ACT’s marriage bill is only the beginning

October 22, 2013

The ACT passed its same-sex marriage bill today. Congratulations, and it’s about time.

Picture via Sky News Australia

Picture via Sky News Australia

It’s not the bill they wanted. It isn’t comprehensive. It won’t allow trans or intersex, or non-binary gender identifying people to marry. The ACT’s Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, had the bill re-drafted after receiving legal advice that its original language would leave it vulnerable to a High Court challenge (already threatened by the Liberal government). The result was a much smaller victory than was hoped for, and no doubt there will be many, many people who feel both let down and excluded. There’s certainly a fair amount of bitterness flying around social media today.

The idea that this bill needed to be amended in such a way to even have a hope of standing up to a legal challenge is, at the very least, disappointing. At worst, it’s infuriating.

But it doesn’t take away the fact that the ACT passed a bill to allow same-sex marriage. It doesn’t take away the fact that this is a landmark reform. And it doesn’t take away the fact that a Territory government was prepared to stand up to a conservative government and pass a law that will redress so much of the damage done by the Marriage Act and its narrow definitions.

The ACT managed it through some clever legal manoeuvring, taking advantage of a loophole in the Marriage Act which, ironically, was created by the Howard government’s insistence on defining marriage as taking place between ‘a man and a woman’. Rather than attempting to change that, the new law stands alone in applying solely to same-sex couples. It operates side-by-side with the Commonwealth’s law, and the Territory is confident that this will be the defining characteristic that allows it to remain on the books.

The Chief Minister has already said that, as far as she’s concerned, there is more work to be done. She signalled that if the law withstood the expected challenge, the Territory would seek to pass further laws extending marriage to those couples excluded by the one passed today. This first law is the test.

That it should even have to be a test is utterly repugnant – but that has been the history of the bill all along.

Attorney-General George Brandis wrote to Gallagher, ‘urging’ her not to go ahead with the bill. His reasoning? Marriage should be uniform across all States and Territories. Of course, what he really meant was, ‘uniform according to one limited definition’.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the government would challenge the law. His reasoning? Marriage has a ‘traditional’ definition. Traditional, of course, meaning, ‘enshrined in law since 1984 on the basis of special pleading’.

This law hurts nobody. No one will be required to ‘get gay married’, nor will they be required to give up their heterosexual marriage. Yes, I’m being absurd, but the notion that same-sex marriage somehow hurts or undermines heterosexual unions warrants this level of scorn.

What this law will do is redress a great wrong. It will celebrates love. It acknowledges that nearly 70% of Australians support doing away with the artificial distinction between marriage based entirely on gender. To be pseudo-economic about it, having this law in place increases the Gross National Happiness – which always bodes well for governments, even if all they want to talk about is the Budget deficit or unemployment rate.

And yet.

We have a government that – even before the debate really got off the ground in the ACT Parliament – decided that this law could not be allowed to stand.

If the Abbott government carries out its threat to challenge the ACT’s same-sex marriage law, it will not be about tradition, or uniformity, or any other of its usual excuses.

It will be pandering to a vocal minority of religious lobby groups who feel they have the right to dictate that we should all live by their doctrines.

It will be vicious discrimination from a government that feels its job is to control how people live their lives, and punish them for who they love.

It will be narrow-minded pettiness from a government so obsessed with image, to the point that it cannot bear to be seen to lose even one of its self-imposed battles.

It will be the action of a government that acts like a spoiled child, refusing to let anyone else be happy unless they play by rules that only it can define – rules which it can change on little more than a whim.

And if – heaven forfend – such a challenge were upheld by the High Court, it would not be a victory. It would be a day of shame.

It’s not often I urge readers to take to the streets, to sign petitions, to campaign unceasingly and take the fight to the politicians and the media. But there are some things that should be defended, passionately and unceasingly. Marriage equality is one of those. What the ACT did today was take the first, huge step towards true equality, by locking into law the right for same-sex couples to marry. It’s not good enough for us to sit back and watch while the Federal Government acts – again – like a bully determined to get its own way, no matter who gets hurt. It’s not good enough for us to simply complain, or lash out at those who would do this to us, or the ones we love, or even the stranger in the street who deserves the same rights as everyone else.

We are better than that. And this is only the beginning.

lesbian couple

Rudd’s marriage equality line in the sand

September 3, 2013

Kevin Rudd’s appearance on the ABC’s QandA program was always going to be a drawcard. Whether you were looking to see him roundly criticised for everything from challenging for the leadership to the PNG asylum seeker policy, hoping for some substance, or just wanting to see some sign that Labor might not be doomed at Saturday’s election, there was a reason to tune in. And he didn’t disappoint.

This format – alone in front of a live audience – is where Rudd reveals both his best and worst self. Best, in that he can let rip on issues where he feels real conviction. Worst, in that he has a terrible poker face where his temper is concerned. If he’s getting angry with a line of questioning, you can see it.

