News & Comment

Sat Dec 31, 2011


The joys of blogging

It's time for me to decide whether or not to continue this blog.

Apologies to all my regular readers for not posting since August.

My break from blogging has been the longest since I began in March 2004.

So much has happened that I would previously have rushed to blog about - the passage of Australia's first marriage equality motion through the Tasmanian Parliament, the first ever official meeting between a Prime Minister and LGBT community reps, the release of the world's best ever marriage equality advertisement here in Australia, the Labor Party's adoption of a pro-marriage equality policy, and, of course, my first performance with the City of Hobart Highland Pipe Band!

Sadly, what would normally inspire me to blog is what has kept me from it.

Since mid year the marriage equality campaign has been so busy I haven't had any time to blog.

Read this list of significant marriage equality moments from 2011 will you'll see what I mean.

Now, it's the end of the year and time for me to assess whether I want to resume blogging.

The motivation that saw me blog almost daily for seven years is still strong. But, if anything, 2012 will be busier on the campaign front than 2011.

One option is to change my format to make posts shorter, sharper and less time consuming to write. But, for me, one of the joys of blogging is reflecting on events rather than just noting them or offering glib, obvious comment.

Whatever I decide to do I'll do it soon. I don't want the strands of this site left untied.

Till then have a wonderful New Year.

[ comments? ]

Fri Aug 19, 2011

Activism and social change

The real marriage equality debate

Respect is the key to achieving marriage equality, regardless of how opponents of reform behave.

There has been a lot of activity on marriage equality in the lead up to next week's report-back on the issue by federal MPs.

In the last week we've seen several rallies for and one against.

We've also seen the launch of a AME's Christians4Equality campaign, including a new poll showing showing majority Christian support for equality, and Get Up's petition for equality.

There's only four days left for you to send an email to your local MP. Click here to make your voice heard.


A major discussion point in the recent debate has been the tone of that debate.

High-profile opponents of marriage equality continue to complain they are being "victimised" and "persecuted" by supporters.

This persecution narrative has been highlighted by Brian Greig and Yours Truly.

Claiming victimisation hasn't stopped anti-equality figures from perpetrating it.

Miranda Devine, Warwick Marsh and others have used Penny Wong's announcement that she and her partner Sophie Allouache are expecting a baby to draw a link between gay parenting and tears in the social fabric a la the London riots.

Worse, were comments by speakers at the anti-equality mentioned above, with an American speaker, Rebecca Hagelin, linking same-sex marriages to paedaphilia and declaring the former the world's greatest evil.

The reaction against these comments has been very strong - see here, here and here.

Clearly, opponents of equality have done themselves no favours.

But can they see this?

It seems that in their eyes criticism, however valid, is just a sign they are right (and persecuted).

They seem incapable of testing their ideas against reality, political or scientific.

More important is how to respond to all this nonsense.

I have made it clear I think supporters of equality should continue to show opponents respect.

Not a few people have asked me "why" when it's not reciprocated?

The answer lies in history, particularly the history of successful movements for civil rights.

I was reminded of this reading commentary on Barack Obama's response to intransigence of those US Congresspeople who took their country to the brink of financial ruin to make an ideological point.

The writer places Obama's approach firmly within the civil rights tradition, a tradition in which black inequality was successfully overcome thus:

Number one: maintain your dignity.
Number two: call your adversaries to the highest principles they hold.
Number three: Seize the moral high ground.
Number four: Win by winning over your adversaries, by revealing the contradiction between their own ideals and their actions.

Seen this way, it is even more important to maintain a calm and dignified demeanour when others are not.


In other news,

The real marriage equality debate is happening far from Parliament House and the broadsheets, on the streets of Wagga, Mt Isa, Darwin and Moorabool.

[ comments? ]

Mon Jul 18, 2011


Putting hate away

Where I look a little deeper into the religious right's victimhood narrative.

Daniel Stanley had a big weekend. He went to Victoria. It was the first time he had been outside his house for three weeks.

At the beginning of the month Daniel was the victim of an anti-gay bashing in his home town of Ulverstone.

Unfortunately, such attacks are periodic in Tasmania.

They have even been given the name of "fag running" by some perpetrators and often go unreported.

But Daniel stood his ground and reported the crime to the police and the Burnie Advocate in the hope of averting further attacks, and despite threats from his attackers.

