News & Comment
Wed Jun 15, 2011
Marriage equality (national)
$31,150 worth of democracy
Ordinary Australians show they passionately support equality.Get Up! and Australian Marriage Equality have won dinner with Julia Gillard at the Lodge.
They will be sending along marriage equality advocates including same-sex partners Sandy Miller and her fiancée Louise Bucke.
According to AME and Get Up!:
Sandy and Louise are in a long-term, committed and loving relationship and have been engaged for the last two years – they have two children from Sandy’s previous marriage, Matthew (11) and Dylan (9).
“Our youngest often asks us “Mummies are you going to be engaged forever? Why don’t you get married?”,” Sandy Miller said. “It has been hard trying to explain that our government won’t let us get married and he doesn’t understand why everyone else can get married and become a family legally and we can’t.”
The dinner was first prize in an annual charity auction organised by the federal parliamentary press gallery.
Another prize was a dinner with the Lower House independents.
AME was also successful in bidding for this.
Dinner with the independents will be important.
Their votes may be key when Parliament comes to debate marriage equality.
But the dinner with the Prime Minister is of immense symbolic importance.
Not only has she repeatedly opposed marriage equality, sometimes in the most outrageous terms.
She has also repeatedly refused to meet anyone who advocates it.
She won't meet supporters of equality from her electorate.
She won't meet same-sex couples affected by discrimination or their family members.
She won't meet lobby groups like AME and PFLAG.
This is in stark contrast to her regular meetings with groups like the Australian Christian Lobby.
It's also in stark contrast to Tony Abbott who has met supporters of equality.
So what did it take to begin to rectify this gross imbalance?
What did it take to force the Prime Minister to address representatives of the 62% of Australians who support marriage equality.
It took $31,150.
That's how much the successful bid was.
That's how much it costs to get the leader of our national government to perform her basic democratic duties.
And even then it was touch and go.
Although Get Up! and AME were front-runner bidders all day, there was another bid of $30,000 just seconds before bids closed.
It seems safe to assume this bid was more about stopping our access to the PM than allowing someone else access.
But let's not focus on negatives.
This is a great win for equality.
Julia Gillard will now have to face those people whose rights she so blithely tramples.
More than that, what we have seen today is another example of how strongly ordinary Australians support equality.
Every penny of the $31,000 was raised in just a few hours by donations to Get Up! and AME.
If there are still strategists in the ALP who think Australia's who support equality aren't as passionate as Australians who oppose it, today is the best demonstration of why they couldn't be more wrong.
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Tue Jun 14, 2011
Marriage equality (national)
Julia Gillard seems very familiar with Certificates of No-Impediment to MarriageThe Feds have again ruled out allowing same-sex couples access to the key document they need to marry overseas - a Certificate of No-Impediment to Marriage (CNI).
This is despite the fact that the denial of CNIs causes emotional pain and real disadvantage to many same-sex couples.
In Parliament this afternoon Julia Gillard responded to a question from Andrew Wilkie on the issue by declaring that CNIs cannot be issued for marriages that aren't recognised in Australia.
This is nonsense.
The role of a CNI is to confirm to a foreign government that an Australian who wants to marry under its laws is not already married in Australia.
Foreign governments don't care if the marriage in question is recognised in Australia or not.
On this basis a 2009 Senate inquiry recommended the removal of CNI ban, even though it also supported the wider Australian ban on same-sex marriages.
It's hard to believe the Feds are still running such a pathetic excuse for what Andrew Wilkie called a "petty, mean-spirited" policy.
For the AME media release, click here.
For a fact sheet on CNIs, click here.
For my take on the issue, click here.
On second thoughts, perhaps it's not such a surprise that the Feds are doing their darndest to appear as nasty as possible on this issue.
The Prime Minister had a ready response on what you would expect to be a fairly small issue in the greater scheme of things.
Was she secretly thinking "thank you Mr Wilkie for giving me another opportunity to show the Christian Lobby that I'm on their side"?
We will never know.
What we can be sure of is that the Government is not about to change its CNI policy.
There is no law or regulation which mandates the denial of CNIs to same-sex couples.