There was a little of both last night. He completely failed to break through on the issue of superannuation, and at one point looked ready to give host Tony Jones an ear-bashing when the latter challenged him on his constant use of the misleading ‘$70 billion black hole’ phrase. (For the record? The number was confirmed by both Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey and Shadow Finance Spokesperson Andrew Robb – but not during this election campaign, and not on the current set of Coalition policies.) On the other hand, his ability to admit where he’d made mistakes in the past, and to own those mistakes rather than make excuses, went over well with the audience.

Where both sides of the man came together was on the question of marriage equality – and it was an amazing thing to see.

The questioner described himself as a ‘pastor’, and gave a rambling statement about Rudd changing his position on various issues, before zeroing in on marriage. It wasn’t quite a case of a trembling finger of rage pointed from the pulpit, but it was close. The questioner actually quivered. It was clear that, whatever else he’d said, the real reason for his anger was that he felt personally insulted by Rudd’s change of heart on marriage equality.

Rudd started off mildly enough, but then asked the questioner whether his view was that homosexuality was normal. The pastor answered with the claim that ‘we’ – he and his fellow pastors – performed weddings between men and women, that the Bible was clear on marriage and homosexuality, etc, and why didn’t Rudd believe the words of Jesus. At that point, Rudd’s whole demeanour changed. His words became passionate, and his manner full of conviction; and he took the questioner to task. Watch it:

For political tragics (like your obedient correspondent) who loved The West Wing, it was a familiar moment – a leader pushed too far on questions of social justice, fighting back as a member of that religion. There was no doubt that Rudd didn’t give a damn about that questioner’s vote, or the votes of anyone who felt the same way. Nor was he simply trying to grab the so-called ‘gay’ vote – his earlier announcements on the subject of marriage equality had already signalled his intention to introduce legislation, and support it. Rudd, simply, was telling it like he saw it.

But there was something else going on, something not immediately obvious. Rudd’s answer wasn’t just a declaration of support for marriage equality. It was a line in the sand.

There are any number of people or groups on the other side of that line, including influential factional bosses of his own party such as Joe de Bruyn of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union. Arguably the biggest, however, is the Australian Christian Lobby.

This group claims to represent ‘Australia’s Christians’. I’ve written before about the staggering misrepresentation in such claims, and how virtually no media outlet bothers to correct them. The ACL is homophobic, anti-choice, anti-secular education and little more than a mouthpiece for certain fundamentalist groups. Hiding behind the mantle of ‘Christian’, it has, in the past, successfully spooked Premiers, Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders, and political parties have bent over backwards to answer the imperious ‘policy questionnaire’ it sends out at election time. (The notable exception is the Greens, which has, at least some of the time, politely told the ACL where it can put its questions.)

As the issue of marriage equality has grown in Australia, the ACL’s tone has become ever more shrill, to the point of hysteria. It seeks promises from political leaders that they will not tamper with the ‘sanctity of marriage’, and for the most part, the parties have made such promises. Whether directly – as in the case of the Rise Up Australia Party (another mouthpiece, this time for a Pentecostal church – Catch the Fire Ministries), or indirectly, as in Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s weasel words about a possible party room discussion sometime in the distant future, the ACL gets what it wants.

In the past, Rudd did his fair share of pandering to Australian Christians. Even then, his language was considerably less enthusiastic than some. During a 2007 ‘debate’ with former Prime Minister John Howard hosted by the ACL, Rudd repeatedly hammered the points of tolerance and diversity, and acknowledged the fact that Christians were not a homogenous mass devoid of individual thinking. Nonetheless, the fact he was prepared to take the time to address the ACL showed Rudd acknowledged its power as a lobby group.

Because, let’s not forget, that’s what the ACL is – a lobby group. The clue is in the name, people.

The pastor who angrily demanded of Rudd that he ‘live by Jesus’ words’ was Matt Prater, from New Hope Brisbane. It’s one of those ‘non-church churches’ that claims to provide an alternative to the mainstream churches – which, according to places like New Hope, have lost the ‘truth’ of God’s message. This is exactly the kind of place that signs up to the ACL.

Prater was singing from the ACL hymn book. He was not simply asking for a religious exemption from having to perform same-sex marriages – he believed all Australians must live by his church’s interpretation of select portions of the Bible (and the Old Testament, at that – Jesus was silent on the question of homosexuality and same-sex marriage). That’s called Dominionism (so-called ‘God’s kingdom on earth’), and it’s the backbone of the ACL’s principles. Nobody gets a choice, because ‘God knows best’, and the ACL (and its affiliates) know what God wants. And politicians have let these religious groups get away with it, giving them – at best – a cautious wag of the finger.

After last night, though, the ACL and those who subscribe to its tenets are on notice. Rudd signalled that, as far as the Labor Party is concerned, the ACL’s influence is irrelevant.

That might not be entirely true – never underestimate the power of the pulpit. Just ask the Catholics who were around when the Democratic Labor Party split off from the ALP in the 1950s. It’s possible Rudd hammered a pretty big nail in Labor’s coffin last night.