The response was immediate.

There was a flood of comments to the Advocate praising Daniel's bravery.

The State Government condemned homophobia.

The Police quickly laid charges.

In letters to the editor and on talkback radio there was the usual debate, so characteristically Tasmanian, about whether or not we are more prone to homophobia.

I was pleased to see some perspective entering that debate, perhaps for the first time.

Many ordinary Tasmanians noted that while hate is still a problem we have clearly come a long way because here we have a newspaper and a government taking effective action against hatred where only fifteen years ago they were the ones enabling it.

On behalf of the Tas Gay and Lesbian Rights Group Yours Truly called on the State Government to allow harsher penalties for hate crime, gather hate-crime statistics and implement anti-homophobia programs in schools.

There was a quick and welcome response to the first of these reforms, with State Attorney-General, Brian Wightman, responding to questions about the attack in Parliament by committing himself to seriously consider laws allowing judges to take hate into account when sentencing.

To his credit, Liberal Opposition leader, Will Hodgman, also gave in-principle support to such legislation.

The Police threw cold water over the collection of hate-crime stats because distinguishing hate as a motivation for crime to be too "subjective", even though other police services have long collected such data based on well-established criteria for identifying hate as a motive.

Unfortunately, class-room anti-homophobia programs, the most important of all three responses to hate crime, got lost when the hate-crime debate took an unexpected turn.

Burnie-based Labor MP, Brenton Best, accused Launceston Liberal, Michael Ferguson, of inciting anti-gay hatred when the latter was involved in the Tasmanian Family Institute in 2003.

Not only did Ferguson denounce the incitement claims, he threatened legal action against Best and Premier, Lara Giddings, unless they were withdrawn.

Best disappeared and despite our best efforts so did the issue of school anti-homophobia programs.


Yesterday, saw a resolution of sorts in the stand-off between Best and Ferguson with the latter declaring he will not pursue legal action.

But he also withdrew from an up-coming marriage equality debate at the University of Tasmania.

What's more, his fellow team members, Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby and Terri Kelleher from the Australian Family Association, also withdrew.

Their shared concern is fear of "personal attack and vitriol".

That's despite the University's insistence on strict debating rules and professional security staff.

Their decision was disappointing and bewildering.

When reaching for an explanation it's tempting to place this decision squarely in the religious right's victimhood narrative.

I recently wrote quite scathingly about this narrative.

By claiming it is being discriminated against, the religious right conveniently diverts attention from the discrimination it is upholding against LGBTI people.

In particular, by refusing to debate and claiming victim status instead, the religious right is bidding for public sympathy while avoiding any proper public scrutiny of its case against equality.

As it becomes obvious that same-sex marriage doesn't destroy the world, the victimhood narrative also provides conservative church-goers with a new enemy to be feared and loathed - gay "Gestapo"-like activists.

All this sets the religious right up to claim exemptions from whatever new non-discriminatory laws are enacted.

But the very negative public response to the debate withdrawal (if talkback radio is anything to go by) has prompted me to look at this issue a little less clinically.

Wallace et al must have known they would look petulant, and would open themselves up to claims they lack the courage of their convictions, yet they withdrew nonetheless.

Does this suggest they sincerely believe they are actually victims?

It's easy to see how leaders of the religious right, used to preaching to the converted (literally), may be a bit thin skinned when facing public criticism.

Perhaps their hearts aren't in public debate at all because the only people they really need to preach to are the converted.

The 20-25% of the population conservative religious leaders can claim to represent seems to be holding back change without any need for these leaders to reach out to the remaining 75%.

Seen in this light, the Launceston debate withdrawal is another dip of the conservative Christian see-saw where purity sits at one end and proselytisation at the other.

Then there's the possibility leaders of the religious right genuinely believe they deserve credit for curbing hate in their ranks.

Jim Wallace has almost single-handedly created a new and much more successful Christian political movement in Australia, one where overt hate is not immediately visible.

Michael Ferguson grew up in a Tasmania riven by overt gay hate. For all I know he may detest that overt hatred for ruining the conservative Christian cause, as much as I detest it for ruining LGBTI lives.

Of course, too often prejudice lurks just under the surface of statements from the religious right, statements like "demeaning marriage" and "the slippery slope to polygamy".

