d) Family, relationships and marriage
For Julia Gillard the personal is all too political
A version of this article was published in the Age on 2.7.10.
What reason could Julia Gillard possibly have for personally opposing same-sex marriages?
As Labor leader she can claim to be up-holding her Party’s policy against marriage equality, even though the Labor Party in her home state of Victoria has voted overwhelmingly to end that policy.
But as a “personal” stance, Gillard’s opposition to gay people marrying is inexplicable.
She is an atheist, so it can’t be because she believes God ordained marriage as a holy sacrament and condemns homosexuality as a sin.
She has no children, so it can’t be because she believes there’s an obligatory link between procreation and the right to marry.
She is in a de facto relationship, so it can’t be because she opposes legally recognising different types of relationships.
She is a female leader, so it can’t be because she believes there is some kind of profound biological difference between the sexes that makes same-sex marriage a non-starter.
She is a our first female Prime Minister, so it can’t be because she believes discrimination in the past justifies discrimination into the future.
Why then, in the list of Gillard’s often-stated personal values - equality, choice, inclusion – is there a caveat that says “except if gay couples want to make a lifelong commitment”?
Gillard’s opposition to marriage equality will be deeply disappointing to the 60% of Australians who believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry and the 80% of same-sex partners who believe they should have the right to marry.
It is particularly frustrating and embarrassing at a time when same-sex marriages are allowed in an increasing number of places overseas.
In the last few weeks Portugal, Mexico City and Iceland have joined Holland, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, Norway and six US states from Massachusetts to Iowa in allowing same-sex couple to marry.
The number of places where same-sex marriages are either soon to be allowed or are already recognised from elsewhere is even larger and more diverse, ranging from Argentina through Slovenia and Israel to Nepal.
In the world cup of marriage equality, Australia hasn’t even made the first round.
Rather than dwell on the sad fact that Australia has fallen behind Catholic Portugal and mid-West Iowa, marriage equality advocates have made the most of a bleak situation.
They have asked the Icelandic Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurđardóttir, who married her same-sex partner a few days ago, to explain to Gillard why marriage equality is so important, both to same-sex couples and their families, and to a just society.
The Icelandic leader would also do well to ask Gillard if the Australian Government will officially recognise her wife, should the couple visit Australia, and if so, why that recognition can’t be extended to the hundreds of Australian same-sex couples who are also legally married overseas.
But if and until such lobbying changes Gillard’s mind, most ordinary Australians will continue to scratch their heads over the fact there is not one single, conceivable reason, even the weak reasons other political leaders put forward, why our new Prime Minister would violate all her own principles to personally oppose two men or two women tying the knot.
Their conclusion will be that the real reason for Gillard’s “personal” view must be entirely political and therefore quite cynical.
Perhaps she believes the over-reaching claims of Pentecostal Pastors about the influence of their mega-churches in key marginal seats.
Perhaps she owes something to those right-wing Catholic MPs who are, in turn, under the unhealthy influence of Rome.
Perhaps she simply wants to convince voters that she is a leader of conviction, even when she knows those convictions are wrong.
We may never know why Julia Gillard “personally” wants to stop people like me marrying.
But what we can be sure about is that the many Australians who passionately support marriage equality will keep on challenging her up to the election and beyond.
When she says the community is divided we will remind her that the majority of Australians who support marriage equality includes a majority of women and men, of white and blue collar workers, and of Labor and Liberal voters.
When she says the gay community is indifferent, we will point out not only that almost all of us believe we should have the choice to marry, but that national surveys show a majority of us would marry if we could.
When she says we should respect religious sensitivities about marriage, we will remind her that in the English-speaking world marriage has been a civil institution for over 300 years, and that it’s time she respected the right of religions that consecrate same-sex marriages to the equal legal recognition of these marriages.
When she says Labor supports civil partnership schemes we will produce those US and UK studies which show these schemes do not provide the legal equality or social recognition that comes with marriage.
When she says Labor has supported financial entitlements for same-sex couples, we will reply that people cannot live by bread alone.
Most of all we will keep asking why a Prime Minister who should have every reason to personally support equality, betrays her fellow citizens by continuing to oppose it.
Rodney Croome is co-author of Why vs Why: Gay Marriage. He will make the case for same-sex marriage at Lunchbox/Soapbox at the Wheeler Centre on 8 July at 12.45 pm.
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