Tasmania Defeats Same-Sex Marriage Bill
September 28th, 2012
The first attempt at state-based marriage in Australia went down in defeat yesterday when the Legislative Council, Tasmania’s upper house, voted down a measure to provide marriage equality by a vote of 8-6, with one abstention in the 15-member chamber. The vote followed two days of debate. Premiere Lara Giddings vowed to keep the fight up:
“We will continue this. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning,” Ms Giddings said. “It took many times for us to get gay law reform through. It took many times and attempts to get anti-discrimination law reform through.”
Observers predicted that the bill would face its greatest difficulty in the Legislative Council after Tasmania’s lower house passed the measure 13-11. Uncommitted legislators fell back on Constitutional questions to vote against the bill:
Already struggling for numbers in the council, the Same Sex Marriage bill fell after key undeclared MPs raised constitutional doubts. Hobart independent, Jim Wilkinson, said he believed same sex law would continue to be argued. “But I believe it will come back in the Federal arena. In my mind that’s where it should be.”
Among backers of the bill, Devonport MP Mike Gaffney said he was not concerned that the bill might be legally challenged. “If the possibility of an invalid bill stopped us, very little reform would take place,” Mr Gaffney said. “If we vote this bill down…the issue will not go away. Most importantly, the Australian community is alive to the issue of marriage equality.”
Marriage equality advocates take some consolation in how close they came. Tasmania was the last Australian state to decriminialize homosexuality in1997, and that took place only after the Federal government forced its hand.
Tasmania votes on marriage today
September 26th, 2012
The Tasmanian House approved a marriage bill last month, 13 votes to 11. The Senate has been debating the bill since yesterday and it is expected to reach a vote today. If it passes, Tasmania will be the first Australian state with marriage equality. However, questions still remain about its legality as marriage has traditionally been a federal issue.
Australian legislature votes down equality
September 21st, 2012
Australia’s House of Representatives (98 – 42) and Senate (41 – 26) have voted against allowing same-sex couples to marry, despite popular support for the change. Part of the vote disparity comes as a consequence of the political structure.
Here’s a brief explanation:
In the United States, there are (almost always) only two parties. Whichever party wins the most seats controls the legislative body. But other than voting on administrative leadership and structural control, a legislator is always free to vote their own way.
Party affiliations, rhetoric, and platforms are important indicators of likely votes, but ultimately the electorate selects individuals based on their qualifications and character. Candidates may agree with many, or even most of the positions of others in their party, but as there really are only two viable choices for affiliation at this time, there is little expectation that there will be total agreement with whichever party they are in.
But in nations with multiple parties, especially when one party does not dominate, quite often no single party has a majority and parties negotiate for power. But in order for negotiations to be meaningful and for coalitions to remain intact, the parties need to be able to make deals, as parties. The leader has to be able to promise the votes from his block on matters of importance to another party in order to ensure that his party can get the promise of another party’s votes on their priorities. Elections in multi-party nations also are to a larger extent votes for a party rather than a person and legislators are expected to vote “the party line”.
To a lesser extent, block voting is practiced in the States as well. Parties will caucus and negotiate and there are party whips whose job it is to keep votes more or less in line with party principles and positions. Stray too far and your funding and support in your next election will dry up. But in the US, “bipartisan support” is considered a positive for a bill and were a party leader to announce that all members must vote in a particular way on a bill, there would be public outcry.
Of course, in multi-party nations there are issues that are not party priorities or that do not break along party lines. In those instances, a “conscience vote” is allowed, at the discretion of the party leader. If there is no risk of a coalition dissolving or if there is no presumption that the voters assumed the party had a position, then a legislator may be allowed to vote as they wish without repercussions from the party.
Australia is a bit complicated. It is in some ways nearly a two-party nation, but it functions as a multi-party state. The two power houses are Labor, a centre-left party, and The Coalition, a collection of centre-right parties that – while distinct parties in their own right – broker power as a unit and can be held to a party line by the Coalition leader. Currently these two political entities are nearly evenly balanced in both houses of parliament, giving the much smaller Greens party the power to determine who leads the Senate and a handful of independents who make that determination for the House of Representatives. Labor holds control of both houses and Julia Gillard, Labor leader in the House, is Prime Minister.