The skeptic in me wants to argue that Wallace and Ferguson react so strongly to claims of anti-gay hate because they don't want the acceptable veneer of the movement they have created cracked open to reveal the reality of prejudice beneath.

But perhaps JW and MF see it as achievement enough that they have put hate away.

Perhaps they are angry because they have not been acknowledged for this achievement, particularly by those people most affected.

I can never know this, and may be canned for even suggesting it.

In my defence, I consider it a possibility because I find it hard to imagine how so many people could be so disingenuous for so long in the name of what for them is the ultimate truth.

Anyway, what I do know is this.

Daniel Stanley may have had a few days away from small-town scrutiny.

His bruises may almost be healed.

But he cannot escape from the nightmares he still has, or the panic he still feels.

In this shifting and uncertain world, where it is sometimes impossible to know what is pretence and what is real, Daniel's pain is an incontestable reality.

In the context of this debate, the easing of that pain and its prevention in others is the most reliable indicator of who the truest victims and aggressors are, and where courage, conviction and the road to tolerance are really to be found.

[ comments? ]

Fri Jul 15, 2011


Gay Gestapo

The religious right's narrative of victimhood just gets siller.

It's been a day since Loree Rudd, sister of Kevin, was reported as labelling marriage equality advocates "the global gay Gestapo" (for a look at the kind of despicable people she's talking about, click here).

But despite calls for an apology from groups like Australian Marriage Equality, and supporters of equality affected by the Holocaust, Ms Rudd has not responded.

Worse, she is being defended by the very groups that should be distancing themselves from her unjust and hurtful comparison.

According to Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby,

“We would believe most people would view Ms Rudd’s use of the term ‘Gestapo’ as referring to attempts to use fear and intimidation to silence dissent.”

And wearing crisp well-fitting uniforms, and perfect goose-stepping, and excellent record-keeping, and anything but mass murder of innocent people.

Apart from sheer bile, Loree Rudd's attitude seems to be informed by the association often made on the far right make between Nazism and homosexuality (it's the same kind association made between Nazism and Obama because both are somehow an over-turning of the natural order and therefore tend to tyranny).

But she's in the Labor Party, I hear you cry.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of haters in the ALP, as much as Labor's left faction tries to convince us otherwise.

Perhaps if Loree's famous brother had included LGBTI people in his Christ-based political program it would have sent a message to people like her that Labor values embrace us too.

Instead, we were conspicuously absent from Rudd #1's manifesto, allowing Rudd #2 to treat us with the contempt she seems to reserve for all things unLabor (if her comments about Tony Abbott are anything to go by).

In comparison, Jim Wallace's defence of Loree Rudd is informed by something different; a tactical decision to play the martyr.

The ACL has been pressing this button for months now.

Instead of arguing about the issue, it complains that opponents of reform are being bullied.

The same sentiment takes different forms.

Frank Ferudi calls it "elitist sanctimony". Janet Albrechtsen calls it left-wing "authoritarianism". David van Gend calls it anti-Christian "slurring".

This defensive rhetoric comes straight from the US where Jon Stewart has labelled it "a narrative of conservative victimisation".

I've come up against this several times in recent months.

For example, following a public debate about marriage equality in Hobart in May, where one equality supporter scoffed once, an indignant letter to the editor appeared complained about freedom of speech being hindered by disrespectful, angry homosexuals.

It didn't matter that the scoff was prompted by a statement about same-sex marriage leading to the legitimisation of things like incest.

It didn't matter that the speaker concerned, despite his protestations at the meeting about respecting homosexuals, actually believes same-sex relationships are unnatural and marriage equality will lead to "forced sexual re-education of children in state schools".

In fact, that's the point.

Those who hold prejudiced views are claiming persecution at the hands of homosexuals to avoid public scrutiny of their prejudices.

What better way to divert attention from their discrimination against LGBTI people than to claim they are the ones being discriminated against.

But wait, there's an even more cynical aspect to all this.

When legislators finally move on LGBTI human rights, including marriage equality, the religious right's victimhood narrative sets it up to demand and receive religious exemptions from whatever the reform might be, to preserve its "freedoms" from being trampled by angry, disrespectful and ever-litigious homosexuals.

The religious right has taken more from LGBTI people than it cares to admit.

It took identity politics, turning churches into self-contained faith-communities where Christianity becomes a lifestyle.

As a logical extension, it has also taking the language of persecution and victimhood.

