News & Comment


'Mimicking marriage' - 6

How reliable are the Greens?

The battle over ACT civil partnership ceremonies is over, at least for now.

The ACT Greens have decided to accept ACT Government amendments, in turn foisted on the ACT by the Federal Government, that will do away with the current legally-binding ceremonies and replace them with legally-recognised ceremonies.

What’s the difference?

In binding ceremonies the power to create a civil partnership lies with the celebrant at the ceremony. Her act of bringing the legal relationship into being (technically "solemnisation") is later validated by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and back-dated to the ceremony.

In ceremonies that are recognised but not binding, the power to create the new legal relationship lies with the Registrar. The celebrant’s role is not to "solemnise" but to notify the Registrar that a ceremony has demonstrated a couple's desire to be recognised. This notification has legal standing, and the recognition of the relationship is again backdated.

So, legally, there’s not much difference at all.

But, politically, there’s a world of difference, thanks to the fact that the binding "solemnising" ceremonies are more like marriages and therefore enrage those anti-gay Christian groups that believe "holy matrimony" must be defended at all costs from "the sin" of homosexuality.

December 10 may be International Human Rights Day. But in the ACT the day belongs to prejudice.


Almost everyone is a loser from the ACT civil partnership outcome.

The ACT LGBT community is a loser because, yet again, it has been denied the civil partnership scheme it has repeatedly said it wants.

The ACT Government is a loser because a) the scheme it has settled for is far from what it originally sought and b) the tactical compromises it made, including only allowing ceremonies for same-sex couples, proved useless in placating the Feds

The ACT Greens are big losers because a) they have settled for a scheme that is also a long way from what they sought, b) they have abandoned the moral high ground they occupied by re-introducing binding ceremonies only a few months ago, and c) they have lost credibility in the eyes of the LGBT community. Only a few days ago they were expressing reservations about accepting the amendments, but after an email from the Federal Attorney-General, in which they saw a veiled over-ride threat that was probably just weariness with the whole affair, they backed off. What’s the point of the Greens if they cave whenever they are threatened (and just rubber stamp Labor Government decisions)? The ACT Greens’ weakness raises legitimate concerns about whether the Green Party as a whole can stick to its relationship equality principles when things get tough. For example, will the Greens cave in again if and when a national civil union scheme is proposed by Labor instead of equality in marriage? These are legitimate concerns the Party must address.

The Federal Government is a loser because it hasn’t pleased anyone. Obviously, the ACT Government and LGBT community are annoyed because they have been denied what they want. Neither is the wider ACT community particularly happy about repeated violation of the principle of self-government. But the religious right is also annoyed the Feds broke an election promise by allowing any kind of legal ceremony.

Even the Australian Christian Lobby is a loser. It promised the rest of the religious right that the Feds would hold the line on ACT ceremonies if they acquiesced to the recognition of same-sex de facto unions in federal law. Now that compact has been damaged, so has the ACL’s credibility with its constituents.

The only winner out of this whole sorry affair is Tony Abbott. As Christopher Pearson suggests, the Federal Government’s compromise potentially gives Abbott a way to re-capture conservative religious voters. Worse, the various ACT Government and ACT Greens compromises give both Abbott and Pearson the excuse they need to run around declaring “gay nuptials” such a crazy, hopeless cause that not even the lefties and hippies of Manuka had the stomach to see it through.

(You know if this was the seventeenth century someone would write a ditty about these events which we'd recite today as a nursery rhyme; something like – "oh, once there was a Brigadier who cajoled the Prime Minister who bullied the Chief Minister who wedged the Greens who betrayed the Gays and that’s the way it goes"... fortunately, it's not the seventeenth century.)

My last word on this is for those hardy souls who have been fighting this battle, people like John Kloprogge, Gabriel Hitch, Evan Gallagher and Farida Iqbal.

Doubtless they feel like they could have done more. Perhaps they could have, although, when so few people understand or care about the difference between this or that type of ceremony, it was always bound to be an uphill battle.

No, history will not judge them harshly for today’s loss.

It will find them wanting only if they give up the fight for what they were promised, and allow prejudice to keep what it has stolen from them.


In other Government-and-marriage news,

Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, met with marriage equality advocates this week, including Yours Truly. It wasn’t the most productive meeting I’ve ever been in. He couldn’t give a reason for the Government’s opposition to marriage equality apart from the fact that it wants to “gravitate” to the political centre and away from “the extremes”. He also hasn’t considered the recommendations of the recent Senate marriage equality inquiry regarding a national relationship law inquiry and the removal of Australian Government impediments to same-sex partners marrying overseas. Australian Marriage Equality will follow up the latter two issues, but trying to get sense out of the Government on the broader matter of marriage equality is a lost cause. That’s why Alex Greenwich is right when he says it’s time to take the issue to the next level.

