CONSERVATIVE LOBBYISTS are claiming some success in forcing Channel Seven to cut scenes of a more passionate “lesbian kiss” from soap opera Home and Away. The demands for censorship and the general “family values” hubbub pushed by the Herald Sun and Today Tonight are stark reminders that despite recent changes to legislation concerning same sex relationships, homophobia is alive and well in Australia.
Producers of Home and Away were not breaking new ground with their plot line around two female characters extending their relationship beyond platonic friendship. Australian television has shown gay characters in soaps and dramas since the seventies, starting with Number 96 and continuing with Prisoner, Sons and Daughters, Pacific Drive, Water Rats, GP, Sweat, Raw FM, Breakers, The Secret Life of Us, and All Saints to name a few. Not to mention the real life queers of Big Brother, The Block, Idol and So You Think You Can Dance.
The representation of queer characters however is still nothing like that provided for straight characters. Producers have, with small exceptions, been loath to have queer characters express their sexuality beyond a stereotypical limp wrist or flirtatious wink. Yet a TV watcher might well be left wondering why there was such controversy over Joey and Charlie’s eventual passionless pash.
The outcry echoed that over the gay kiss on Neighbours in 2004, and the previous gay kiss on Home and Away in 2006, and the episode of Play School that portrayed a child with “two mothers”. Again, the bigots got air time with their absurd argument that children ought not be exposed to homosexuality lest they are persuaded toward deviance. Pro-Family Perspectives director Angela Conway criticised Home and Away, saying “the plot lines that young kids and teenagers should be presented with should be about really authentic relationships that are not just sexualised.”
The homophobia that simmers beneath the surface of television representations of queers is a reflection of the homophobia which pervades mainstream politics. Last November, changes to approximately 100 Australian federal laws—social security, veterans’ entitlements, superannuation and parental benefits—were heralded as the long overdue end to discrimination against same sex partnerships.
But while Rudd gave with one hand, the stronger message that gay relationships are not legitimate was given on the other, as he reassured the conservative lobbyists that gay marriage was not on the government’s agenda.
“On the institution of marriage itself, our view is that it’s between a man and a woman and that’s just been our traditional continuing view,” said Kevin Rudd before he was elected. Then in 2008, he intervened to prevent the creation of civil partnerships in the ACT, saying he was concerned that any “mimicry” of marriage would disrupt the essentially “man and woman” nature of the institution. True to his word, marriage continues to exclude same sex couples.
On blogs and online forums fans of Home and Away are expressing their disappointment that the conservative Christian lobby wields enough influence to spoil the plotline and character development of Joey and Charlie’s relationship.
But it is not just the far right who are threatened by same sex relationships. Just like John Howard, Rudd and Labor are concerned to maintain “traditional and continuing” family values. Their concern to maintain marriage as man plus woman and some children is not just a matter of conforming to Christian morality, and not just submission to the lobbying power of the Christian right, although that is part of it.
Any challenge to the nuclear family is a challenge to capitalism. The nuclear family maintains the gendered division of labour, with women working for free within the home, and increasingly as cheaper workers in a gender-divided work outside the home, producing children and reproducing the labour force, while men go to work to provide for the family.
It is of course possible to imagine nuclear families evolving to include two women, or two men as parents, between them performing the free labour, reproducing, and going to work to provide for the family. In this form we can see that same sex marriage doesn’t necessarily threaten capitalism.
But to even get to that stage we will need a movement that can challenge the institution of marriage to include a diversity of “couples”.
Such a challenge also opens up questions about the reason for marriage and capitalism in the first place—questions that John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Channel Seven all think are best nipped in the bud. Same sex relationships still aren’t regarded as authentic and are still a bit too dangerous.
By Lucy Honan