But try as it might, it can never take our dignity and will not succeed in taking our rights for much longer.


The other interesting point about the ACL media release is that it signals the return of Jim Wallace after a several-month absence from public life.

JW disappeared from the scene not long after his ANZAC Day tweet about servicemen and women not dying for gay marriage and Muslims sparked a storm of protest.

In all the commentary against that tweet an important point was missed.

Voices of authority had already conflated ANZAC Day with Christianity, and not just because the former happened to fall at Easter.

Two days before Wallace's tweet, an editorial in the Australian (23-24.4.11) seemed to suggest the sacrifice made at ANZAC and the sacrifice made by Jesus were linked.

It said the Judeo-Christian tradition has shaped Australia, including our military "contribution towards a safer, more peaceful world", and this tradition continues to bind the nation together (is this a post-racial version of the old opinion that Australia's Anglo-Celtic traditions and values performed the same functions?).

Given these sentiments, it is easier to understand why Wallace felt it was permissible to tweet what he did.

If Australia's military engagements fall within the category of "the Judeo Christian tradition", it stands to reason that what he believes falls outside that tradition is not what our troops fought and died for.

Is it any wonder some haters within the military feel they can get away with this.


In other conservative-commentary-on-marriage-equality news, thank goodness for some non-ideolgical, empirically-based common sense.

In other religion-and-marriage-equality news, the fact the Baptist Church feels it has to distance itself from the pro-equality comments of Rev Nathan Nettleton on the recent Compass marriage equality dinner-table debate shows these comments have wider appeal than the Church likes.

[ comments? ]

Sun Jul 10, 2011

Marriage equality (national)

Wake-up call

There's nothing inevitable about marriage equality

The NSW ALP has failed to join its counterparts in other states by endorsing marriage equality.

Instead, it has hand-balled the issue to the National Conference later in the year.

It's some compensation that leading Labour figures like Anthony Albanese and Paul Howes gave strong speeches in favour of equality.

But most people already know or assume they support equality.

Be under no illusion, this is a set back with important implications for the National Conference.

I understand the marriage equality motion was deferred because the small minority of delegates strongly against equality did deals with the much larger proportion who support it, but not enough.

It's easy to see something similar happening at National Conference.

For example, the issue could be sent off to a Labor caucus committee for further discussion.

Alex Greenwich from Australian Marriage Equality is right that this is a wake-up call.

There is nothing inevitable about the ALP endorsing marriage equality.

It is essential that supporters of equality contact their local MPs immediately.

The NSW outcome is also a wake-up call for equality advocates inside and outside the ALP.

In recent days concern has grown about the possibility that Labor is trying to control community-based advocacy groups to dampen down the debate and ease pressure on the Party.

Today's outcome sends a message to equality supporters within the Labor Party that they can't achieve reform without the support of a vigorous, independent, community-based equality movement.

It's also a reminder to community-based advocates, including skeptics like me, that we need supporters within the Labor Party more than ever before.

No one group is strong enough to do the heavy lifting on marriage equality. The weight of prejudice, indifference and vested interest is too great.

Only with respect, trust and co-operation can marriage equality occur.

[ comments? ]

Fri Jul 01, 2011

Marriage equality (national)

Freedom to marry

The same-sex marriage debate is not a side issue but a core part of Australian history

The achievement of marriage equality in New York has received much more attention than I expected.

Commentary from the US says New York is important because it is by far the largest state with marriage equality.

Commentary here of which there's been a great deal suggests it's important because of the lessons New York has to teach us.

Both views are correct, but I can't help wonder if it's more because New York city is a world city, the imperial capital not only of liberty but of western culture, an Athens to Washington's Rome.

Perhaps Dan Savage and Keith Olbermann are on to something when they jump effortlessly from marriage equality to Broadway.

Anyway, once New York has fizzed our minds will return to the prosaics of home.

Chief among these is the long march of the Labor Party to equality.

The latest milestone was the endorsement of marriage equality at WA's state Labor conference.

By coincidence this occurred when my equality colleagues and I were in Perth for a couple of forums on the issue.

Time-shift tiredness aside, both were very enjoyable and constructive (the next are in Canberra on July 6th and Adelaide on July 9th).

As for the long march, it's next milestone is the NSW state Labor conference the same day I'll be in Adelaide.

