Next Tuesday, May 8, the citizens of North Carolina will go to the ballot to participate in the state’s 2012 primary elections. But they’ll also have the opportunity to vote for or against a proposed state constitutional amendment that begins, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” Though gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, proponents suggest that the measure will prevent its future legalization.
It’s been something of a historic week in the fight for same-sex marriage in Australia. And it’s been a significant year for LGBT rights more generally (not so much, arguably, for Q* or I or any of the other letters that might otherwise go on the end of that acronym). Unfortunately, the hyperfocus on marriage has obscured the leaps, bounds, and deficiencies in some of the areas in more urgent need of attention. Here’s your guide to where Australia’s at, and where the lucky country, as we call it, has to go in order to spread that luck around more evenly.
While over the weekend New York’s GLBT community celebrated its recent gay marriage bill, ten thousand miles to the south a new marriage fight is only just beginning. Gay marriage has long been a political football in the United States, but for most of that time it has been a largely dead issue in Australia. In 2004, John Howard’s conservative Liberal party passed a bill banning gay marriage with the full support of the then-opposition Labor party, and when Labor’s Kevin Rudd took power in 2007, both gay marriage and civil unions remained off the table politically. Sadly, his successor Julia Gillard has been no different.
Recently however there have been signs of a grassroots opposition to this Federal political consensus. Over the weekend, the annual West Australian Labor conference endorsed gay marriage, becoming the third such state Labor party to do so recently following South Australia and Queensland. The issue will become even more pressing for Prime Minister Gillard, in a debate at Labor’s national party conference in Sydney in December. Gay and lesbian activists plan to rally at the conference, placing even greater pressure on the embattled centre-Left PM to attempt to pass a national law.
The gay marriage debate in Australia is quite unlike that of the U.S. Australia is unlikely to go down the “state’s rights” path of a patchwork of marriages rights varying from state to state. Marriage is considered a Federal law in Australia, which leaves the fight for same-sex marriage something of an all or nothing proposition (though some activists have suggested the High Court might allow a loophole in the event a state did pass a same-sex marriage).
The battle for marriage equality in New York state has reached a crucial point. Also: A familiar one. The New York state assembly passed a bill legalizing gay marriage last Wednesday — one of three bills to do so, the other two having been passed in 2007 and 2009 — and the bill is currently stalled in the Senate, where the previous bills were defeated. Governor Andrew Cuomo has worked to rally tie-breaking Republican support, and conservative Christians are lobbying for language that would allow religious organizations such as adoption agencies to continue discriminating against same-sex marriages.
But, the situation feels new. And exciting: The bill has been characterized as a “tipping point,” not only for New York, but for the country. Its passing seems more than likely; Cuomo’s strategy of getting several Republicans to vote in favor of the bill, so that none of them has to be “the one who voted for it,” is apparently working. Even opponents of the bill are conceding that, if same-sex marriage does not become legal in New York now, it will become legal: It is, in fact, “inevitable.”
To understand why, it’s worth looking at the language of the opponents, in all its ridiculous, homophobic fury. Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been the loudest voice speaking against of the bill. He claims (as most opponents do) that this has nothing to do with being anti-gay, while also proclaiming that “not every desire, urge, want, or chic cause is automatically a ‘right.’ And, what about other rights, like that of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and a dad?” So, there you have it: Wanting to marry your long-time partner is more or less equivalent to wanting a pony, and war widows with children are an abomination unto the Lord. Unless, of course, they’re not, and this is just about the hideous threat of being raised by a loving same-sex couple.
Though Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th, this year perhaps our greatest celebration of love will occur on April 29th when Prince William, son of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, marries his fiancée, Kate Middleton. The story goes that Prince William carried his mother’s engagement ring around for three weeks before building up the courage to propose, and from the moment the engagement was announced, the world embraced their supposed fairy tale romance. After all, young children are indoctrinated early on to believe that one day, a handsome prince will marry a beautiful princess. This upcoming wedding is the completion of the discourse specifying the Royal Family’s compulsory gender and sexuality roles.
Commemorative items like comic books, China, replicas of the engagement ring, and even the controversial Crown Jewels Condom were quickly marketed to a public that has been consumed with royal wedding fever. The rush to create a profit from this event shows the heightened importance of the marriage between Prince William and Kate Middleton as symbols of the nation as a whole.
“Will you partner me civilly?” is a question thousands of Irish people may be able to ask their same sex partner next year. It does not have the same ring as the more conventional phrase, but what it lacks in tradition it makes up in ambiguity.
While a civil partnership does not confer equality or full civil rights, but it shuffles in the right direction. The State will finally recognise the existence of gay and lesbian relationships. True equality, however, would involve gay marriage, adoption rights, and a host of other changes to existing legislation, which are not part of the Civil Partnership Bill. Continue reading
I was at a wedding several years ago when the celebrant made a comment that pricked up my ears. She said, “in Australia, marriage is between a man and a woman.” I initially thought, Way to state the obvious, thank you for making the queer people here feel even more uncomfortable, but, after talking to the bride, discovered that it was actually a legally required part of the ceremony.
Although it’s rarely noted, like the United States, Australia in 2004 passed a Federal Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) that restrict marriage to heterosexual couples. Rhis appears to unequivocally thwart the chance of same-sex couples getting married—and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been reluctant to even implement a separate-but-equal civil unions system as in the UK.
Recently, a story circulated in the Australian media that after July 1st, the Australian government will recognise some same-sex marriages—but only those in which one person is transsexual. The idea was that with the passing of the Same Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Law) act, previously legal marriages would continue to be legal. In contrast to the US. where this situation already exists, this is actually a novel approach in Australian law for same-sex partnered trans people (for instance, a couple with a male-to-female partner and a female partner). Continue reading