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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, many will be aware that same-sex marriage is currently a hot button topic – well, it has been for several years in fact, but even more so of late. It’s been on the lips, words and tweets of nearly every politician and reporter and that red equal sign had its tenure all over Facebook.
It would be pretty hard to miss it unless you were intentionally avoiding it.
On 14 November, the NSW Parliament voted down a same-sex marriage bill by the narrowest of margins – 21 to 19. Independent MP Alex Greenwich said there is hope as ‘this vote was the first time Coalition MPs had voted in favour of a same sex marriage bill in Australia’.
Premier Barry O’Farrell maintained prior to the bill appearing in Parliament that if it came to the lower house he would be against it.
But do you know who urged Mr O’Farrell to make the statement?
‘It certainly had an effect on some Coalition members and that was the reason I asked him to issue the statement,’ Nile said.
‘It was important for the Premier to make a stand, indicate where he stood on this issue. He was a bit reluctant, but he finally agreed to make that public statement. And it did have the effect I was hoping it would have on some of the wavering members of the Coalition.’
Nile went on to state that he was, however, concerned about the closeness of the defeat, indicating he was concerned about the views of young people on the issue.
When I first conceived of this article, central to its premise was how various jurisdictions across the globe were moving forward on same-sex marriage. The British Parliament legislatively enshrined same sex marriage in measures put forward by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. The Conservative PM allowed his party to have a conscience vote, passing through the House of Commons by an overwhelming 400 to 175 votes.
In April this year, Uruguay and France passed bills that legalised same-sex marriage, officially legalising it on 1st August and 18th May respectively.
Ireland voted in favour of trying to change the Irish Constitution to legalise same-sex marriage – a change that 73% of citizens favoured.
New Zealand’s gay marriage bill passed on 17th April this year and the first gay couples could start getting married as of 19th August.
‘It’s not about gay marriage, same-sex marriage or straight marriage, it’s about equality,’ Louisa Wall, the New Zealand Labour MP who sponsored the Bill, proclaimed.
And of course there is the USA, which was (and still is) seeing a massive surge of reform, with Barack Obama the first sitting U.S. President to come out in favour of same-sex marriage. At this point in time, fourteen states, eight counties in New Mexico, the District of Columbia and seven Native American tribal jurisdictions issue same-sex marriage licenses. Hawaii’s legislation will come into action in December and the bill in Illinois in June 2014. Oregon recognizes same-sex marriage from other states. Although it seemed a given by most people, Hillary Clinton only recently actually came out in favour of it, which is of importance given the rumour she will take a tilt at the top job when it next comes up for grabs.
Measures to make gay marriage legal sat before the (US) Supreme Court (read The Onion’s excellent piece) – and the outcomes were mixed, but mostly positive. Time Magazine is already declaring it a victory – an ‘inevitability‘. Surprisingly, and probably only because it seems so inevitable, known right-wing conservative pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly have actually come out in favour of gay marriage.
Yes, you read that right.
‘ the country is changing,’ Limbaugh said, ‘and you better get with it and understand it. The genie is not going back in the bottle.’
O’Reilly was actually – oddly – more decisive in his support of the idea.
‘The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals,’ O’Reilly said. ‘That’s where the compelling argument is. “We’re Americans. We just want to be treated like everybody else.” That’s a compelling argument, and to deny that, you have got to have a very strong argument on the other side…the argument on the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.”
When the United States’ most media-accessible conservative personalities voice their support – however tentative – of gay marriage, it seems frightening that Australia isn’t already there, especially considering public support has been predominantly pro-gay marriage for some time.
At the time of first writing this article, Tony Abbott was opposition leader, not Prime Minister. He was a leader saying he would not allow a conscience vote if, or rather when, further gay marriage bills came before parliament.
He hasn’t disappointed in his stance.
Not a day after after the ACT announced its legalisation of same-sex marriage, the Commonwealth launched a High Court challenge over the laws. The reasons put forward were that the laws might not be consistent with Commonwealth laws. Attorney-General George Brandis’ spokeswoman said that the Abbott government would to continue with the challenge through the High Court.
‘Irrespective of anyone’s views on the desirability or otherwise of same-sex marriage, it is clearly in Australia’s interests that there be nationally consistent marriage laws,’ the spokeswoman said. ‘It would be very distressing to individuals who may enter into a ceremony of marriage under the new ACT law, and to their families, to find that their marriages were invalid.’
Probably one of the most harrowing moments of yesterday’s vote in NSW was when Labor MLC Heather Westwood read out a letter she said came from a ‘Sydney barrister who is a member of the NSW Bar Association’.
‘No straight-thinking Australian wants to hear about queers getting married. Marriage is not a game between poofters and lesbian sluts,’ the letter started.
Westwood had to stop reading, as she had started sobbing, but bravely continued.
‘We feel sorry for your children and grandchildren who have to say, “My grandmother was a lesbian slut”,’ she read once she composed herself.
This is disgusting. Disgusting that letters like this are being written. Disgusting that people like Fred Nile have any influence over our Premiers. Disgusting that we are being led by a man who said of homosexuality, ‘If you’d asked me for advice I would have said to have – adopt a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about all of these things.’
Fred Nile should be scared of you, young people. You hold the power. You can help make this a reality. Help make better the lives of your friends, sisters, brothers, parents, children and the lives of complete strangers. Help make your own lives better. All it takes is for you to vote and to speak out. We are a good nation. We may have just elected into office our very own George W. Bush, but we can recover. We can be a beacon of forward-thinking. If the United States, New Zealand, England, France and Uruguay can do it, so can we. We should.
It’s a no-brainer.
I’ll leave you with one last thing to think about. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart recently sent Al Madrigal down to the two states who both said they would be ‘the last to approve gay marriage in the U.S.’, namely Alabama and Mississippi. Expecting a huge backlash against the actors dressed as a Southern gay couple – who proposed to each other in a waffle house – they were surprised to discover the positive support and celebration they received. People cheered and clapped in the waffle house. An old carnie took their picture at the carnival kissing booth and said what a lovely couple they made. A man on the street walked up to them and called them ‘the most punk rock gay couple he’d ever seen’ and gave them a very enthusiastic thumbs up and smile. Both the peoples of these supposedly intolerant states were warm and welcoming.
So, Australia, in the immortal words of one of our most well-known (if least effective) tourism campaigns, I say this to you, ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’