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Australian marriage drive is complicating politics

Timothy Kincaid

July 27th, 2011

This is an atypical commentary. I don’t have time to delve into what is going on in Australia and present it in a way that is intelligible to non-Australian readers. But I don’t want to ignore it any longer either.

So, for now I’ll tell you that in recent month the issue of marriage equality has become such a hot issue that it may possibly cause a shift in political alliances that could threaten the stability of the controlling alliance.

Although the Labor Party’s official policy opposes marriage equality, in state after state the party delegates are endorsing marriage in such a way as to force a confrontation. The Prime Minister supports the heterosexual-only definition but local Labor is pushing the issue and the party appears to be at war with itself.

Please note the uncertainty in the above and I hope our Australian readers will forgive me if I’ve got it entirely wrong. I will try to get a better analysis up sometime soon.



July 27th, 2011 | LINK

Unfortunately, Australia’s Labour Party has it’s own version of Blue Dogs and they’re as big a pain in the ass to progressives in Australia as their American counterparts are to progressives in the States.

Mark F.
July 27th, 2011 | LINK

The openly atheist Prime Minister is anti-gay in a very odd twist.

Steven Moore
July 28th, 2011 | LINK

Australia has six states and two territories (semi-states) and in each of these states and territories the local members of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have either voted in favour of marriage equality or have referred the decision to the national body.

In Australia marriage is a federal issue so while these votes have been welcome they are only symbolic.

On December 3rd the ALP’s national body will meet and vote on policy including marriage equality. The fact that so many states have already supported the policy means it is likely to be supported at a national level and become official policy of the ALP.

However the Prime Minister is not bound to the party policy and may decide to ignore or delay any legislation on the issue. The ALP are currently in a minority government with the Greens and are cautious about being seen as being dragged to the left on a number of issues.

Not everyone within the ALP is entirely supportive. The Right faction of the party, with a strong catholic history, remains largely opposed to marriage equality although support is slowly growing.

July 28th, 2011 | LINK

In the months before the federal election of 2004, the then ruling conservative coalition (Liberl and National Parties) threw up an amendment to the Marriage Act to institutionalise discrimination and present a wedge issue against the Labor Party. Before the amendment, the Marriage Act didn’t specify a definition. Poly-amorous marriage was not possible due to laws against bigamy. There’s some debate that a legal challenge may have made same-sex marriage possible before the 2004 amendment. Labor decided to roll over and play along with the Coalition tactic.

The current position of the federal Labor Party is the result of electoral considerations about vulnerability in marginal electorates. Such cynical real-politic can’t be openly admitted so we are witness to the regrettable spectacle of a government led by an atheist prime minister living in a de facto relationship opposing marriage equality on vaguely stated grounds of the influence of a traditional upbringing.

We have nothing in Australia to compare to the likes of Bachmann or Santorum. The politics is much more coldly calculated.

Reed Boyer
July 28th, 2011 | LINK

From an Australian source (yes, she is a devout communist):

“The federal Labor government, led initially by devout, anti-abortion Christian, Kevin Rudd, and now by the atheist Julia Gillard, has upheld the anti-gay Marriage Amendment Act 2004 with its explicit ban on same-sex marriage and veto against recognising gay marriages conducted overseas. In 2004, the ALP Opposition helped the reactionary Liberal/National Coalition government of John Howard ram the legislation through parliament and has opposed attempts to overturn it since. The Act defines “marriage” as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” “

Timothy Kincaid
July 28th, 2011 | LINK

The additional info is very much appreciated. As stated, I promise to get into this deeper as time allows.

Blair Martin
July 28th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy: I relish reading your daily updates each morning (Australian time) and thank God that we don’t have the likes of Bachmann, Gallagher et al (as Neil points out) – however – we do have our own fringe groups who make life extremely “challenging”. One is the Australian Christian Lobby and their somewhat associated political party off shoot Family First.

Here in Brisbane (capital of Queensland, third largest city in Australia and a state that has overtones of Florida and not just because of the similar climates) we have Wendy Francis, Qld director of the ACL and noted mouthpiece. Wendy comes from the same play book as Bachmann and Gallagher but in a smiley, laughy, let-me-talk-over-you-as-mummy-does-to-her-kids way. Except recently Wendy has failed to marginalize gay people in trying (actually succeeding for one day) to remove an innocuous poster campaign for safe sex. (hopefully this link will give people overseas a good summary of what happened – and the stunning reversal.)