(The closest US comparison is the 2006 elections which resulted in 49 Republican and 49 Democratic Senators. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who identifies as “democratic socialist” (akin to European centre-left party ideology), is not officially affiliated with a party. And Joe Lieberman, who is registered as a Democrat and was the party’s 2000 Vice Presidential nominee, lost the Democratic Party nomination but was elected to continued representing his state by the 25-member Connecticut for Lieberman Party. Both caucused with and gave Senate control to the Democratic Party for the 110th Congress.)
My apologies to Australian readers if I bungled that too badly and feel free to correct any glaring errors. And now back to the marriage vote.
Where things get tricky is when a vote is a party line vote for some parties and a conscience vote for others. This was the case with Australia’s vote on marriage.
The Coalition legislators were held to a party line vote, but Prime Minister Gillard, being personally opposed to marriage equality, allowed a conscience vote in the House. This split the Labor vote and, when Labor opponents were added to united Coalition voting block, this gave the bill a lopsided loss. A similar scenario played out in the Senate.
Although there are three more marriage bills in the House and one more in the Senate, it is assumed that their fate is the same. However, as a significant portion of this year’s Labor opposition is based in election strategy (which is not the same as representing the electorate’s majority view) there is some hope that marriage will pass in 2013. I have no idea if that is political reality or wishful declaration.
And, finally, as politics is a wacky thing, here’s a little tidbit. The Coalition leader in the
Senate House has a lesbian sister and expressed himself to be conflicted between promises made to his constituents and his personal feelings (he went with the promises). The Senate Labor leader, however, came up with a candidate for all-time-stupidest-political-comment-ever:
Senate President John Hogg told the chamber he had a deep-seated belief that marriage was between a man and woman.
“To decry my views is to seek to discriminate against me,” he said.
Meanwhile, the marriage battle has moved to the states.
A quote for a Friday afternoon
September 14th, 2012
Sometimes you just have to pull a quote out of context and throw it out there. Enjoy. (Sydney Morning Herald)
If you don’t think a country full of people having sex with donkeys is funny then maybe there’s something wrong with you.
Tasmania’s Lower House Passes Marriage Equality
August 30th, 2012
The ABC is reporting that Tasmania’s House of Assembly has approved a bill which will allow same-sex couples to marry. The 13-11 vote came after four hours of debate, with the Labor Speaker Michael Polley abandoning his party and the Greens to join 10 Liberals to oppose the measure. The debate itself was lopsided, with Greens MP Kim Booth, attacking Liberal Party members for remaining silent during the debate. The only Liberal to speak, Leader Will Hodgman, said only that the party was unified in opposing the measure while denying that party members were barred from a conscience vote.
The bill now goes to the Legislative Council, Tasmania’s upper house, for consideration in September. The ABC reports that the marriage equality bill “will have a harder path through the Upper House where some MPs are yet to declare their support.”
(Australians, as you know, speak a completely foreign language. Contrary to Americans’ usage of the term “liberal,” Australia’s Liberal Party derives its name from the early 1900’s understanding of economic liberalism, akin to other English speaking countries talking about “free markets.” The Liberal Party, economically and socially, is somewhat similar to the Republican Party in the U.S., although unlike the GOP, the Liberals haven’t purged their moderate wing to the same degree.)
Tasmanian marriage bill introduced
August 28th, 2012
From ABC’s Lateline:
Tasmania is a step closer to becoming the first state in Australia to legalise gay marriage.
The Premier, Lara Giddings, today tabled a marriage equality bill in State Parliament.
It is expected to pass the Lower House easily, but may have a devil of a time in the Upper House.
(While in American politics to “table” means to defer action on a bill until some future time, in Australia it means to bring it to the table for consideration).
When ignorant and stupid combine with privileged and entitled
July 16th, 2012
In one of the most truly stupid and whiny complaints I’ve heard this week, Russell and Lauryn Mark, both shooters representing Australia in the Olympics, are all upset that they can’t room together.