A word from the Attorney-General is all that's required to bring some sanity to this issue.
But with the Prime Minister so eagerly hitching CNIs to her anti-marriage equality waggon, that's clearly not going to happen.
If this "petty, mean-spirited" policy is to be reversed before the Marriage Act is eventually amended stronger action is required.
In other news,
A faux lesbian blogger (a "blogsbian"?) comes out as a heterosexual American man, prompting another one to do the same.
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Fri Jun 10, 2011
Tasmanian LGBT rights
Things don't always get better.Next week the Tasmanian Upper House begins debating the State Government's proposed law decriminalising surrogacy.
This shouldn't be controversial. The Bill is limited to altruistic surrogacy, includes a range of safeguards, conforms to national standards and reform has already occurred in the continental states.
But the State Liberals think otherwise.
During the Lower House debate in April the Liberals moved several amendments to restrict access to legal surrogacy, including an amendment excluding same-sex couples from the Bill altogether.
In effect, this would have made surrogacy a crime if gay people do it.
The Liberal amendment would not only have made life much harder for the children born to same-sex couples through surrogacy arrangements, but sent out a negative, stigmatising message about same-sex couples and their families generally.
Fortunately, the amendment was voted down, as was a second amendment allowing gay surrogacy but placing extra restrictions on it.
But I fear either or both amendments may come up again in next week's debate.
So you can help knock it off, the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group has set up a new website called "Equality Tasmania" which allows you to quickly and easily let the views of supporters of legal equality to be heard by all Upper House members.
Click here for more.
The Liberals' amendment came as a great shock to me.
Beginning in 1996 the Tasmanian Liberal Party allowed its MPs a conscience vote on matters concerning same-sex relationships.
This is what allowed a bill decriminalising homosexuality to finally pass in 1997.
It is what saw the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, the establishment of our civil partnership scheme, the legal recognition of same-sex parents, and the acknowledgement of overseas same-sex marriages all to pass with overwhelming majorities.
So why has the Liberal Party suddenly reversed its decade-and-a-half-long practice of being...well...liberal?
After all, the Party has a socially-progressive leader in Will Hodgman. His deputy Jeremy Rockcliff is very aware of the issues facing LGBTI people.
The problem seems to be an influx of conservative evangelicals at the last election, including Jacqui Petrusma and former federal Liberal, Michael Ferguson.
With State Liberals winning office interstate and the current Tasmanian Government coping with a dire budget deficit, the Tasmanian Liberals have decided government is within their grasp and unity is crucial.
Unfortunately, due to the growing influence of anti-gay elements within the Party, that unity means a swing to the far right.
On a personal note this is deeply disappointing.
I've tried hard to work to build bridges with the Tasmanian Liberal Party.
It played a key roll in stirring up virulent anti-gay hatred in the late 80s and early 90s, in the process driving many LGBTI people from our shores or to their deaths.
I believe the legacy of this hate will haunt us until the Liberals finally embrace diversity.
I also believed this was beginning slowly, cautiously, but certainly to happen.
I still hold to the necessity of the Liberals abandoning prejudice. But I can no longer hold to the certainty this will occur.
So much for my optimistic and whiggish, it-just-gets-better view of Tasmanian LGBTI history.
In other parenting news, South Australia becomes the last state to recognise same-sex co-mothers.
Many people are surprised when I tell them SA is last on same-sex parenting because they know it to have been the first state to decriminalise homosexuality.
I tell them this may not be as confusing as it looks. Perhaps the complacency that came with being first led to it now being last?
Of all the states, SA holds most strongly to a nineteenth-century-style belief in the inevitability of improvement.
In this case that belief hasn't served the state well at all.
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Thu Jun 09, 2011
Art, lit, film, TV, bio, history, science
A Hobart author dethrones a gay icon.On a cold winter's night in Hobart there's nowhere I'd rather be than in a bookshop talking about poetry.
I got my wish last week when I was asked to launch a new book by Peter MacIntosh about the authorship of Shakespeare's Sonnets at Hobart Bookshop in Salamanca Square.
Click here for a copy of what I said.
