstone outlined her idea of a sensible approach to the gay marriage issue, stressing that regardless of marital arrangements, every child is entitled to know who both of their biological parents are. Most of her comments work for me.

Not having given the issue enough thought in the past, I was confident that moves to give same-sex couples equal treatment before the law had covered all the bases [e.g. taxation or social security], but there recently arose the case of someone who is unable to get their same sex intended a visa, because there is no way they can marry here. On the other hand, I know of a couple who were able to organise visas some years ago because their same sex relationship was recognised. This called for a little clarification on my part.

The Marriage Act is a federal act, and so has significance if a gay couple are affected by any federal law.

Some states have recently made allowance for gay couples to register their relationships.
In Victoria there has been a long-standing entitlement of same-sex partners to exemption from or reduction of taxes for transactions such as property transfers to a partner. This benefit applied before the registration of gay relationships was proposed by the state. In this sense, perhaps, state registration amounts to little more than symbolic recognition.

Importantly, State acknowledgment of a relationship has no power to over-ride a federal law.

For the purposes of immigration visas for same-sex couples, the federal government does not discriminate where it can be shown that there is a long-standing commitment by a couple. Unfortunately, in order to show this commitment, some Australians have had to live overseas as a couple for an extended period, before applying for visas.

Where the law does discriminate is in the case of Prospective Marriage Visas, which permit fiancĂ©[e]s to travel to Australia to marry – obviating the need for living overseas to prove the relationship is fair dinkum. 
No one can be a prospective spouse if the law won’t allow them to marry.

With a conscience vote, there is no way any attempt to change the law will succeed. The Liberal coalition have a binding policy on the matter, and Julia would look a right prat if she voted in favour of change now.
The ALP might be able to increase its membership to 17 before the next election, but I doubt many of that number will be gay people or friends or families of gay people.

Amanda Vanstone suggests – and I agree – that any religion should be free to refuse to marry same-sex couples if that is against their beliefs. 
She proposes that all marriages should be formalised by the government, with people holding religious ceremonies later if they so choose. As most religious ministers [or their equivalents] are registered celebrants and do complete government paperwork as an adjunct to religious ceremonies, I’m guessing what she is really on about is separation of Church and State with respect to marriage.

Some members of the public suggest that gays should generally not be discriminated against, but gay marriage will make a joke of the institution. This smacks a little of “some of my best friends are poofs but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one”.
There is no other way to interpret this sort of nonsense than, as Orwell put it, “all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
 Anyone who claims to be in favour of human rights yet objects to gay marriage on one pretext or another should either pee or get off the pot.

The ALP shot themselves in the foot years ago, by moving to the right of Genghis Khan in order to steal coalition votes. In doing so they left their left flank open - conscience votes will do nothing to soak up green votes, and the only reason the ALP are getting coalition votes is because Tony Abbott is a vote repellent.


  1. I'm all for same sex marriages its the church that's holding out and should be ignored because the church is out dated and out of touch with today's society when it supports and covers up for child abusers :-).

  2. As I have mentioned in one of my own posts I am ambivilant on the question of gay marriage but is marriage (gay or otherwise) really a human right. Isn't it just a societal construct for administrative purposes. Freedom to associate with whom you chose is a human right but the marriage bit?
    Freedom of movement (travel) and or immigration is presumably not a human right as it is universaly restricted by all governments that I am aware of and on many bigoted basis. For example we have "quota" for Pacific Island immigrants.

  3. Your last para succinctly illustrates the present state of the Labor Party. Who do traditional Labor voters vote for? The right right wing party of Abbott or the right wing party of Gillard?

    While marriage is generally only a word now, it still holds great symbolism and I can't see the battle ceasing until victory. That is, a legally binding same sex marriage before the law and/or before an accepting church.

  4. In my eyes the only pigs that are equal are the ones with their snouts in the public trough playing at God by denying people their rights instead of defending their rights.

  5. Hi Windsmoke,
    I guess what I'm saying is that it's not important the church agree to marry same sex couples, but it is government discrimination not to allow same sex couples access to a Prospective Marriage Visa .
    Unfortunately, while the Church doesn't care two figs for its Christian or Legal Duty of Care, many of it's members are voters. [You may wish to add words other than "voters" at this point. I could say more but don't want to get sued.]

    Hi Big Dog,
    I suspect a lot of gays are ambivalent or even indifferent about the idea of marriage per se, but simply seek the same rights as heterosexuals as a matter of principle. This includes the right to have their union acknowledged by the state, and the same visa rights.

    Yes, many things are mere social constructs and, in truth, marriage itself probably evolved as an upper class means of protecting or building wealth - and was therefore traditionally irrelevant to many in the poorer classes until recent times.

    I take your point about immigration quotas being inconsistent with human rights, so let's say that to the extent that quotas offer some recognition of human rights, gays would be chuffed to have a quota.

    Hi Andrew,
    One of the Electoral Commission's more interesting jobs is counting how many people vote for N. Formal. [I do believe it has been on the rise again recently.]

    And yes - eventually the law will change, because the issue won't go away.

    Hi Jayne,
    Gosh, now I have that Beatles tune "everywhere there's lots of piggies, living piggy lives..." going round in my head!

    I think you've tied all the main points together rather neatly in your comment.

  6. Why is it OK for government to 'represent' the majority on issues on which they are misinformed and unqualified to deal with; leading to decisions that clearly DON'T reflect what the majority of people want? This applies to so many of the current issues, I'm surprised we're not closer to revolution!

  7. Ha Ha Red,
    Revolution in the land of "she'll be right, mate!"? I'd love to see it!

    One of the reasons I admire Pauline Hanson [which is not to say I would vote for her] is that she didn't choose politics as a career path, and she doesn't buy the idea that you have to be a game player to participate.
    On the other hand, it takes a heck of a lot of support for a non-career pollie to get far.

    Perhaps party politics is like franchising democracy. You know when you order a left or right chicken wing in one electorate, it will be exactly the same as a left or right chicken wing in any other electorate. Everything tastes the same without a conscience vote.

    Maybe a parliament full of independents would be more decent, representative and even useful, but we'll never have such a parliament until we ditch westminster conventions and decide to choose a leader for ourselves, instead of letting the majority party choose the leader.
    Currently, our PM is free to be a dictator, or impose non-core promises and other PR BS on other representatives. With the current system there is "by convention" no real power of veto.

    Parties suck up to the media, [ambitious] pollies suck up to their parties, and nobody feels the need to suck up to voters.
    [Well, they pretend to suck up to voters but after a 24 hour honeymoon they do what they like.]

  8. You have a good discussion here. I don't believe any politicians really care about gays and their rites all politicians care about is getting votes and they will do what ever they think will give them the vote not what they think is right.

  9. Hi Diane,
    Yes, I think your summary is sad but true - at some point [possibly] well meaning politicians become ambitious, and sell their souls to those ambitions. Then they are in parliament not so much to represent voters or to create a better world, but to win votes for the opportunity to do whatever they like.

    Since first posting this discussion, I've come to realise that for many people, it is the word marriage itself which is the sticking point, more than the idea of same sex couples.
    We might well ask 'what's in a name' and say 'fine, call it a civil union or anything but marriage, but please, let's formalise it and get on with it". Certainly, if the law is prepared to acknowledge de facto heterosexual unions, then some change should not be too much to ask.

    I think where children are involved - and there are very many cases where children are involved, the formal recognition of a long term commitment could help to provide some sort of certainty or security.