That’s not the whiny part – actually, I think the Olympic committee should find a way to allow couples to room together. If maximizing comfort and readiness are important to their performance, then that would probably be a smart move (though I’m sure the Australian Olympic Committee cares very little about my opinion on the subject).
The whiny part is this (Herald Sun):
But Mark says there is a clear double standard given many gay sportspeople on elite teams are in relationships but a heterosexual couple cannot room together.
“The stupid part of this, which I have argued to them, is that there are tons of gay couples on the Olympic team who will be rooming together so we are being discriminated against because we are heterosexual.” Mark said.
Ah, yes, tons of gay couples on the Olympic team. Tons and tons.
But this isn’t a case of stupid husband, tolerant wife. Nope, he truly found his match when he married Lauryn.
“I am very frustrated because in sport there are a lot of same sex couples and its OK to be partners with someone of the same sex but if you are heterosexual you are penalised.”
And let me guess… they also think it’s unfair that they had to pay for their wedding license when same-sex couples don’t have to pay for a license at all, right?
Ignorant. Stupid. Privileged. Entitled. Whiny. Jerks.
Marriage positions: the politic and the personal
May 18th, 2012
Too often our debate over marriage is given – by both sides – in carefully crafted language that has been focus group tested and is designed to “best get the point across”. And for some reason, politicians and pundits are firmly convinced that viewers and voters will never catch on that this canned, stale, “message driven” approach is anything less than fully sincere.
But once in a while – rarely – someone speaks with clarity and honesty that is so obviously based on reality and personal experience that it glows. This, part of Australia’s battle for marriage equality, is such a time:
Australia: it’s time
November 25th, 2011
Equality is a global struggle. This speaks to all of us.
Australian marriage drive is complicating politics
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.
Australia’s marriage movement
November 15th, 2010
Marriage equality has again become a focal point in Australia and I am simply not adequately versed in Australian politics to state with certainty what is going on. But here is my take, and fortunately we have readers down under who can correct my inaccuracies.
Marriage equality has popular support in Australia with perhaps 60% or more favoring the idea. However, as with most nations, there are more liberal and more conservative areas and, as politicians are constantly seeking the path of power rather than principles or ideals, the rights of gay men and women are easily bartered away.
Currently, Julia Gillard is the Prime Minister and head of the Australian Labor Party. Labor is made up of two factions, Socialist Left which favors progressive social policies, and Labor Right which favors focusing on economic liberalism, a relative of libertarianism. (This is probably a very simplistic explanation; I hope it’s close enough). Although Gillard is from the Left side of the party, she has been sharply resistant to recognition of marriage equality.
With a government formed in a similar fashion as British Parliament, legislators often are required to vote as a block. A “conscience vote” is one in which a member of Parliament may make a personal decision which is not consistent with the party line. And as Gillard will not allow a conscience vote, the matter is more or less settled for now.
However, Labor’s position is not solid. In the August elections, Coalition (the center-right collection of parties) won an equal number of seats to the House of Representatives. Labor controls by means of the support of a Green Party member and three independents. To complicate matters more, although Gillard was part of the Left, she was advanced by the support of the Right in her party.
Recently the issue of marriage – which has for years been a hot potato – was given new life from an unexpected source: a member of Labor Right. (National Affairs)
Right-Wing Labor minister Mark Arbib has declared his party’s policy against gay marriage must change to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Mr Arbib is the first frontbencher to break his silence on the issue.
The NSW factional powerbroker told The Weekend Australian his view was that gay people should have the legal right to marry.
And he said all MPs should be given a conscience vote on the controversial issue.
Arbib is a rather powerful Senator, especially in Labor Right, and his change in position cannot be taken lightly. But it is also not a full endorsement as it would allow conservative Labor members to vote against marriage.
Labor Left does not favor a conscience vote, instead hoping for eventual control of the party and thus a block vote in favor of marriage. But Arbib’s statements have empowered other legislators to speak up.
