News & Comment


A battle for Australiaís heart

I really wish Iíd been wrong.

The Australian has revealed that the Howard Government intends to amend the Marriage Act to stop Australian gay couples married in Canada from having their unions recognised by Australian courts.

Over the last few months, every time I wrote that this was likely (click here for an example), I crossed my fingers hoping Iíd be wrong. I wasnít.

There were plenty of people, including left-leaning MPs and other activists, keen to dismiss my prediction.

They said that

1. Howard would never run a gay rights election wedge because Australians donít care that much about issues of sexual morality, and/or
2. Howard would never follow Bushís lead on gay marriage because it would look too much like Australian policy is being determined in Washington

Sadly neither of these points matter to Howard. His goal is to corral socially conservative voters and split the ALP, and taking a stand against gay marriage is custom built to do both.

Amazingly there are still progressives living in fantasy-land, people who think gay marriage simply wonít be the electoral wedge Howard wants it to be.

I agree with them that Australians donít polarise as dramatically over sex as Americans, but this isnít about sex, itís about symbolism; the symbolism of a reform that will bring gays and lesbians into the Australian story in a way equal voting rights brought in women and citizenship, Aborigines.

Symbols matter no less to Australians than to everyone else, and although it may not have been planned, the coincidence of yesterday's revelation with the ANZAC Day holiday says it all. The outcome of the marriage debate will determine, for decades to come, whether or not sexual minorities have a valued place at the Australian table.

To put it another way, this is a battle between John Howard and Paul Hogan for the heart of mainstream Australia. I didnít much like Strange Bedfellows, but the bottom line is that Hogan, his mates in Yackandandah, the great Australian traditions of tolerance and generosity they represent, and all the Australians whose hearts this tolerance and generosity will touch, are the best hope we have of defeating the Howard's politics of prejudice and fear (see "White knight" below).

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