I took as my theme the religious-style dogmatism that pervades the authorship debate.
But I also addressed how MacIntosh's findings demolish the notion that Shakespeare was gay or bisexual.
"Like all good attempts to solve mysteries, Peter’s book opens up yet more questions. One is what we are to do with the widely-held belief, based on the gender of the Sonnets’ author’s lover, that Shakespeare was sexually attracted to men. If Shakespeare didn’t write the Sonnets his name will have to be edited out of all those lists of “great gays in history”. It’s not a little ironic that if this happens the man responsible is the accepting father of a gay son, and supportive husband of Els who has been a Tasmanian spokesperson for parents of gays. But would the demise of gay Shakespeare be such a loss? Do we still need him to help us feel valuable and to highlight the hypocrisy of bigots? If and when this champion of ours goes, it may not be such a bad thing that we are forced to rely more on ourselves."
So, if Shakespeare, gay, bi or otherwise, was not the author of the Sonnets, who was?
You'll have to read the book to find out, but I'll give you a clue...she probably wasn't gay.
In other news Shelley Argent speaks to her new TV ad on Sunrise. Click here to see.
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Wed Jun 08, 2011
Marriage equality (national)
3 in 4 Australians believe marriage equality will happen
The consistency of support for marriage equality does not mean it is fixed.A new national Galaxy Research poll has found 75% of Australians believe marriage equality is inevitable.
At the same time a new national TV ad campaign in which National PFLAG spokesperson, Shelley Argent, asks how long do we have to wait for equality begins broadcasting this week.
This handy multi-media bundle website (something new to me) has AME's media release, the ad, audio grabs and high res pics of, Shelley Argent and AME Convener, Alex Greenwich.
For the full poll results, click here
For a summary of all Australian marriage equality poll results, click here.
Alex Greenwich's commentary on the poll results is here, Shelley's is here and mine is here.
You can hear an interview with Alex Greenwich on the poll results here.
Money quotes from
"I remember when I was 17 walking to school trying to convince myself that I was straight so I could one day get married and be treated as an equal citizen. The latest polling shows that today’s gay and lesbian youth will have the choices denied previous generations."
"We parents provide our children with all of the love and support we can give. We hope to provide them with the best education and provide for their every want and need. But we can not provide our sons or daughters with equal rights. Only the government can do this."
"Allowing same-sex marriages is now considered inevitable because attitudes to same-sex relationships and to marriage have converged at the point where most people now understand both to be primarily about love and commitment."
It’s tempting to think there’s some kind of fixed limit to public support for marriage equality.
For three years Australian polls have shown about 60% support and 35% opposition, despite heightened community debate on the issue.
The figures are remarkably similar in Britain, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.
In the US support is a few points lower but opposition is at the same level as all these other countries.
A fatalist would look at this and conclude that further advocacy and education on the issue is pointless.
They’d say let’s just hammer decision-makers with their responsibility to the 60% who support equality and leave it at that.
But I’m not a fatalist.
I believe a large slice of those who are currently opposed to marriage equality can and will support it.
I’m not talking about conservative evangelical Christians.
Many of them seem to have woven opposition to marriage equality into the fabric of their personal identity.
I’m talking, as I did in my op ed, about older Australians who are not particularly religious of homophobic, but still have the same view of matrimony as they had when they were young.
They still see marriage as always starting at the altar, ending in the grave, gender-divided, procreational, and the only way to legitimise sex and children.
Of course, marriage isn’t like that any more.
Today, heterosexual couples and much more likely to make their own decisions about marriage, sex, children, religion, finances, household tasks and/or divorce.
When marriage allows for personal choice and gender equity, it cannot but also allow for same-sex couples.
What gives me hope that older Australians understand this, and are at least open to the idea of same-sex marriages, is the latest Galaxy Poll showing 75% of Australians believe reform is inevitable.
In other words, 15% of Australians believe marriage equality will happen regardless of their current reservations about it.
I can hear my fatalist saying, even if we can win them over what’s the point when the majority is already on our side.
My answer to that the conflicted 15% will, by definition, be some of the least likely supporters of equality and therefore the most persuasive advocates for it.
