A Freens bill to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage was predictably defeated in the Senate last month. Rudd Labor maintained its commitment to the shameful ban. Labor Senator Nick Sherry didn’t bother to justify voting down the bill during the Senate debates, leaving it to the Liberals. Instead he attempted to redeem Labor by talking up the removal of 85 discriminatory laws 18 months ago.
Liberal Senator Brandis took up the task with enthusiasm, proclaiming “marriage… has never, ever in any society, in the whole of human history, been regarded as other than a relationship or a status that exists between a man and a woman”. Tell that to people in Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Belgium, Portugal, Massachusetts, Iowa, and now Washington, where people are already living in state recognised same-sex marriages.
When John Howard wanted to undermine Aboriginal rights, he talked about “practical reconciliation” being more important than “symbolism”. Rudd wants to do the same by selling the “practical equality” of legal reform and denying the “symbolic” marriage rights that people are fighting for.
Wearing inequality with pride?
The government’s 85 legislative changes are being turned into an election-year PR campaign for the Rudd government through the “Wear it with Pride” campaign. $800,000 of government funding has been spent, including $395,000 to The National LGBTI Health Alliance to run it. At wearitwithpride.com.au you can buy 85 different t-shirt designs symbolising each piece of law reform.
The laws are painted as bringing full equality to LGBTI people. This from the same government that has intervened twice to stop the ACT passing civil union laws! Celebrities interviewed on the site were asked: “Do you think these reforms are a huge step forward for Australia?” But even most of those interviewed on the website recognise that celebrating equality is a joke when same-sex marriage is banned. Jason Kerr from 2DayFM says “for us the most obvious example of same-sex discrimination is that we can’t legally marry.”
One “Wear it with Pride” t-shirt proclaims “the law once locked me up for who I love—now it’s on my side”. But the law was not on the side of a group of HIV-positive men who were removed by Police, at the request of management, from the Bankstown Arts and Crafts Centre last month. They had been running classes for six months when they were asked by the Centre to undergo pedophile checks. They were asked to leave for violating uncited rules by leaving a copy of the LGBTI newspaper Sydney Star Observer in the space.
Neither is the law on the side of most same-sex couples on Centrelink, who are financially worse off because of Rudd’s reforms. Same-sex couples are now forced to share their sexuality with Centrelink, regardless of whether they are open about it in their lives or not. Some may lose their payments and pensions altogether as a result. After a lifetime of discrimination and homophobia, many older people face financial ruin in the guise of “equality”.
Reignite the fight
Many organisations are feeling the pressure to “go quiet” on Rudd in the face of the upcoming election, especially when Liberal leader Tony Abbott is so well known for his white picket fence mentality.
But changes for LGBTI people have not come about through the benevolence of Labor governments—in fact, it was a Labor Premier, Neville Wran, who reneged on a plan to decriminalise homosexuality in the late 1970s. He was in power in 1978 when the police brutality attacked the first Mardi Gras. That night the police, and later the Wran government, were confronted with a courageous fight back for LGBTI rights.
In stark contrast, the 2010 Mardi Gras saw peak LGBTI organisations fall in behind the government, celebrating the “Wear it with Pride” campaign.
The Aids Council of NSW, ACON, issued a warning to LGBTI people heading to Mardi Gras to expect an increase in hate crimes at the parade. Celebration is more than premature. The same-sex marriage ban is a dog whistle for this kind of homophobia. It’s a symptom of a society structured around discrimination. We need to fight it head on.
By Jean Parker