The Australian Marriage Waltz

Timothy Kincaid

December 2nd, 2009

gay waltzzYesterday I told you of the complicated steps, kicks and strides in the Argentine Marriage Tango. Now it appears that Australia, with its love of ballroom dance, has a marriage waltz all of its own.

I feel a bit like a celebrity guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance. I don’t know the steps or what comes next but I am caught up it the drama of the swirling movement and will wing my explanation.

The dance has a basic premise: some local governments, particularly that of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), wish to grant to their gay constituents marriage rights as similar to that of their straight constituents as possible. However, federal officials are determined to keep sharp distinctions between the orientations and to minimize and diminish same-sex couples and their relationships.

Most of the back-and-forth has less to do with rights or privileges (though that is important) and more to do with status, social approval, and ceremony. Conservatives seem to be taking the position that you can be a couple, but that is nothing to celebrate.

In November the ACT voted for the third time to pass a bill that allowed for legally binding ceremonies between same sex couples. And for the third time the federal government vowed to veto it. They declared that ceremonies cannot be allowed but instead a registry should be used, just like for fishing licenses or building permits. Of course the federal government hasn’t actually enacted such a registry, but they are quite determined to block any I Do’s or Til Death Do Us Part’s until they do.

But, in the meantime, one couple of 20 years, Warren McGaw and Chris Rumble, exchanged vows in the rose gardens of the Old Parliament House in Canberra.

The dance is more confusing in that it seems to involve uncertain partners. Greens nationwide support marriage, while Labor in Victoria Tasmania, and the ACT are battling against the Labor leadership over the issue. The Greens, though a minority in the federal government, in June introduced a bill in support of marriage itself.

“The Greens will be pursuing passage of the bill when parliament resumes in the New Year,” Hanson-Young said.

“The Australian public wants to debate this issue. They responded to the Senate inquiry into the bill in record numbers and latest polling shows 60 per cent support for equal marriage.

“We urge the Prime Minister to bring this debate on, and to allow his party a conscience vote.”

When the bill was rejected by the Senate last Friday led to protest in the street.

Australian Marriage Equality spokesman Alex Greenwich said strong attendances by more than 2,000 people at rallies in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, ACT, Adelaide and Lismore on Saturday to launch a national year of action showed positive community support.

But lets circle back to civil unions in the ACT. The Commonwealth seems to have found a compromise.

The Commonwealth’s proposed amendment would create an additional step in the process, requiring couples who choose to have a ceremony to first notify the registrar-general of the ACT Office of Regulatory Services with at least five days’ notice of their intention to hold a ceremony.

The union will be legally created by the couple’s declaration in front of a legally-authorised celebrant. Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland told Chief Minister Jon Stanhope earlier this week that the Commonwealth would overturn the recently-passed laws unless the ACT agreed to its amendments.

”This is an important reform,” Mr Corbell said yesterday.

”This locks in the role of ceremonies for same-sex couples and maintains the legal effect, and it also maintains the role for a legally-authorised official to conduct those ceremonies.”

However, so far this isn’t pleasing anti-gays…

Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby says that mimics marriage and the Rudd Labor Government has betrayed Christians who voted for it.

“Once you cross this line you’ve opened the door to completely devaluing marriage,” he said.

“This will lead to other ways of mimicking it. We’ll have demands for polygamists marriages.”

…or the Greens.

Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury says he is yet to be convinced.

“It’s so much splitting hairs that people are saying why don’t we stick with the original bill – the original bill that the Greens put up is a good one,” he said.

He says there is no justification to change the laws.

“At this stage we’re not inclined to accept these amendments because there is no clear reason why we need to make them.

“Nobody has articulated what the problem is with the legislation, they’ve just said here’s a fix that we need for it.

“Our view is if it’s not broken you don’t need to fix it.”

The Greens appear to be taking a risk. If they refuse the administrative change, will the government dare veto the whole thing. If at the end of the dance they fling themselves backwards, will Rudd catch them or dare to let them hit the floor?

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