What matters, though, is that the issue of marriage equality last night become important enough that a major party was prepared to send a message to a big lobby group that it would rather do without the votes than compromise its support.

And – no matter what the outcome on Saturday – we shouldn’t lose sight of it.

Goodness knows there will be few enough moments of which we can really feel proud when we look back on this campaign. We should celebrate what we can.

Leaders’ Debate 11/8/13 – style, not substance?

August 12, 2013

Last night’s Leaders’ Debate should have been an opportunity to hear the candidates being closely questioned. It should have been a chance to have policies put up directly against each other. It should have been a moment where hard questions were put, and pressure kept up to force Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to actually provide some answers.

It wasn’t. The debate was disappointing, at best – and not just because the questions were clearly given to the candidates long beforehand. There were at least two clear ‘gifts’, one for each candidate – in Parliament, they’d be called Dixers – and the last question was almost served up on a platter to allow a policy announcement.

I’m only going to look at a couple of significant moments from the question and answer period, however, because I want to focus on the commentators, post-debate.

Generally, Abbott’s answers tended to be either riddled with slogans, or entirely composed of criticism of Labor. At one point, he referred to Labor’s policies as ‘waffle’, and at another, laughed derisively during Rudd’s answer. Rudd, as sitting Prime Minister, had the advantage of being able to base his answers on the government’s achievements, and go on to talk up new policies. There were few surprises, policy-wise, but it’s rare to see major announcements during a debate.

Rudd stumbled badly on the question of whether a Labor government would build a second airport for Sydney. Although his answer was essentially the same as Abbott’s – ‘we’ll have a look at that with some experts’ – he failed to point the finger at either the former Howard government or New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell. He could have said that earthworks were actually in progress, stopped by Howard. He could have said that O’Farrell had absolutely refused to work with federal Labor. It’s anyone’s guess why he didn’t, but then he compounded the error by pointing out that there were infrastructure needs right across the country. No one likes to hear that their needs might be less important, no matter how true that may be.

For his part, Abbott came a cropper on the issue of aged care. The Coalition’s ‘Real Solutions’ booklet has a vague paragraph promising an ‘agreement’ with providers in the sector. Pressed for detail on actual policy, Abbott had nothing to add. In fact, he grudgingly admitted he would keep the reforms passed under Labor.

Abbott also ruled out any changes to the GST – but was unable to answer why, in that case, the GST would be part of his promised tax review. He also tried to say that any change to the GST would have to involve the agreement of all States and Territories, and therefore unlikely even if he were looking at that. Speers pulled him up immediately for that piece of misinformation. A sitting government has the ability to change the current legislation, without undertaking any consultation.

But it was the last question, leaked some time earlier, that drove the biggest wedge between the leaders – that of marriage equality. The two answers could not have been more different. For Abbott, the issue was settled last term. Besides, there were much more important things. Effectively, the Coalition considered marriage equality a dead, second-order (at best) issue. Abbott did offer a sop at the conclusion of his answer, suggesting that the party room might look at the situation if anything changed. He certainly gave the impression, though, that it wasn’t worth holding your breath.

Rudd reiterated his change of heart, and commitment to marriage equality, calling it a ‘mark of decency’. Then came the election promise. Within the first 100 days of a Labor government, they would introduce legislation removing the impediments within the Marriage Act, and allow a conscience vote. It’s still highly unlikely that such a bill would pass, given the Coalition’s stance, but – unlike Labor’s former position – this would be a bill introduced by a Minister and backed by the Prime Minister. Such things carry their own weight and, while Labor would still have to deal with its own Right faction’s opposition, it gives them a stronger base from which to begin.

So much for questions. Let’s look at how the commentators and audience polls wrapped it up. Having the debate broadcast far and wide provided the opportunity for a real cross-section of viewers. Here’s how the polls saw the debate:

Channel Ten (One HD) = Rudd 61 – Abbott 39
Channel Nine (GEM) = Rudd 59 – Abbott 41
Channel Seven = Abbott 68 – Rudd 32
ABC = Rudd 71 – Abbott 29

Fairly decisive, you’d think. With one exception, every poll gave the debate to Rudd. The ABC’s poll, conducted via Twitter, could rightly be set aside as have a particularly limited audience – but even without that, on balance Rudd won the debate.

But then there were the commentators, who, almost as though they were working from the same script, gave the debate to Abbott. This was particularly startling in the case of the ABC, who published the results of their own polls, then proceeded to completely ignore them.

And why did Abbott ‘win’?

Because Rudd ‘started off nervously’.

Because Abbott ‘sounded confident’.

Because – you have to love the vagueness of this – Abbott ‘looked Prime Ministerial’.

Finally – and this was the point where credibility went out the window – no less a personage than Laurie Oakes asserted that Abbott had won, not in spite of his reliance on three word slogans, but because of them.

Yeah, you read that right.