In other Abbott-and-marriage news,

Doug Pollard makes the case that the unelectability of the Liberals under Tony Abbott gives the Rudd Government a chance to enact same-sex marriage. I really wish I could agree. As I’ve argued, Abbott’s conservatism is more likely to drag Rudd to the right than allow him to break loose on the left. Why? Because none of this is about what the majority of people think. It’s about mega-churches in marginal outer-urban marginal seats. And it will stay like that until we change it.

In other civil partnership news,

LGBT advocates in Ireland and Austria are divided over whether new civil partnership schemes in both countries are good or bad. Some say the schemes bring much needed entitlements. Other say they entrench a second-class status by being poor substitutes for marriage equality. There are some obvious parallels with Australia, including the failure of the Austrian authorities to allow official ceremonies (it seems all those silly tourist t’shirts were wrong, Austria IS Australia).

But there is one crucial difference. Unlike Australia, neither Ireland nor Austria give comprehensive rights to cohabiting couples. In the country with the kangaroos, same-sex couples already have entitlements. Financial security and workplace conditions are not the issue. The issue is full equality.

In other discrimination news,

The 10th anniversary of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act was last year, but for some reason today we marked International Human Rights Day by celebrating that anniversary with a special forum in Hobart Town Hall.

In my address I lauded the Act as the nation’s most progressive while making my opposition to a proposed church-school exemption from the Act quite clear. I also made my views quite clear on the admission by the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart that his schools already break the Act – they should be investigated like any confessed law-breakers.

I wasn’t sure how this would be received, but the feedback was universally positive. It seems the Catholic Church has succeeded in uniting human rights advocates, minority communities and the legal profession against it.

And in other news altogether,

'Jesus is gay' in WA.

Bishop Jensen roundly condemns yet another gay person for being too faithful to God (not to mention committed to her partner).

If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Herald Sun has an Outrage-bot whose job it is to automatically generate stories about sexual minorities in schools, at least once a month.

And Spain is finally contrite for the gaoling of gay men during El Caudillo’s long night of hate.

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When a few thousand people protested across Australia for marriage equality, our politicians easily ignored our pleas.

They ignored us again when we wrote in our thousands to their Senate inquiry on marriage equality.

And they'll continue to ignore us so long as they believe we pose no danger to their electoral success.

That's why I still believe that if same-sex couples held hands when going to vote, our politicians might just listen to us a little bit more. It's our democracy too! We just need to let them know that.

Posted by: David Rogers on 10 Dec 09 | 4:50 pm

So. The Libs are never going to champion same-sex equality, you repeatedly bag Labor, and now you say that the Greens have lost credibility too. Given your tendency to pretty much completely write-off a political party if it fails to hold a purist line or deliver absolutely everything, right now, where does that leave you in terms of finding (the very necessary) political champion for reform?

I really, really wish that same-sex marriage advocates would start being a little more pragmatic, a little more strategic, and start pushing for and celebrating each small step on the way instead of this "full marriage right now or else" approach.

Find friends and work with, instead of just bagging.

Posted by: A Gay Boy on 10 Dec 09 | 8:21 pm

I think the 4 Greens Members of the ACT parliament placed aside the 'paperwork' and thought about the couples who have been through so much in their lives and voted for the 'heart' instead of the 'head'. That is what I emailed them to do, even though I am not a resident of the ACT. The Greens need to also be a party of 'the heart' and not always a party who votes 'no' because that is what the policy says!

Posted by: Brenton on 11 Dec 09 | 12:29 am

They'll continue to ignore us so long as they believe we pose no danger to their electoral success.

Posted by: Omron on 11 Dec 09 | 2:55 am

Brenton, Since the ACT ceremony saga began in 2006 there have been many occasions when ACT legislators could have stepped back and said there's no hope, let's just settle for what the feds are willing to give us. But instead they fought on and made immense progress. I don't see how now is any different, except perhaps that the Stanhope Government is less willing to stand up to Rudd than to Howard.

Gay Boy, You don't have to look very far on this weblog to find examples of me praising decision-makers who move forward on the recognition of same-sex relationships (including in regard to the ACT). But what we saw this last week was a retreat that deserves to be labelled as such. As for being strategic on marriage equality...the only way to move forward on that reform is not to settle for anything less or other than full equality.

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