Monday, December 16, 2013

Australia needs grownups in power

Australia has a conservative government, but its problem is its childish prime minister, Tony Abbott, who insists on imposing his conservative religious beliefs on the entire country. Australia needs the grown-ups to take over.

This past week, the high court in Australia ruled that the marriage equality law in the Australian Capital Territory (the A.C.T. is like the District of Columbia in the USA) was invalid because the federal parliament alone has the constitutional power to allow same-sex couples to marry. That’s the result of ex-Prime Minister John Howard, who in 2004 used marriage equality as a scare tactic to win support for his conservative government, just as Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman did in the USA to help George Bush and the Republicans.

The video above is from Get Up! Australia (the same people who did the stunning “It’s Time” video) and shows some of the couples who married in the brief time it was legal in the A.C.T., before the court ruled that the marriages were all invalid. I don’t know why the court allowed the marriages to proceed when Abbott’s government filed its court challenge, which everyone expected to succeed; I hope that there was simply no provision in Australian law for the court to issue an injunction, because otherwise it was deliberate and gratuitous cruelty on the part of Australia.

Since the court ruling, there have been renewed calls to push for marriage equality in the Australian Parliament, but there remains one huge obstacle: Tony Abbott. Abbott, who once studied to be a Roman Catholic priest, is adamantly opposed to marriage equality, which puts him at odds with a majority of Australians—including his own sister, who is lesbian. He doesn’t care.

In 2012, the Australian Parliament rejected a marriage equality law when Abbott’s rightwing Liberal/National Coalition voted as a bloc against the legislation, even though that sort of legislation is usually a conscience vote (as it was for the then-ruling Australian Labor Party).

Malcolm Turnbull, communications minister in Abbott’s government, has suggested that there might be a conscience vote and, if there is, marriage equality will pass Parliament. Naturally, Abbott had to discourage any suggestion that he might tolerate freedom of conscience in his caucus. Instead, he reiterated that he supports “the traditional position”.

Abbott sometimes goes out of his way to give LGBT Australians the finger. This past weekend, Abbott sent a note to far right “Christian” politician Fred Nile (appropriately enough, his name rhymes with “vile”) on the 79-year-old old bigot’s re-marriage. Nile’s long been among the most disgusting anti-gay bigots in Australia, prone to spewing all sorts of hatred. His first wife died less than two years ago, and Nile was taking a new wife who is 23 years younger than him (Nile's children are "hurt and upset" at the marriage so soon after their mother's death). So, Abbott saluted the bigot Nile and his much younger wife for "publicly acknowledging your love for each other". But he won’t allow a conscience vote that might make it possible for same-gender Australian couples to similarly be able to "publicly [acknowledge their] love for each other.”

Tony Abbot has a special kind of prejudice and bigotry, one in which he insists on forcing his own rightwing religious beliefs onto all Australians, while at the same time giving a good ol’ Aussie “get stuffed” to those who disagree with him.

Australia is increasingly isolated on this issue: Canada, New Zealand and England have all have adopted marriage equality, as have a third of US states and the US federal government for federal purposes. Australia is looking increasingly old-fashioned at best, and downright silly at worst.

So, Australia needs the grown-ups to take over to move the country forward, not just on this issue, of course, but the childish stubbornness of its prime minister is most evident on this issue. Sadly, I think Australia will have to wait for a change of government, or, at least, a more sensible prime minister. Only when the grown-ups are in power will we see any advance of Australian fairness.

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