Because, apparently, the essential qualities in judging whether someone is a good debater have nothing to do with the substance of their arguments. Or how well they refute their opponent’s points. No, no. It’s all about style.

Oscar Wilde observed that those who used the phrase ‘style over substance’ was a marvellous and instant indicator of a fool.

Now, call me the product of a bygone generation, but when I was at school, we were taught that debates are won on the quality of your argument. We were taught how to construct initial statements, build on those, and to rebut and dismantle our opponents’ arguments. We were assessed on those criteria, and the winner was whoever could do that better. Call me a wide-eyed optimist, but I thought that was still how we determined who won our debates.

Oh, silly me. I keep forgetting that modern political reporting has less to do with issues of substance and more to do with whether Kevin Rudd’s hair was mussed up by the wind or Julia Gillard’s shoes sank into the lawn. It’s about whether the person in front of the cameras grabs attention with some snappy talking points, not whether they’re actually saying something of significance.

Think I’m exaggerating? Go take a look. The number one story to come out of last night’s debate is whether Rudd broke the rules by taking notes to the podium with him. And whether Abbott, lauded as being ‘note-free’, might also have had notes, as claimed by Lindsay Coombs, who tweeted a screen-grab showing notes on Abbott’s podium.

(For what it’s worth? The note issue is – and should be – a non-issue. Rudd made no attempt to conceal his notes, and said that as far as he knew, having them was permitted. Clearly, he was wrong. Last night’s setup was the exception rather than the rule for debates. It’s possible Rudd did assume he could act as usual. But really, is there any need to prevent someone from taking notes into a debate? What does it prove? It’s not as though a Prime Minister is required to operate under exam conditions – he has access to experts, briefs, any amount of needed information.)

So this is where we are. What should have been a way for us to learn more about the policies of the new major parties, vigorously debated, analysed at length with the precision that comes from long experience in political journalism – was a farce. Commentators ignored clear poll results, dismissed substance in favour of style, and focused on the existence of a few typed pages.

And today, those same commentators complain that last night’s debate was boring, and that no one will want to watch any others. How ‘lucky’, they said, that Channels Nine and Ten had secondary (read: less popular) channels to carry the broadcast.

I suggest that perhaps those commentators might better use their skills as judges on ‘Australia’s Got Talent’, or similar shows. Meanwhile, perhaps we could have a real debate – and get some real analysis, while we at it.

Shame, Australia – no recognition for same-sex marriage

June 20, 2013

The Senate just voted against an amendment recognising same-sex marriages performed overseas, in countries far more enlightened than ours.

The vote was 28-44. Overwhelming.

And one of the most mean-spirited votes I’ve seen. If ever there was a vote that showcased spite and prejudice, this was one.

The prejudice was easy to see. All the usual arguments – marriage is between a man and a woman, ’twas ever thus, talk fast and loud and make sure no one realises we only defined it as such in 1984 – with a hefty dollop of pseudo-Christian jingoism. Yes, pseudo-Christian. When more and more Christians are supporting marriage equality, when queer clergy are ordained, when church spokespersons acknowledge they cannot dictate to those not of their faith, appeals to the idea that Australia is a quasi-theocracy are revealed for what they really are – convenient rubbish.

We’re a secular country. We always have been. We even have Constitutional provisions to prevent us from becoming ruled by any given religion. That’s a good, and necessary thing – and it doesn’t only protect those who hold no religious belief. It protects everyone.

But this is an old argument. Any time someone dares to suggest that marriage equality in any form is desirable, the religious argument is trotted out, looking increasingly tattered. In today’s debate, the most objectionable comments came from West Australian Liberal Senator Dr Chris Back.

He asserted that the only reason – the only reason – this debate was occurring, was in order to prevent the Opposition from thoroughly debating ‘important’ legislation. Important. Talk about a slap in the face.

Just what was this important legislation? Well, he mentioned the education reforms – and those are important, sure. The claim that debating recognition of same-sex marriages made overseas would significantly harm debate on education, however, simply does not follow. For Senator Back, though, it was undeniable.

As if attempting to reduce the issue to a mere annoyance wasn’t enough, Back apparently decided that mockery would be a fine way to argue, and invited the Chamber to join him. He painted a picture of two (presumably) lesbians in their wedding dresses crying as their Parisian marriage was ignored by Australian law – as though that was something funny.

He also made the utterly ridiculous argument that we wouldn’t deny women the vote just because Saudi Arabia does, or do away with speeding laws because European autobahns don’t have speed limits.

And then he had the audacity to accuse supporters of the amendment of engaging in propaganda – scare tactics, emotive argument, ad hominem argument, and mindless repetition.

Uh, Senator Back? You just described your own side’s tactics. Oh, except you forgot the lies. Lies about the Marriage Act, lies about the effect of same-sex marriage on children, lies about virtually everything in this debate – including the increasing number of Australians who support marriage equality.