Meanwhile, marriage has strong support in some of the states and the capitol area. So the states of South Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania either have or are considering proposals to legalize same-sex marriage. As marriage is a federally defined institution, this is a tricky legal strategy: because federal law addresses only heterosexual couples, the states want to claim the ability to make decisions about same-sex couples on their own. This also serves to pressure the feds to vote on the issue; if you want to maintain the power to define same-sex relationships, you have to take action.
And the stakes are very high. While federal parties have been able to avoid dealing with the issue by promises of a registry of some sort some day some time, a vote to quash gay couples and deny them rights would be seen as aggressively hostile and would likely shift power. While Labor can be wishy-washy, it dare not be “anti-gay” or it would votes to the Greens. And gay activists are willing to make it a campaign issue.
Got that so far?
Well, back at the federal level, the Greens have proposed an odd motion: to direct MPs to discuss the issue with their constituents. This puts Labor in a no-win position. While “I define marriage as a man and a woman” is not considered unreasonable, “I won’t even talk about it” is not.
So today Labor announced that it will support the Greens motion to discuss the matter with their constituents. (ABC)
The Government will back a Greens motion which calls for more debate about gay marriage, as tensions rise within Labor over its official position on the issue.
Labor agreed at its last national conference in 2009 not to support gay marriage, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard has ruled out a conscience vote on the issue.
But Labor will now support a Greens motion which calls for all MPs to speak to their constituents about gay marriage.
Undoubtedly, such discussions will result in much news coverage and an increase vocal support for equality. Additionally, a number of members of Labor intend to call for a change in position in the next national convention. Those on the left favor equality and those on the right fear losing power to the Greens.
So, although the Coalition has reaffirmed it’s opposition to marriage equality, it is at least reasonable to hope that Labor will change position and that marriage equality is not too far off in Australia.
Australia’s new Prime Minister confirms opposition to equality
June 29th, 2010
From the Sydney Morning Herald
Prime Minister Julia Gillard says she does not support legalising gay marriage in Australia.
Labor policy on gay marriage will remain the same under her prime ministership, Ms Gillard told Austereo show today.
“We believe the marriage act is appropriate in its current form, that is recognising that marriage is between a man and a woman, but we have as a government taken steps to equalise treatment for gay couples,” Ms Gillard said.
Asked if that was also her personal view, Ms Gillard said it was.
Those steps have a long way to go before they can be considered to have equalized treatment.
The Gay Dog
April 26th, 2010
So when employees misunderstood Ian Jolly’s wish to bring in his guide dog, they were adamant: no way was he bringing in a gay dog (Herald Sun)
At an Equal Opportunity Tribunal conciliation hearing on Friday, the restaurant agreed to provide Mr Jolly with a written apology and attend an Equal Opportunity education course, in addition to paying him $1500.
“The staff genuinely believed that Nudge was an ordinary pet dog which had been desexed to become a gay dog,” a statement from the hearing said.
What relevance does this story have? None, really. But it did give me an excuse to post this movie poster from 1954.
Australia’s Red Cross is reviewing possible changes for blood donors
April 12th, 2010
From the Sydney Morning Herald
Australia’s Red Cross Blood service will review its policy which prevents many homosexual men from donating blood.
Currently, a man who has had homosexual sex within the past 12 months is excluded from being an eligible blood donor.
I just hope the FDA is paying attention. Australia already has much more lenient policies than the US and instead of observing problems, they are considering further revisions.
Australia’s Senate rejects marriage equality
February 25th, 2010
The Australian Senate voted to reject a marriage equality bill by a lopsided 45 to 5 vote. But procedure allows that the actual support for the vote may have been greater than the vote suggests. Some senators may have elected to be absent from the party-line vote to register their opposition to their party’s position. (The Age)
Senator Hanson-Young seized on the absentee rate to declare the major parties split.
”There may have been a group of senators voting to keep discrimination against same-sex couples being able to marry the one they love, but well over one-third of all senators were absent for the final vote, presumably the only form of protest open to them,” she said.
This is an issue that is unlikely to go away in Australia until equality is achieved.