If his appearance on the 7.30 Report is anything to go by, Labor anti-equality advocate, Joe de Bruyn, will be arguing that Labor will lose 15 seats if it allows same-sex couples to marry.

This is an astounding claim, especially since no politician anywhere, ever, has lost his or her seat for supporting marriage equality.

De Bruyn's hyperbole seems to be the electoral version of the apocryphal, end-is-nigh objections to marriage equality we hear from groups like Family Voice and the Australian Christian Lobby.

In neither case are advocates against reform doing themselves any favours.


Also bringing the debate back home is my essay in the latest edition of Overland.

For those not up to reading 6000 words on a Friday, here's a 1000 word summary published today.

I argue that Australian governments have a long and ignominious history of violating freedom to marry. But there's an upside. The struggles this violation sparked have resulted in fundamental progressive shifts in our laws and attitudes.

I share the same departure point as conservative libertarians like Chris Berg, marriage equality is about freedom of the individual from state control.

But obviously I head off in a different direction, one that takes me down the path of social progress and leads me to the conclusion that same-sex marriage, far from being a side issue, is actually the latest manifestation of a central theme in Australian history.

I welcome feedback. Email me on


In other New York marriage equality news,

Check out this must-read analysis of how equality was achieved.

In other global marriage equality news,

A Brazilian court "up-grades" a civil union to a marriage. From a purely legal point of view this confused me a bit until it was pointed out by a Brazilian friend that that nation's constitution says no de facto couple shall be refused the opportunity to marry. If only Australia had such a freedom-to-marry protection. It would have saved a lot of people a lot of pain.

In other Australian marriage equality news,

I'm a bit shame-faced. I hadn't heard of this amusing short film about "the threat" of gay marriage until it was brought to my attention my an Irish colleague. Who said our link to the British Isles is history!

[ comments? ]

Thu Jun 23, 2011

Western Australia

The long march

A leech bites back

Western Australia is the next state in the long march to the ALP National Conference in December.

On Saturday ALP state delegates will debate a motion calling for marriage equality.

It helps that WA Labor leader, Eric Ripper, has endorsed equality, bringing him into line with the majority of his fellow West Australians.

We can only hope Ripper is right about having the support of conference delegates.


By an amazing coincidence, and ash clouds permitting, I will be in Perth on Saturday for the next marriage equality action workshop organised by Australian Marriage Equality.

There are still two places available. If you'd like to attend email

I'm looking forward to seeing old friends in Perth.

But there is something I have to get off my chest before I fly across the Nullarbor.

Earlier this year WA Premier, Colin Barnett, lashed out at Tasmania for being the nation's national park (i.e. nice to look at but economically unproductive).

This followed an outrageous comment by his state Liberal colleague, Don Randall, that Tasmania is a leech on the nation's teat (as well as being deeply offensive that is an appalling mixed metaphor).

What's most annoying about the attitude of these men is that it is WA's economy which is problem, not Tasmania's.

The money WA is earning from mining is inflating the value of the Australian dollar against other currencies.

This is making it harder for Tasmania's more diverse agricultural, aquacultural, manufacturing and service-based sectors to find and keep overseas markets for their products.

It's easy to dig holes in the ground and ship the dirt off to China. It's harder, but much more important, to develop and maintain a balanced economy.

I say "more important" because a balanced, diversified economy is the foundation of a balanced, diversified society.

A one-note economy like WA's is, well, as dull as the dirt it's based on.

I'm not saying Tasmania hasn't got profound economic problems.

The Howard-era arrangement of dropping state taxes in return for a share of the GST has been exposed by the GFC as fundamentally flawed.

Instead of cutting out the hearts of local communities, as the current Tasmanian Government is proposing, it's time to return to innovative state-based revenue raising.

But this will be all the harder as long as we are stuck with a high dollar and a depressed private sector.

If Colin Barnett and Co want Tasmania to be less "leech-like" they should start with their own over-heated commodity sell-off.


In other WA News, Brian Greig looks at the evolution of LGBTI human rights over the last twenty years, and a Broome man proposes to his partner at a Kylie concert.

In other Tasmanian news, a Launceston-based Uniting Church minister explains why he supports marriage equality.

And in other news altogether,

Conservative UK PM, David Cameron, invites LGBTI people to his house.