Perhaps the result of the final vote shouldn’t have come as a surprise. With Labor allowing a conscience vote, and the Opposition firmly against, the only way it could have succeeded was if a significant number of Liberals crossed the floor.

I would, however, like to congratulate Senator Sue Boyce, who defied her party both on this amendment, and on an amendment to end discrimination against LGBTI people (especially couples) in aged-care facilities.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that the result of this vote was, as I wrote earlier, entirely mean-spirited.

Think about it. If the amendment had passed, who would have been hurt?

Heterosexual couples? Hardly. They wouldn’t even have to compete for a date with a marriage celebrant.

Children? How? If they’re the kids of a same-sex union, then their parents are just as married as the next kid at school.

Society? Please. More committed, legally recognised marriages with all the obligations and protections of those solemnised in Australia actually stabilise social groups.

Oh, wait. I know how recognising a same-sex marriage made overseas might be harmful.

Our kids might ask awkward questions.

‘Mum, if Johnny’s Dads got married in New Zealand, how come they’re not married here?’

‘Say, Dad, did you know Angie’s Mums are married, but only in some countries? How weird is that?’

‘Mum, you know how you and Dad and Aunty Jess and Aunty Jan got married on holiday? Why are you allowed to be married here, but not them?’

That’s what this comes down to – a fear that, if we do recognise the marriages made overseas between same-sex couples, that even more people will start to question the utterly arbitrary laws that discriminate against marriage equality in general. Currently well over 60% of Australians support equality, and that number is only rising.

Heaven forfend.

This is a shameful day for Australia. Extending our recognition of marriages made overseas would be such a simple thing. It would hurt no one; in fact, it would only increase both happiness and social stability. It would show us to be a nation that is both compassionate and fair-minded, able to extend our congratulations to even more of our citizens for choosing to formalise their loving commitment to each other.

Instead, our elected representatives showed themselves – yet again – to be narrow-minded, prejudiced, manipulative and hard-hearted.

Australia falls further and further behind the rest of the world every day when it comes to social justice. Today was one more example.

What happened in the Senate today probably won’t even make the evening news broadcasts, which in itself is disgraceful. And the majority of those who voted to deny same-sex couples even this most basic of recognition probably won’t have any trouble sleeping tonight.

They should. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. And they should be made aware of just how badly their blithe politicking affects the very people they claim to represent.

Queensland’s sinister civil union changes

June 21, 2012

At a time when there are bills before the Parliament calling for marriage equality, you’d expect a fair amount of opposition to rear its head. For reasons that surpass understanding, it seems that a lot of people become somewhat nervous when they have to consider the idea of allowing equal access to marriage for same-sex couples.

Unsurprisingly, we have the Australian Christian Lobby – yet again claiming to represent all Australian Christians – frantically scrambling to spread a tissue of lies designed to panic the populace and pressure the politicians. In step with the ACL are Doctors for the Family, who I exposed as a religious lobby group hiding behind their qualifications. And then there are those who claim not to be influenced by religion, but who cling to some bizarre idea of ‘culture’. Funny how they all have the same arguments, though.

There’s the obvious ‘God-hates-fags’ message – not that they say that, oh no, there are some very nice homosexuals, even if they are going to hell. That one usually gets dressed up with an appeal to tradition, as though Christianity actually invented marriage and gets to say who can have it. That one goes hand-in-hand with ‘kids need a Mummy and a Daddy’, otherwise we will warp our precious darlings into tolerant – nay, celebratory – human beings who don’t understand why it’s so important to keep heterosexuality on a pedestal.

Then there are the absurd arguments, which usually take the form of the good ol’ slippery slope. Homosexual marriage will lead to polygamy! Homosexual marriage will lead to bestiality! If we let the gays marry, then anyone can marry!

No, I’m not kidding. Senator Michaelia Cash’s office actually issued media releases asserting that Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s marriage equality bill was covering up the ‘real’ Greens agenda, which is to enshrine polygamous marriage in law.

And then there’s the downright disgusting. Doctors for the Family’s submission to the Senate enquiry into the bills used dodgy studies to suggest that same-sex marriage would put children at risk of AIDS. Perhaps worst of all, some opponents of marriage equality (notably Christian Democrat Peter Madden) draw the connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, suggesting that gay marriage would put children at risk of sexual abuse.

And too many politicians are still listening. Despite a record number of submissions to the Senate enquiry, despite every poll conducted by a non-partisan organisation (i.e. not the ACL) showing 60% or greater support for marriage equality, despite the passionate arguments and the massive rallies calling for nothing more than the basic human right to marry – the Coalition is immovable in its opposition (no pun intended), and the Labor Party offers only the sop of a conscience vote.

Stephen Jones’ bill has been moved forward, and more time allowed for debate. This may sway undecided MPs, but the real reason for the change is because members of Labor’s Right faction are worried that this issue has caused too much division.