In other poll news, the Australian Christian Lobby flags the scare-tatics it intends to deploy in its attempt to turn back the tide of history.
“Once people focus on what redefining marriage might mean for normalising the idea of the state decreeing that some children should not have a mother or father, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, people will take a second look at the claims of the homosexual lobby."
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Fri May 06, 2011
At least we can laugh at ourselvesIt's good news Friday...
A new website allowing mums to show their support for marriage equality has been launched in advance of Mothers' Day. Check it out here.
Labor MP, Doug Cameron, has outlined how marriage equality should fit into Labor's vision of a Good Society.
The Tasmanian Government has announced funding for several new community projects to combat anti-LGBTI discrimination and hate.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has spoken out against LGBT discrimination.
What an uplifting way to end a momentous and sometimes grave week, one which has seen monarchy rejuvenated, papacy re-sanctified and US hegemony re-asserted.
It's been a week of probing inquiry and soul searching: do Australians want a hereditary head-of-state, does a saint ignore child abuse, can execution without trial be called "justice"?
But one question, more than any other, seems to have captured world attention.
Why did Princess Beatrice wear what looks like a cornice molding to her cousin's wedding?
I share the concern. Is this the sign of things to come? Are we about to tear off down some stylistic cul-de-sac as awful as ten-foot-high powdered wigs (or coloured contact lenses)?
Fashion says a lot about an age. It is how we are most immediately recalled by posterity.
So what will future generations say of us if "Beatty hats" take off?
Whatever else, hopefully the future will at least allow that we could laugh at ourselves.
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Wed May 04, 2011
Equal law or no law?
The Human Rights Commission dodges the issue of anti-discrimination exemptionsThe Human Rights Commission has released its long-awaited report on laws preventing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).
Corey Irlam is right to welcome the report as a step towards better federal SOGI anti-discrimination laws.
The human stories in the report will be particularly important in fostering a mature national debate.
The listing of other important issues is also welcome.
But the report has a fatal flaw.
It fails to take a stand on what will be the key controversy raised by a new federal SOGI discrimination law: the kind of exemptions for religious schools and welfare agencies which exist in most state laws and which the Federal Government has already said it wants to include.
In its defence the AHRC will claim that its report makes no recommendations at all. But that doesn't wash.
The report notes that discrimination in marriage violates Australia's international human rights obligations.
The least the AHRC could have done was acknowledge that laws allowing discrimination in some schools and workplaces do too.
Instead, it dodges the issue.
Exemptions don't rate a mention in the introduction.
In the section on exemptions, the Commission downplays the important precedent set by the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act.
It wrongly says "the Tasmanian Act contains relatively few exemptions relating to sexual orientation or gender identity", when in fact there are none at all.
It cites the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group's statement about the absence of exemptions, ignoring a similar and more authoritative statement from the state's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.
It has only been three months since a media firestorm about NSW laws which allow students who are gay to be expelled from religious schools.
It was only last night that an edition of the SBS Insight program about gay kids in schools focussed on the same problem.
Yet, here we have the national human rights watchdog taking an agnostic position on the issue.
This effectively sends the message that discrimination against some of Australia's most vulnerable people is not important.
The AHRC's weakness again raises for me a key question I addressed a few months ago.
At the time I wrote,
"Given that all the states and territories currently have SOGI discrimination laws, one has to ask what the point of equivalent national laws will be if all they do is allow discrimination in areas where it is worst, such as religious schools."
"Do we continue to accept these loathsome exemptions, or do we draw a line in the sand and say 'no more', even if that brings a temporary halt to law reform?"
Return in the next few days to read how some of my readers responded to this question.
In other federal anti-discrimination law news,
The Government has set up an interactive website. I expect to see the issue of SOGI exemptions raised soon.
In other religious prejudice news,
A new groups is formed called Australian Christians Against the Australian Christian Lobby
And in other Insight news,
The Tasmanian Government is so appalling dis-organised that in its response to the Insight questionnaire of education departments about LGBTI issues in schools it forgot it has led the way.