So why do LGBTI Australians have to pay before they can meet their Labor PM at her house?

[ comments? ]

Mon Jun 20, 2011

Marriage equality (national)

'It's not important'

What are some of the sticks that could be thrust in marriage equality's spokes?

The Queensland ALP State Conference has voted to support marriage equality.

This means a majority of state and territory conferences have endorsed the reform, leaving only NSW and WA.

Grass-roots members in those states will be asked to vote on the issue in coming weeks.

If they follow suit, and there's no reason to think they won't, Labor Party rank and file will have sent the strongest message possible to Julia Gillard that's she's out-of-step with Labor values.

Opponents of equality see the importance of the Qld decision.

Both the Australian Christian Lobby and the Australian newspaper are reacting with their usual refrain about Labor losing touch by not dealing with what they consider more mainstream issues.

The ACL:

"Mr Shelton said the Queensland Labor Party risked alienating mainstream voters by fixating on a small, activist component of the population instead of dealing with the issues most Australians were concerned about."

The Australian

"Labor does not speak well to middle Australia, where the marital "rights" of same-sex couples barely rate a mention alongside concerns over soaring living costs and healthcare."

The obvious response is that if debate on same-sex marriage is getting in the way of more important issues then why not move on by allowing such marriages?

But beyond this simple political logic there's a profound hypocrisy in the it's-not-important argument against equality.

When John Howard amended the Marriage Act in 2004 to preclude the recognition of same-sex marriages both the ACL and the Australian championed the change on the basis marriage is a universal and fundamental social and legal institution.

Everyone should be concerned, they argued, because everyone has a stake in marriage.

This is how they justified devoting most of their campaigning / columnists to the cause of gay exclusion.

But now that public opinion has swung towards equality, it seems reform of marriage no longer matters to anyone but a troublesome few.

If marriage mattered in 2004, it should matter now, unless, of course, the motive in 2004 was not marriage but political mischief-making.


Given that momentum for equality continues to grow, prompting opponents of equality to engage with the issue ever more defensively, it's time to take another look at what sticks may be thrust in marriage equality's spokes.

The one I find least troubling is a conscience vote on equality.

Obviously it would be best if the Labor National Conference adopts a new policy supporting marriage equality.

But if it can't, a conscience vote would at least allow the issue to keep moving forward.

It's also hard to imagine the Coalition adopting a policy any better than free vote.

If there has to be a compromise on the path to full equality, this should be it.

Another compromise that would keep the momentum going, but which I find much less attractive is a referendum.

This option is floating around the religious right and has made its way into random letters to the editor, but it is yet to perculate up to the top rungs of the political ladder like a carbon tax plebiscite has.

While I believe marriage equality would be endorsed by a referendum, I fear the campaign leading up to it would register stormy to apocalyptic on the political barometer.

The recent street clashes over marriage equality would be nothing compared to the divisiveness of a referendum.

That's something the nation definitely does not need.

Another possible compromise on the path marriage equality is a national civil union scheme.

This would be a disaster, both for same-sex attracted people seeking equality and for the marriage equality movement.

Very little is said about this possibility at the moment. Politicians know it is unpopular among both supporters and opponents of reform.

But the threat is still there. Powerful members of both major parties have the civil union option tucked in their back pockets waiting for the right moment to spring it on a nation that hasn't had a chance to consider its implications.

In the event a referendum and/or civil union scheme are rejected, there will be yet more annoying sticks awaiting spokes, especially in the event of a conscience vote.

One possibility is a ban on all religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, including by religious celebrants who are happy to perform such marriages.

A parallel is the ban on religious civil partnership ceremonies inserted in the UK Civil Partnerships Act to get it through Parliament in 2005, and only now being considered for repeal.

More likely, in my view, is an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act to allow churches to discriminate against same-sex couples on the grounds of marital status.

This is the kind of compromise being considered in New York to win the one or two Republican State Senate votes needed to pass reform.

In Australia the final resort of many opponents of reform - once their scare tactics about polygamy, incest and the end of the world have been exposed as baseless - is the argument that allowing same-sex marriages will mean religious celebrants are forced to perform same-sex marriages, church schools forced to teach they are legitimate and faith-based services forced to treat them equally.

Equality opponents haven't yet raised the possibility of an anti-discrimination amendment, but, believe me, this is where they are heading.