(I should take a moment to acknowledge that in recent days, more Labor MPs have signalled their intention to vote for the legislation. Among these are Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese, Arts Minister Simon Crean, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, Finance Minister Senator Penny Wong, Stephen Jones, Graham Perrett and Laura Smyth. On the Opposition side, Communications Shadow Malcolm Turnbull expressed support, but said he was not free to cross the floor unless he was prepared to go to the backbench or even lose his membership in the party. You can find out how your local MP stands on the issue by visiting this helpful site set up by Australian Marriage Equality.)

And while all this is going on, let’s not forget the States. In particular, let’s have a look at Queensland.

Under former Premier Anna Bligh, one of the State Labor government’s biggest achievements was to legislate in favour of same-sex civil unions. The Civil Partnerships Act was still second-class treatment, drawing a spurious line between ‘real’ marriage and ‘marriage-lite’, but there was, at least, movement towards marriage equality. Couples could be married (or is it ‘unionised’?) in a registry office, with a civil celebrant conducting a ceremony.

After Labor’s devastating defeat at the last election, the new Liberal government moved fast to entrench itself as sole occupiers of the palace by locking the tiny Opposition out of the Parliamentary offices, and started unravelling many of their predecessors’ reforms. Premier Campbell Newman stated his intention to repeal the civil union legislation, rendering existing unions null and void. For this, he received considerable praise from the ACL and similar organisations.

Today, the Queensland government announced that instead of repealing the Act, they were rushing legislation into the Parliament to water it down.

Same-sex couples can still have their civil unions – except they won’t be called unions anymore. They’re ‘registered partnerships’. Romantic, huh? Just like a business. What they can’t have is a ceremony. Instead, they can simply fill in a form, hand it over (presumably with some kind of fee), get it stamped and voila! Off to the portrait place to get their ‘registration’ framed. Even better, if the relationship ends, they can do the same thing. (Appallingly, the Sydney Morning Herald suggests this is actually a positive outcome. Perhaps they thinks it’s akin to de-friending someone on Facebook.)

It’s such a simple process. No mess, no fuss. No tedious worries about what to wear or who to invite. No juggling of table places to make sure Aunt Jemima isn’t seated next to Cousin Kylie. It’s cheap, it’s neat, and best of all – it’s quick. You could pop over in your lunch hour. Or better yet – how about drive-through? Pick up your form at the first window, fill it out while you’re in the queue, and hand it in when you get to the second window. You could even pick up a couple of coffees while you’re at it.

(And perhaps we could see a whole new franchise – McGay-Weddings!)

Why, it’s just like … it’s like … registering a dog! Who wouldn’t want that?

Who wouldn’t? Any person with a shred of decency or fellow-feeling. Anyone who has even the tiniest speck of empathy, who can imagine themselves subjected to the same sort of prejudice and snobbery. Any same-sex couple who just wants to be treated like every heterosexual couple in the entire country.

Does Newman really think people are going to line up at Town Hall windows to ‘register’? (And doesn’t that phrase send a chill down your spine?) Is the Liberal government so completely out of touch that it thinks same-sex couples will settle for whatever they can get?

Of course they don’t.

This isn’t just an attempt to pacify marriage equality advocates while pandering to bigots. This is a sneaky political ploy. I suspect Newman knows very well that same-sex couples will elect not to be a part of such an obviously insulting, second-class system. I suspect that’s exactly what he’s waiting for – because then he’ll have statistics he can use to back up the argument that gay people don’t ‘really’ want marriage. They’ll be false, twisted statistics, but since when has that ever mattered to politicians pushing an agenda?

And what about those over-the-counter divorces, I mean de-registrations? Well, it might be awfully convenient – if you didn’t have children, or any communal property whatsoever. That this is even a part of the legislation betrays just how little thought the Queensland government put into the real, human cost of ending relationships. If you’ve been through a divorce, you know how potentially upsetting the process can be – and you also know that there are all sorts of considerations that need to be taken into account, often with the aid of lawyers and court rulings. It’s not something anyone goes into lightly.

Perhaps Newman thinks that same-sex couples won’t have kids, or won’t stay together long enough to buy a house or amass communal property – or perhaps he knows exactly what he’s doing. The thought of ending even a medium-term relationship is daunting enough – to do so without the benefit of access to the same legal protections and assistance that heterosexual couples receive is frightening. And so, we have another disincentive to ‘register’.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just incompetence on the Queensland government’s part. Maybe Newman is blinded by his need to appease religious bigots, and foolishly thinks he can throw a crumb to same-sex couples so that they’ll go away thinking, ‘well, at least we have this’.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I am wrong. It’s not merely about keeping the ACL on side. I think this is designed to support the contention that this is purely a niche issue, affecting a tiny minority of people, and not worth taking up valuable time in Parliament. That’s an argument squarely aimed at Queenslanders who have no particular ‘stake’ in the question of same-sex marriage – those who are dealing with issues of rural health shortfalls, loss of farm income, education issues, etc. It’s a way of painting same-sex couples as selfish and petty, uninterested in the struggles of ‘real’ people.