Some of the national firsts it omitted from the Tas DoE's list of initiatives include:
a) the establishment of Australia's first education department LGBTI reference group
b) the regular publication over a decade of a newsletter on LGBTI issues, Talking Out
c) the publication in several editions of policies and support materials on sexual diversity and gender diversity
d) funding formal, independent of evaluation of class-room anti-homophobia programs
e) funding of school anti-homophobia programs
f) gathering data on how many teachers are trained in sexual and gender diversity issues
For more, click here
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Fri Apr 29, 2011
Marriage equality (national)
'The secular case against same-sex marriage'
...and how it's no stronger than the religious case.Never doubt that marriage equality is an issue of deep concern to many Australians.
On Wednesday morning Australian Marriage Equality launched a new webform that allows supporters of equality to quickly and easily send an email to their local MP.
The initiative is in response to an anti-equality email campaign which has flooded MPs offices with letters against reform.
It seems AME's initiative is working. Already 40,000 emails have been sent.
But more are needed.
Click here to send an email, if you haven't already.
On a smaller scale, last night's marriage equality debate convened by Hobart-based federal MP, Andrew Wilkie, at the University of Tasmania was packed out, overflowing the Uni's largest lecture.
The debate was respectful and many different views were aired.
The most inspiring moments for me where when two parents spoke out against discrimination against their gay sons.
One son was in the audience and didn't know his father was there until the latter began talking about how unjust it is that only two of his three children can marry.
The son was touched by his dad's concern.
It was also refreshing to hear from Christian leaders who support equality.
For a copy of my address, click here.
After the debate, a consistent complaint of some audience members, particularly heterosexuals who have not been drawn to the issue before, was that the case made against reform was weak.
They acknowledged opponents of reform are sincere, passionate and due respect. But, apart from God, there seemed to be no real case for excluding same-sex couples from marriage.
As if in response, Ian Robinson from the Rationalist Society has published what he calls "the secular case" against marriage equality.
IR's argument is a mix of biological reductionism and gay exceptionalism.
"Heterosexuality is so important to our survival, so fundamental to the continuation of the species, that we have an ingrained sense that marriage as a heterosexual union should not be tampered with. It symbolises in the social sphere the vital role that the male-female gamete union plays at the biological level."
If marriage is so crucial to what John Howard famously called, "the survival of the species", why does the law allow infertile heterosexual couples to marry, or couples who don't want children, or couples who don't care for their children? It is a double-standard to allow such marriages and exclude same-sex couples because they can't reproduce on their own.
Sure there's a cultural link between marriage and raising kids, but is it just that marriage generally unites two people who together can reproduce? Marriage is good for children because, at best, it provides them with the security, stability and continuity that allows them to thrive. Parental gender or sexuality is irrelevant to this.
After Robinson tells us how he learnt "respect for the arts and the value of refinement and taste" from a likely-gay uncle who would not have been so useful for his nephew had he had his own family, the author goes on to write:
"I sometimes think that some members of the homosexual community are playing a game of “Let’s Pretend” – “Let’s pretend we’re heterosexual”: Heterosexual couples have children, so let’s get ourselves a baby. Heterosexual couples get married, so let’s get ourselves married. This seems to me to be at one level a denial of one’s homosexuality, of what makes homosexuality unique. Freedom is not the ability to become like other people, freedom is the ability to become more fully yourself! Isn’t this what “Gay Pride” means. There is no pride in making believe you are just like everyone else."
Real freedom includes the freedom to be included in a universal institution that symbolises, more than any other, love, commitment and family. To be "free" to be a life-accessory for heterosexuals, to be the screen upon which they project their own needs at he expense of those of LGBTI people, that's not freedom. It is a kind of bondage.
Like one's capacity to parent, one's desire to marry, and what one gains and gives through marriage, are functions of personality, not sexuality or gender. The legal right to marry should reflect this fact.
In other marriage equality consultation news,
Tasmanian Labor Senator, Carol Brown, has launched a statewide survey. Please let her know your views.
In other marriage equality news,
Alex Greenwich argues that the royal wedding shows how marriage can blend tradition and change without being diminished.