If you're in doubt, consider the same-sex adoption debate in NSW which followed the same trajectory.

Just as churches are currently not forced to perform marriages they don't recognise, and are not forced to legitimise these marriages in other ways, so they will be not be forced to act against their teachings in relation to same-sex marriages.

Indeed, there are already exemptions in anti-discrimination laws that allow churches to refuse recognition and services on the grounds of marital status or sexual orientation.

But this will not stop them seeking further exemptions that are both more pointed and broader...anything to re-inforce the walls too many religious leaders seem determined to build between their congregations and the societies of which they increasingly seem to detest being a part.


In other marriage-equality news,

Jacqui Tomlins explains what she would tell Julia over dinner

In other LGBTI human rights news,

Congratulations on the Australian Government for co-sponsoring a ground-breaking UN resolution on sexuality and gender identity discrimination.

[ comments? ]

Fri Jun 17, 2011

Activism and social change


Out with the old, in with the new

This week Senator Guy Barnett gave his valedictory speech.

He was not re-elected last year, after being demoted to a hard-to-win position on the Tasmanian Liberal Senate ticket.

Few equality supporters will lament his departure.

GB tried to sabotage the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Tasmania in 1997. He begrudged the state's Relationships Act in 2003.

Most notoriously, he claims credit for the 2004 Marriage Act amendment banning same-sex nuptials.

Even in the dying months of his term he remains a high-profile opponent of marriage equality.

But there's something else which sticks in my craw, perhaps because it's personal.

In 2009 I learnt one of the reasons Barnett was demoted was the perception in the Liberal Party, or at least the manipulation of the perception, that he is only concerned with "fringe moral issues" like preventing same-sex marriage.

Although I have no time for GB's anti-equality stance, I can empathise with someone who is knocked around because of their convictions.

When I encountered GB a few days later in a cafe in the Tasmanian midlands I expressed this empathy by comparing him to another Launceston evangelical, Henry Reed, who I happened then to be studying closely for different reasons.

Like Barnett, Reed found himself in a political environment ill-suited to strong conviction and his public career suffered as a result.

At the time, GB seemed to appreciate the link I made.

But it wasn't an appreciation that lasted.

A couple of months later we faced each other across a desk in Melbourne during hearings into the Greens' Marriage Equality Bill.

Instead of asking me questions about the issue, Barnett quizzed me about the different LGBTI organisations and issues with which I have been associated to create the impression that my interest in marriage equality is less about belief in the issue than about me being, in his words, "a political activist" (the transcript can be found here, see p27).

Here was someone whose strength of conviction had cost him the job he loves, and whose predicament I had shown some understanding of, twisting around the dedication I have to my beliefs so that dedication looked like opportunism and insincerity.

I was astounded by this. What is it that drives someone to switch off their sense of decency for the sake of a fleeting rhetorical point?

Perhaps it's the same thing that switches off compassion towards same-sex couples and their families, but I know plenty of people who oppose equality who still treat LGBTI folk decently in official settings.

More likely, GB has hit on the all-too-common psychological coping mechanism used by those who suffer at the hands of the cynical and the heartless because they believe in something: mistreat others the same way.

If this is the case then the benefit of Barnett's political exit will accrue even more to him than to those whose rights he trampled.

It will give him a chance to recover his lost humanity.


At the same time as an old advocate against equality is departing, a new advocate for it is arriving.

Her name is Sandy Miller and she is one of the same-sex partners who will meet Julia Gillard at the up-coming dinner for which Get Up! and AME successfully bid this week.

Sandy and the other partners attending the dinner have been receiving a lot of exposure in the media.

This is good for the issue, but it must be very hard for those involved, having not experienced it before.

I met Sandy and her fiance Louise at a marriage equality action workshop in Sydney earlier this year.

She immediately struck me as someone bursting with energy on this issue - not the kind of negative energy that says "what's wrong with us/the government/the nation that we can't fix this" but the kind of positive energy that says "we can fix this and we must because our families deserve it".

Because I know this of Sandy I am appalled that ill-intentioned people like those posting comments to this compelling piece criticise her for involving her children.

These critics wouldn't raise an eyebrow at a political candidate or religious leader who parades his children in front of the TV cameras to prove his "family values".

But because they are oblivious to the love in two-mum or two-dad families and see instead two selfish people inflicting themselves on children in a vain attempt to imitate family life, the critics feel free to attack same-sex couples whenever they appear in the public's gaze with their children.