As for the political stage – sadly, Australia has always had a conservative edge born out by our isolation from the rest of the world. Labor is in power not just because of the Greens but by a collection of 4 very different independent members in the House of Representatives and since July 1 the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate. (Yes, we have the same names as the US Congress, but the power is different. Like in Canada or the UK, government is formed by the majority held in the lower house – the Reps – and legislation is then passed by our version of the State’s House – the Senate. Unlike the US Senate, ours has far less power overall.)

Labor in Australia has like many other social democratic parties around the world moved from it’s traditional blue collar base to a more technocratic style and more pragmatic acceptance of market economics which in turn pushes the former centre-right parties further right. Our version of the Republican Party may be called “Liberal” but it has more to do with the free market and freedom from government intervention than the US definition of “liberal”. Their coalition partners, the National Party, are extremely conservative socially, usually rural based, have a strong presence in my home state of Qld but in some areas of economic policy are more left wing than their Coalition partners! (They’ve been called “agrarian socialists”, with their preference for rural subsidies, boards for this that and the other and controls on prices etc.)

So, we are a conundrum! A Prime Minister (Julia Gillard), formerly strongly identified with the left of the Labor Party, living in a de-facto relationship with a male hairstylist (no, don’t even go there…), never married, never had children, never been seen in a skirt (as I said… don’t go there) but has strongly and repeatedly pushed her “view” that marriage is traditionally male-female and that is how it should stay. None of us believe her, because as Stephen says, the right wing of the Labor Party being strongly Roman Catholic, are against marriage equality and as some suggest put her in power to arrest the decline in the perceived Labor vote in 2010 when the former PM, Kevin Rudd, dropped the ball on environmental policy. And yes, even though each state division of the ALP has voted to support marriage equality (except one – New South Wales, which is very right wing Labor and yet, Sydney is the capital! Go figure…), the Federal parliamentary party can choose to ignore the recommendations of a national conference…yes, absolute truth. The ALP has had many platform policies which have never seen the light of day in Parliament over the years, there is a chance that marriage equality could be one as well, so we need to keep fighting right up to the final votes that one day will be taken in both Houses to allow us to have full equality. (Thankfully, while we have referendums in Australia we don’t have them like in Switzerland or parts of the USA so there is little chance that the Marriage Act would ever be changed back to the 2004 definition. Certainly a government could change it but without support of both Houses it is unlikely. The 2004 change was one of those nasty aberrations along with bad workplace reform that we suffered in the last years of the Howard Liberal-National Coalition government because Howard controlled both Houses of Parliament, something that Australians may not let one party do ever again.)

On the other side, we have an opposition led by a former Health minister (Tony Abbott) in that previous Howard government who tried to ban the RU486 “abortion” pill because of his own strongly Catholic philosophy, has publicly acknowledged that homosexuality makes him uncomfortable because it challenges the “right order of things” and is doing his best to return Australia to the xenophobic, denialist mindset of the 1950s.

The saddest thing? Australians are so much better than that. 62% support same sex marriage, 75% believe it is inevitable. For once, the Australian public is way ahead of the politicians who are still mired in their minutia of 1990s election campaigning without realizing people are beyond spin and marginal seat strategies.

I hope this has been of help to those elsewhere understand where we are (and don’t get me started on the Certificate of No Impediment saga where our government continues to discriminate against gay and lesbian Australians even if they live overseas and wish to marry in countries where same sex marriage is legal. The Netherlands put us on a par with Zimbabwe with that one… nice, eh?)

Some great resources about our fight are here: and the grass roots campaign Equal Love – the next rally is being held on August 13th nationally.

Oh, should point out since the end of last year members of parliament have been seeking the views of their constituents. A motion was passed in the House of Reps (a Greens motion moved by the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, the only Greens member in the lower house and the only one ever elected at a general election (i.e. last year))asking MPs to go and find out what the country thinks and report back. Some have been quite forward, others almost ignoring the issue. The report back date is in September and we have been fighting against the pre-programmed nonsense of the religious right to get our opinions weighed fairly.

Anything you can do to help us Timothy is gratefully received because many of us are right there helping fight your lunatics because what happens in one part of the world will effect others elsewhere.

Timothy Kincaid
July 28th, 2011 | LINK


Thank you for providing the background into and links. Very helpful.

But, alas, I can’t take credit for the daily updates. Jim writes those (darn him and his good ideas).

Blair Martin
July 29th, 2011 | LINK

Whoops… Tim/Jim… you can see how easy us cold, shivering, wintery Aussies can get mixed up… ;-)

Blair Martin
July 29th, 2011 | LINK

PS: would it be really rude to point out to you Tim the mis-spelling of “Australian” in the headline of this post? :-D

Timothy Kincaid
July 29th, 2011 | LINK

not rude at all. thanks. fixed now.

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