In other gay law reform news,
I reminisce about the bad old days with Richard Fidler.
And in other inspiring-parents-standing-up-for-their-gay-children news,
Syrian government thugs are sent packing.
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Thu Apr 21, 2011
Marriage equality (state)
The real battle
Is the ACT about to get real same-sex marriage laws?There's a lot of marriage equality news around.
The electorate of Wentworth supports it, as do four of Scotland's five major political parties.
Conservative Christians in Perth don't, and neither, in a rhetorical sense, does Tim Dunlop.
Supporters or not, Sydney's royal wedding fans are about to hear a lot more about it.
But by far the most far-reaching news of the week, albeit the least commented on, is that ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, believes states and territories have the capacity to enact same-sex marriage laws.
He's not talking about the civil union laws his Government has championed since 2006 and the mainstream press has insisted on incorrectly labelling "gay marriage".
He's talking about the kind of fully-fledged marriage law that has previously been introduced in Tasmania and South Australia and flagged in Victoria and NSW.
We can be certain about this because a) Stanhope has always been very careful not to call civil unions "marriage" and b) he refers to "the loophole" created by John Howard's 2004 Marriage Act amendment explicitly precluding the recognition of same-sex marriages in federal law.
This constitutional "loophole", identified by Prof George Williams, allows states and territories to make laws for any marriages that the Commonwealth does not legislate for, including, since 2004, same-sex marriages.
Now back to why Stanhope's statement is so important.
First, it helps re-inforce the important distinction between marriage and civil unions. By talking about the need to legislate for same-sex marriages, Stanhope is effectively saying that civil unions do not provide full equality.
Second, if Stanhope believes his Government has the capacity to legislate for same-sex marriages, and given he supports full equality for same-sex couples, perhaps he is preparing to introduce or support a same-sex marriage law?
No-one should be surprised if he does.
The 2006 ACT Government inquiry which set the civil union debate in motion rejected the idea of territory same-sex marriages laws as unconstitutional. As a result, the Stanhope Government went to great pains to explain why its civil union laws were not marriage.
But successive federal governments were not convinced. Howard quashed the first ACT civil union law. Rudd twisted arms and got a quieter back down on the second. Both felt the ACT laws, and particularly the ceremonies they provided for, to be too much like marriage.
All of Stanhope's many battles with the Feds over civil unions have been, if you will forgive the phrase, de facto battles over the morality and constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
After five years he may well be ready to fight the real battle.
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Tue Apr 19, 2011
Marriage equality (national)
Looking down from Heaven
Campbell Newman's support for marriage equality is important for many reasonsThe Queensland Opposition Leader, Campbell Newman, supports marriage equality.
Newman is the most prominent conservative politician in Australia to support equality (although by no means the only one).
The fact that he is from Queensland, where the conservatives have traditionally been ultra-conservative, only increases pressure on other Liberal and National politicians to follow suit.
What Newman's support underlines for me is how quickly the ground can shift on the issue of marriage equality.
Only a few months ago it was remarkable when the first state Labor leader, Anna Bligh, supported reform.
Now reform has the backing of several state Labor leaders, most recently Daniel Andrews.
This has helped drain the issue of the political fear and stigma with which it has been traditionally associated and made it easier for support to cross the political fence.
Less than an hour after hearing the news about Campbell Newman I was in a Hobart bookshop to buy a book by the early-twentieth Tasmanian romantic novelist, Marie Bjelke-Petersen.
M B-P was the aunt of Newman's most famous, and famously homophobic, predecessor, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
By coincidence, both Newman and Sir Joh are off-shoots of respected Tasmanian families.
The bookshop owner and I mused on the links.
"Sir Joh will be rolling in his grave", she said.
"But not Marie", I added.
The book I had just bought was lying open before me.
On the dedication page were the words "To my beloved Sylvia, my angel, my life".
Maria was in a life-long relationship with Sylvia Mills.
It was a marriage in all but name.
If Marie Bjelke-Petersen is looking down on us from the Heaven, where she fervently believed she would be united forever with Sylvia, she will be very proud of Campbell Newman.
For more on Marie, Joh and gay law reform click here.
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