Like every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parent I know, Sandy only allows her children to be involved in the issue because they want to be and because she trusts they can handle it.

When your family is your motivation to speak out, it makes no sense to speak out at the expense of your family.

Put another way, there's an even deeper difference between Guy Barnett and Sandy Miller than their respective positions on marriage equality; his conviction has lost its heart, her conviction is all heart.

If you have a message of support for Sandy or the other partners off to the Lodge send it to me and I'll make sure it is passed on (


In other news, check out Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, Treasurer, Wayne Swan, and their same-sex dates at the Parliamentary Mid-Winter Ball.

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Thu Jun 16, 2011

Marriage equality (national)


What I admire in two great equality advocates has published an article by Brian Greig highlighting the likelihood of an increasingly-embarrassed Labor Party trying to shut down the marriage equality debate by establishing a Labor-friendly sock-puppet organisation.

Money quote:

"If anyone thinks Gillard’s office will put up with this any longer they’re dreaming. Her office will inevitably set about creating a new gay marriage group. A nicer one. A tame one. One that will be quiet. One that won’t annoy her. One that can spin a poor conference outcome Labor’s way. One that can be corralled into impotency.

It will urge recruits to work with the ALP’s strategy. It will have maps, polling and arguments designed to show well meaning but naive campaigners that the best chance of success lies in making the campaign go quiet. No more activism. No more embarrassing Gillard. Just lots of fruitless, time-consuming meetings away from media and public attention.

The uninitiated will be told that conservative voters in outer urban seats don’t like the issue being raised, but will begrudgingly support it if it goes through quietly. If you keep banging on about it, they’ll say, you’ll lose support. So, everybody, Shhhh!!!

Brian's right that Labor has tried to control LGBTI community organisations in the past, or just set up their own, in order to reduce pressure on the ALP.

He's right there has never been a gay issue more likely to suffer this fate than marriage equality. In fact, the pressure has already started. I referred to it in a recent article I wrote.

He's right the ALP National Conference outcome on equality might be worse-than-useless and Labor will want a "community voice" to spin this in a way that reduces electoral damage for inner-city MPs.

Is he right that a new "Alliance" might be this voice? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

But what is certain that he has identified a real threat to successful, independent community action on marriage equality.

For that he deserves credit.


Credit is something Brian Greig has received quite a bit of lately.

At the weekend he was named as a recipient of an Order of Australia.

This award is well-deserved.

Through his 20-plus year career in public life, first an a community activist and then a Senator, Brian has never faltered in his advocacy for LGBTI human rights.

His work is characterised by rationality, patience and humour on the one hand, and on the other, a capacity to recognise and seize the moment.

This is a rare and immensely effective combination. Brian is an activist's activist.

I am a friend of Brian's and have been for as long as he has been an LGBTI human rights advocate. I share many of his philosophies and strategies for legal and social reform.

Perhaps this blinds me to his flaws, just as I may be blind to my own.

But whatever Brian's flaws may be, they don't seem to matter much.

The measure of an activist's skill is his or her achievements.

For Brian, the fact that Western Australia is an immensely more LGBTI-friendly place than it was 20 years ago is that measure.


Another advocate whose skills I have come to admire is Alex Greenwich.

We work together in Australian Marriage Equality.

When I first starting working with Alex I saw myself as the more experienced activist handing on the baton from the generation to which Brian and I belong, to the next.

But I quickly learnt that experience isn't always the most important thing.

Alex has skills I have never seen in any other Australian LGBTI human rights advocate, which is a good thing given marriage equality is an LGBTI human rights issue the scope and challenge of which Australia has never seen before.

He not only seizes the moment, Greig-style. He does so in a way I can only describe as entrepreneurial.

By this I mean knows how turn every challenge into an advantage, every deficit into a profit.

On top of this he is a born diplomat, not in the common sense of being polite for the sake of avoiding offence, but in the original sense of getting the best from people who could just as easily be behaving at their worst, of resolving potential conflict into aspiration for the common good.

When the history of the successful marriage equality campaign is written, Alex's ability to effect positive change will be seen as one of the reasons equality was achieved.


In other news,

New York state takes an important step towards marriage equality, highlighting the ALP's backwardness on this issue, yet again.

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