b) Gay Australia
The lived experiences of real people
This article was published on Crikey on 3.12.07.
Joe Ludwig's advice to me was very sound.
When I lamented to him few months ago that Federal Labor's plan for state-based relationship registries would founder on the timidity of some State Governments, the former Shadow Attorney-General said "stop thinking like John Howard is still in charge and imagine something different".
I recalled these words when news broke of Brendan Nelson's support for recognising the financial and workplace entitlements of same-sex partners. When he was appointed I was unable to imagine him moving ahead of his party on this issue, despite his late gay brother. But this is exactly what he did, partly because of his brother.
The same pessimism I felt about Nelson applies to the renewed push for civil unions in the ACT, and it's not restricted to me. Most of the gay community representatives I speak to reluctantly feel that negotiations currently underway between Simon Corbell and Robert McClelland will probably result in the former dropping his plans for official civil union ceremonies.
This is a reasonable assessment given that Kevin Rudd repeatedly stated before the election that his Government would not support schemes that allow such ceremonies.
But that was then. Brendan Nelsonís move to the centre allows Labor more room to lead.
Sure official partnership ceremonies will cause a ripple in some church congregations, but the experience in other countries is that everyone quickly gets over it. The social dividend in equality and respect for same-sex unions is worth it.
Iím not predicting great change. Major-party strategists are still under the spell of Christian lobbyists who argue priests and pastors have an influence that reaches beyond their own parishioners into the hearts of a wider constituency of semi-believing social conservatives and ďbattlersĒ.
In my experience that influence is nothing compared to the influence of gay friends and relatives (Exhibit A, Dr Nelson). But it is still enough, in the eyes of the major parties, to draw a general boundary around issues like same-sex marriage and fertility treatment.
What is changing is exactly where those boundaries lie. If the nation canít yet embrace same-sex marriage perhaps it can accept official ceremonies if the M-word isnít used? If itís still uncomfortable with the creation of two-mum and two-dad families, perhaps it can now accept the legal recognition of such families where they already exist?
Most importantly, perhaps Australia can now debate these issues in a mature and respectful way, one that goes beyond dogma and politics to the lived experiences of real people.
Thatís the hope Joe Ludwig held out and which Brendan Nelson has begun to fulfill.
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I don't quite get why codifying official ceremonies into law is necessary, or why that particular issue attracts so much attention.
Shouldn't ceremonies be the unfettered free and private choice of couples themselves? I can't help but wince at the thought that, as soon as something becomes part of law, that brings government regulation, restriction and red tape.
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