Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gay Rights in Australia

As I mentioned four posts ago, I popped in for a tour of Victoria’s Parliament while I was in Melbourne.  Parliament wasn’t in session at the time, but there was a special Youth Parliament taking place.  The annual Youth Parliament brings together 16 – 25 year olds from all over the state of Victoria to debate issues and pass legislation.  Subsequent research into this revealed that all bills passed by the Youth Parliament are given to Victoria’s actual Parliament for review.  Over the course of 25 years, a surprising 20 bills from Youth Parliament in Victoria have actually been passed in the regular Parliament too.  More surprising is the nature of some of these bills.  They range from the fairly mundane – banning soft drinks in state schools and nightclub safety reform – to things that you would never guess:  over-the-counter availability of the morning after pill and the introduction of victim impact statements.  Those are serious topics for a Youth Parliament to take on and pass, and to be the catalyst for the State Parliament passing is pretty impressive.

I got to watch a few minutes of the Youth Parliament debate surrounding university housing for rural students.  It was a bit of a snooze-a-palooza and my interest in Youth Parliament was quickly fading, but then our tour guide told us that the youth overwhelmingly passed a bill in favour of same-sex marriage earlier that day.  Why didn’t I go on the morning tour?!?!?

Australia, like most countries in the world, bans same-sex marriage.  Overall, however, gay rights in Australia are far ahead of most countries and definitely far ahead of the United States. 

Blood donor laws in Australia prevent gay men from donating blood if they’ve been sexually active in the past year.  The US bans gay men from donating blood if they’ve been sexually active… ever.  Immigration laws were synced to allow Australians to sponsor a same-sex partner for residency as early as 1985, gays were allowed to serve openly in the military in 1992, and many federal laws were amended in 2008 to provide greater equality in areas of inheritance, taxation, etc.  A comparison to the US:  Americans still can’t sponsor a same-sex partner for residency even if they are legally married in one of the US states that permits same-sex marriage, gay soldiers are just now allowed to serve openly next month, and no federal laws recognize gay couples whatsoever.  As in the US, same-sex adoption laws vary by state (some good, some bad) as do discrimination protections.  But unlike the US, all states and territories in Australia actually have discrimination protections in their laws.  On the flip side, you can still be fired from your job for being gay in 29 US states.

Another major difference in gay rights in Australia is the lack of an audible, hateful opposition.  Of course, there are plenty of crazy Christian groups in Australia which are against gay rights, but they don’t seem as loud, as bitter, or as hate-filled as their counterparts in the United States.  There’s no visible National Organization for Marriage (which is really a misleading name) in Australia, and nothing really similar to the Family Research Council to spread a bunch of vicious, filthy lies and propaganda to the most ignorant amongst us.  Also, there’s not really a Fox News equivalent for all the dumb people to watch, so that helps too.

On a similar note, there is also a lack of highly visible individual politicians who preach hate speech against gays.  Yes, the leader of the Liberal Party (Australia’s confusingly-named right wing party equivalent to the Republicans), Tony Abbott, made a comment last year that he felt threatened by gays.  News reports surrounding that comment were either negative (as they should be) or neutral at best.  I haven’t really seen a situation where a politician or candidate – even on the conservative end of the spectrum – has really been a vociferous opponent of gay rights.  Even the craziest of the crazy politicians in Australia – like Pauline Hanson – are usually far too busy being racist to make time for anti-gay rhetoric.  And in this country, the masses seem to come around and those people only get 2.5% of the vote.  In America, the masses rally behind them and those loons get to make a legitimate run for the Presidency – hate-spewing dipshits like Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Michelle Bachmann for example.  Those three and many of the other candidates running for the Republican nomination are nasty bigots and there should be no place for them in politics (or in society for that matter).  Oh, I’m sorry.  Did I say nasty bigots?  I didn’t mean that.  (Skip to the next paragraph if you’re averse to strong language).  What I meant to say is Tim Pawlenty is spineless prick with the personality of an oak tree, Rick Santorum is a lying asshole with the same level of compassion as a festering bowl of dog snot, and Michelle Bachmann is just a plain old cunt.  I could say a lot worse about Mrs. Bachmann, but I think the “c” word is a more-than-fair and surprisingly generous assessment of her character given her silent approval (or not-so-silent approval maybe?) of the harmful “reparative” “gay-to-straight” “therapy” that her husband dabbles in.  I take comfort in knowing that all three of the aforementioned candidates are going to burn in hell for eternity.  Yay!

Anyway, moving on.

Now that Australia has established many basic gay rights and lacks an overly-vocal opposition, the discussion here has turned to same-sex marriage.  Marriage is strictly a federal issue in Australia, but four states and the Australian Capital Territory have enacted partnership registries or agreements that apply to same-sex couples.  The other two states and territory rely on a de facto definition which applies Australia-wide and gives same-sex couples living together for more than one year many or most of the legal protections associated with marriage.  The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has reiterated that marriage should remain in the realm of heterosexuals only despite the fact that she herself is an unmarried atheist living in sin with her long-time boyfriend.  How does that work?  And just when we thought that maybe she was stating her opposition because it was the party’s platform and that after the Labor Party National Conference in December she would change course and promote same-sex marriage if the party passed a resolution saying so, she came out and said that she will continue to oppose same-sex marriage even if the official party platform were to change this year.  Seriously lady – what is your fucking problem?

Ms. Gillard refuses to allow what Australians call a “conscience vote”.  Unlike in the US, members of Parliament in Australia are usually obliged to vote with their party no matter what their personal belief is.  In a conscience vote, they can do just that:  vote with their conscience, even if it goes against party platform.  The politicians are being spineless and turning into American-style politicians – just playing a game to stay in power rather than actually trying to accomplish something for the greater good.  Labor is afraid that they will lose support from some of the more socially conservative blue collar workers that historically have made up their base.  But at the same time, they are losing some of the more progressive contingent of their base to the Greens – farther left on the spectrum.

But despite all this, marriage equality is coming along in Australia – much quicker than in the US.  There is a big push for it at the moment, with the Greens wanting to introduce legislation in Parliament (again) and six of the eight Labor Party state or territory conferences passing resolutions in support of same-sex marriage.  With that, adding marriage equality to the official party platform at the Labor Party National Conference in December is looking good.  Also, most recent polls find that nearly 70% of Australians are in favour of marriage equality.  70%!  That’s huge!

So, Australia is almost there.  Almost.  I bet it happens next year.  And when it does, it will cement my belief that I have moved to a superior country.  So, to all of the politicians down there in Canberra, I say this to you:  grow a pair.  And to Ms. Gillard, who is so adamantly opposed to marriage equality:  you’d better change course soon before I have to compare you to Michelle Bachmann.

Nobody wants to be compared to that cunt.

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