Friday, 1 June 2012

Marriage equality ripe to get the nod

From film Ciao by Malaysian director Yen Tan.
Things change. In politics and the public sphere, which holds such an enduring fascination for the general public, events alter the balance for or against. For or against what? Well, regarding gay marriage the US president's recent announcement that we would run in November on a platform favouring marriage equality has altered the debate materially. In the UK, the Conservative party is set to legalise gay marriage, according to the Guardian. In Australia, the NSW Upper House has now passed a motion in favour of gay marriage by a significant margin after the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, allowed MPs to vote on their consciences. And whether or not he thinks or says that the result will not put pressure on the federal Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, to back gay marriage, the fact is that the fact remains.

Abbott is looking a bit shakier this week after having dominated in both the leadership poll and the party poll for a number of months. But then there's Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who doesn't back gay marriage but who would allow MPs to vote on their consciences. Abbott would not.

Liberals in the US have been populating the internet with comparisons between anti-marriage equality views and outdated racist views from the 50s and 60s, when it was illegal in many US states for a black person and a white person to marry. With material like this circulating, Gillard and Abbott are looking distinctly antedeluvian in their views on gay marriage. It seems as though the tide is turning forcefully in favour of marriage equality. Finally. It's taken decades to get this far but the politicians who could determine the outcome one way or another continue to dither and prevaricate, and continue to function as magnets for public feeling, which has turned very much in favour of marriage equality.

Let's say that Abbott wins the next federal election, in 2013. As a practicing Catholic he's not going to let gay marriage get through on his watch. But then it's just a matter of time, again, before the next Labor government appears. When that happens, marriage equality will most definitely get through. There's absolutely no doubt about it at all. It will be that administration's 'Sorry' moment, and the Australian population will breathe a long-restrained sigh of collective relief. But let's say that Gillard wins in 2013. If this happens, I predict that marriage equality will get through then as well, just that it will happen about six years earlier than if the Coalition wins in 2013.

In a sense, the death-knell sounded for the view that marriage should remain exclusively a right for heterosexuals when Bob Katter's party launched its attack on marriage equality. Katter represents a particularly unpleasant, xenophobic, and narrow-minded slice of whichever electorate he seeks to represent. He achieved about eight percent of the vote in the recent Queensland election. But even if you triple that number you're only looking at about one quarter of the electorate nationally that strongly opposes gay marriage. This red-neck minority is not the base that most Australians want shaping our collective image.

We want to be viewed as inclusive, pluralist, and tolerant. It's a matter of the way we see ourselves. In a real sense, gay pride and gay rights are a matter of national pride. The way we treat our minorities reflects on the way others view us. Our federal major party leaders are turning Australia into a global embarassment. Now, I'm not gay but I have been following this debate for a very long time. It's time. Really it is time for a change.

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