Abbott Edges Towards #MarriageEquality4Christmas

pic: DFAT

pic: DFAT

You know that little game lovers sometimes play, called “edging”? Where one party brings the other to the brink of climax, only to abruptly stop – and then after a suitable interval, begin again?

Tony Abbott, with his long bike rides, spartan barracks accommodation, long cold showers and icy Catholic doctrine, is something of a master of the art. Politically speaking, of course. Now he’s practising it on us.

Yes, he’s changed his tune slightly on marriage, speaking in softer, gentler tones and making noises about a bipartisan approach, but it’s only more delay. Yes, he has acknowledged that it will happen, but in reality, he still has a way to go. He will try to keep his finger in the dyke as long as possible, but in the end, with MPs coming over to our side daily, he will have to yield, and he knows it. So it becomes all about doing it on his own terms.

Given the Irish result, and the pending US Supreme Court decision, he has to let marriage equality come, but like a good dungeon master, he’s trying to draw the process out as long as possible, using every device he has to hand, insisting it’s all done on his terms.

So far all we have is a vague promise to bring “this issue” up in the party room at an unspecified future date, possibly August, and only then if it’s a bipartisan measure from a coalition backbencher that has Labor support.

This is something of a red herring. Actually, there is one that almost fits the bill ready to hand. Tanya Plibersek has been trying in vain for months to get a coalition member to co-sponsor her marriage equality bill. With no takers, she’s had to settle for Bill Shorten instead. Sarah Hanson-Young has invited Labor and Liberal to a meeting hammer out a joint measure based on her bill. (David Leyonhjelm also has a bill floating about, but that’s too flawed to go forward.)

So there’s no need to go manufacturing a fourth bill, except delay. Just get Warren Entsch to hold hands with Tanya and Sarah, tinker with the wording a bit, put his name on the front, and there you have it. A cross-party bill.

It need not take long. The vandalism of the Marriage Act by John Howard and Nicola Roxon was accomplished in about an hour, with bipartisan support. Repairing the damage with bipartisan support shouldn’t even take that long.

But Tony must maintain that iron control at all costs. Why? Well, to make things uncomfortable for Bill Shorten at the party conference in July, and to soften us up for a marriage equality bill that is less than equal.

A marriage equality bill is really, really simple. Just a few words to say that any two adults meeting the already defined criteria, can marry one another. That’s what Equal Marriage is. Exactly the same law for gay, straight, bi, trans and intersex. End of story.

The delay is all about giving the opponents a chance to attach conditions, and for them, hopefully, to be painstakingly voted down. The answer is simple. No. Equal means equal. The same rules for everyone. End of story.

There will also be attempts to make this into a Same Sex Marriage, not a Marriage Equality Bill, leaving our Intersex and Trans family members in the lurch. These must be also be politely but firmly refused.

The law that emerges from this process must apply equally in every particular to all marriages. Equality is neither divisible nor negotiable. Attempts to make the law less than equal or divide our community against itself must be defeated.

While the PM continues with his drawn out cock-tease, some people without his impressive self-control have been going off.

Alan Jones stuttered hesitantly to his conclusion yesterday. You might not like the man, but it was an important contribution. Ditto Andrew Bolt, pleading incoherently today for gays to be magnanimous in victory, and become, well, as much like right wing conservative heterosexuals as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if he proposes to Tim Wilson in tomorrow’s column.

The big blow-off, however, came from the losing side. Lyle Shelton, channelling Chicken Little, with prose as purple as I imagine his face must be right now – I hope he’s taking his beta blockers. I will take some time to review his objections, because these are the sorts of issues that will come up as the bill makes its way through Parliament.

“There will always be millions of Australians who will never accept the government’s redefinition of marriage. What will be the consequences for these people if they manifest their views in speech or action? Will they be ostracised as bigots? Will they always be allowed to teach their children that there is only one true definition of marriage?”

Meaning: can I go on spreading falsehoods, promoting discredited ‘research’, and demonising LGBTI folk in my press releases, websites and interviews? Or am I out of a job? Am I going to be dragged into court like Andrew Bolt?

“In the US florists, bakers and photographers are being legally punished for exercising their right of conscience not to participate in same-sex weddings. Do we want Australia’s anti-discrimination laws used this way?”

This is a very minor point. Personally, I wouldn’t want anyone with whom I could not establish a sympathetic rapport to work on my wedding: and who would want their videos made by someone who despises them, or their wedding cake by someone who might pee in the cake mix? So I can’t see myself ever needing to sue any of these people, because I simply wouldn’t do business with them.

That said, I hardly think bakers and florists are ‘participating’ in the wedding. They just deliver goods and take no part in the actual ceremony or reception. So refusing service is really rather petty. And the law is the law.

Plus. religious types already get lots of special privileges, such as tax exemptions, and the ability to throw us out of work or schools or jobs, just because the imaginary deity in their head says they must. I don’t think we should be adding to that list, do you? On balance, I think we should instead be talking about removing these inequalities, not adding more.

Shelton then links marriage equality with the legalisation of commercial surrogacy, as if the one were an automatic consequence of the other. I think we all know how silly such ‘slippery slope’ arguments are.

“So called ‘marriage equality’ cannot be provided for two ‘married men’ without lifting the ban on commercial surrogacy. If two men with ‘marriage equality’ are to have access to babies, they need unfettered access to donor eggs from women and carrier wombs. Perhaps the parliament will attach a ban on commercial surrogacy to its gay marriage bill.”

In the first place, the one does not lead to the other, except in your imagination. Secondly, it’s not “access to babies”, Lyle, it’s fatherhood. Not “donor eggs” and “carrier wombs”, but women. If commercial surrogacy were ever legalised, which is not even on the horizon, they would be Australian women who chose to work in this field.

Would you rather the trade went offshore, unregulated, using poor brown or yellow “carrier wombs” and “egg donors” with few choices and little protection? I thought you people were supposed to be on the side of the poor?

There will be more of this. We’re not out of the woods yet. But it is still more than likely that the bill will pass when it comes up in August, and we shall have a lovely present from the Australian people: #MarriageEquality4Christmas

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)