It’s pernicious, it’s effective, and it’s utterly inexcusable. And it should be exposed for what it is – a cold, calculated attempt to pit people against each other for political advantage.

Boycott Gloria, but put the pressure on Julia

June 12, 2012

There’s a lot of noise going around the web about Gloria Jeans, the coffee franchise that recently donated $30,000 to the notoriously homophobic Australian Christian Lobby. Remember the ACL? Sure you do. They’re the ones who think that teaching kids not to bully their gay peers is part of the ‘homosexual agenda’. The ones that Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu happily pandered to when he used his party’s majority to completely subvert the democratic legislative process – because the ACL said it was attacking ‘freedom’ to update Equal Opportunity laws. They’re a vocal minority that claims to speak for all Christians, pushing their bigotry, intolerance and outright hatred while crying foul and hugging their martyr’s crowns when any dares to point out their utter hypocrisy.

And they’re the ones our major political parties have given special treatment time and time again. Whether they’re taking meetings with representatives or providing answers to election quizzes, both Labor and the Liberal/National parties allow the ACL an extraordinary level of access. For a secular state, there’s a truly disproportionate level of influence going on there.

But back to Gloria Jeans, now the subject of any number of blogs, newspaper articles and social media calls for boycotts. (A particularly good blog on the current subject comes from That’s My Philosophy, who do a marvellous job of shredding GJ’s claims to be entirely unaffiliated with religious groups.)

GJs has long been associated with Hillsong, a Sydney megachurch that’s come in for its fair share of scrutiny (not least because of some of its more famous visitors, including former Treasurer Peter Costello and former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer). In fact, one of Hillsong’s elders, Nabi Saleh, founded the coffee chain, owned a controlling interest and sat on its board. Saleh’s bio is pretty darned interesting. He looks like your average coffee mogul at first glance, until you look closely at the names of his businesses – Petra and Maranatha, both words closely associated with Pentecostal and Dominionist Christianity. Then there’s his directorships of some of the biggest megachurches around, including Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

Oh, and there are more than a few GJs franchisees who are members of Hillsong. Not really surprising, then, that GJs should be donating money to the ACL. And that’s their choice – it’s not up to us to tell a business they can’t support a cause in which they believe. Of course, they also have to be prepared to cop the flak from people who take offence at their choice of beneficiary.

But wait.

This is by no means the first time GJs has ended up in the spotlight, with people calling for a boycott. They’ve got form.

Back in 2007, I reported on another cause to which GJs was donating money – and providing collection boxes on their counters so that others could help contribute a little more. This time, the cause was a ‘counselling centre’ for women – specifically, women as young as 16.

In reality, that counselling centre was Mercy Ministries, and those brochures were whitewashed lies. Girls who were unlucky enough to fall into MM’s program reported emotional, financial, religious and physical abuse at the hands of their ‘counsellors’. Women suffering from mental illness were subjected to exorcism to expel ‘demons’. They were required to sign over their Centrelink benefits for up to a year, their lives utterly controlled – and if they were pregnant, it was so much worse.

Put yourself in the shoes of one of these girls – the daily meetings with the counsellors who told you your only choice was to ‘face your sin’ and have the baby, the Bible studies focused on promiscuity and the sin of murder, the ‘accountability counsellor’ who would make sure you were ‘doing the right thing’ – all in an environment that you can’t leave except to go to church once a week.

And that church? Yep, you guessed it – Hillsong.

The Sydney branch of Mercy Ministries finally closed in 2009 – almost two years after the original stories started to surface, and women came forward to speak of their experiences. By that time, GJs and Hillsong, no doubt seeing the proverbial writing on the wall, had cut them loose – but until then, they were in lockstep with this abusive organisation masquerading as ‘counselling’.

So, we’re not talking about a simple case of a coffee business making a donation. This is a business with a history of supporting groups that are not only religiously bigoted, but outright deceptive and abusive. Gloria Jeans actively solicited money from the public to further Mercy Ministries’ vicious tactics, and allowed false information to be distributed from their counters. They collaborated in keeping the truth from would-be donors.

At least, in giving money to the Australian Christian Lobby, they’re being honest. Or are they? After the initial outcry, it seems that GJs is not all that comfortable with being associated with the recipient of their generosity, after all – or the church that founded them, and which so many of their franchisees and employees attend. Curious, that.

The ACL seem happy to accept money from an organisation that helped fund a program so destructive to women as to seem almost designed that way. Now they’re receiving money from that same business to prop up their own deceptive campaign against marriage equality. Really, is any of this surprising to anyone?

Actually, there is one thing – that the government has any time for these kinds of tactics at all – although, perhaps that’s not so much surprising as worthy of a cynical sigh of despair.

You want to boycott Gloria Jean’s? Go ahead. Put your money where your convictions are – in fact, I highly recommend doing that no matter what you believe.

Just be honest about it. Don’t hide behind a professional title, or a slick brochure, or weasel words about ‘freedom’ and ‘fairness’, if what you’re really after is the right to determine other people’s lives.

Oh, and don’t forget who the real targets are while you’re buying your coffee from somewhere else – the Federal and State governments who overlook deception and pander to hatred because they think there might be a few thousand votes in it. They’re the ones who should be in focus – not the poor bastards who make a lousy wage frothing milk and making sure your soy chai latte grande is exactly how you ordered it.

We’re looking at you, Prime Minister.

More on Doctors for the Family and their ‘evidence’

May 14, 2012

Last night I revealed that ‘Doctors for the Family’ were not simply an organisation of health professionals with valid health concerns about same-sex marriage, but rather a religious lobby group who used their qualifications to obscure their real agenda.

That knowledge still, apparently, hasn’t made it to the mainstream media – nor have they bothered to check the sources cited in the letter submitted by the group to the Senate marriage equality enquiry. Now, we can understand that the Herald-Sun might not be too interested in looking closely; it was originally their story, after all. (And readers might be interested to check out the redacted version, which now includes quotes from the AMA and Australian Marriage Equality – described by reporter Brigid O’Connell as ‘gay rights’ activists’. It also includes quotes from Dr Lachlan Dunjeny, though strangely, fails to mention his other crusades.)

But what’s the excuse for no one else doing a bit of elementary research? This isn’t simply some obscure Senate paper; it was splashed all over the media yesterday, becoming the lead story for some news providers. Extraordinary claims were published and re-published, and never challenged.

The story is out now that there is a religious agenda driving Doctors for the Family. But what about the apparently authoritative sources they use to back up their arguments that same-sex marriage (specifically, marriage between two men, which seems to be their major preoccupation)? Who are they?

Let’s take a look.

The major study cited looks, on the face of things, to be above reproach. It was completed by the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney, and only last year. Looks pretty damning. But wait.

The study was commissioned by our old friends the Australian Christian Lobby, and ‘made possible by a generous grant from the Vos Foundation’. It also thanks someone named Antoine Kazzi.

The Vos Foundation are an interesting group. Primarily, they’re land developers – one of those stories where a family business grows from humble beginnings to become incredibly successful. Some of that success finds its way into what they describe as a ‘philanthropy vehicle’. Just so that everyone’s clear on what kind of philanthropy, the Foundation helpfully provides information on their values – and right up front is a profession of faith, followed by ‘family and marriage relationships’.

Antoine Kazzi, whose research was so invaluable, works for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney – specifically, their Life, Marriage and Family Centre.

The study also thanks Focus on the Family Canada, a multi-national group well-known for their opposition to same-sex relationships and marriage equality. The acknowledgements wind up with statements of gratitude to several people for reading and comments – including Lyle Shelton and Paul O’Rourke from the ACL.

These are clearly partisan individuals and organisations, with a massive agenda to push. Any credible academic study should seek data which is as neutral as possible – or at the very least, balance the contributions with data or statements from opposing views.

The ‘evidence’ on which it relies is sketchy, its bias clear, and its original premise is shaky. It’s the kind of study that would earn an undergraduate student a verbal spanking and a low grade – and it’s certainly not of the standard expected by learned and lauded Professors.

And the unsurprising conclusion? Everything – everything that is wrong with our kids today stems from their not being raised in a two-parent heterosexual marriage environment.

This study is the equivalent of those ‘scientific research papers’ that used to say that smoking cigarettes was not only harmless, but might actually benefit us – you know, the ones that were commissioned and underwritten by tobacco companies. It’s questionable at best, worthless at worst.

Of all the sources cited in Doctors for the Family’s letter, this one is the most credible. The rest are either statistics taken out of context and twisted to serve the agenda, or partisan articles from international groups pushing the same religious agenda – notoriously, the hate-group Mass Resistance. That group is particularly vicious – reading their diatribes against same-sex attracted and transgender people is actually sickening. The Southern Poverty Law Center details some of their more revolting actions, including attempts to criminalise male-male sex as a form of ‘bestiality’ and to plant false allegations that ‘normalising homosexuality’ had led to skyrocketing levels of domestic violence.

And these are the groups on which Doctors for the Family based their submission to the Senate. These are the arguments that the lobby group attempted to give a veneer of respectability through using their professions to obscure their true purpose. And – most importantly – these are the groups that are easily exposed, and who have not been investigated even after the letter was made public.

Part of the media’s job is to challenge those sorts of assertions, so that those of us who work in other sectors can learn the facts behind them. It’s not enough to simply reprint part of a media release and get a comment from the most easily identified opponent to someone’s views. You need to investigate.

The letter from Doctors for the Family is going to the Senate. It will form part of a raft of submissions to an enquiry whose recommendations could have serious ramifications for thousands of Australians, their families and friends.

So-called ‘health organisations’ that cite partisan studies and rely on propaganda from hate-groups should be exposed for what they are, and that knowledge should be shared as widely as possible. The Senate should know what they’re getting.

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