Home > marriage > The Age – “Same-sex couples still waiting at the altar for a basic right” by Tim Wright

The Age – “Same-sex couples still waiting at the altar for a basic right” by Tim Wright

FRIENDS and family flocked from all over to attend Jacqui Tomlins’ and Sarah Nicholls’ wedding in Toronto six years ago. The Melbourne couple, who had been together more than a decade, tied the knot shortly after a Canadian court declared marriage equality a constitutional right.

In the brides’ assessment, it was an oddly normal affair. The caterers, the party-hire people, the jewellers who provided the rings, all treated them just as they would have a heterosexual couple. Yet this public celebration of love and commitment caused a great commotion among social conservatives in Australia.

It is, in fact, the precise genesis of our nation’s ban on same-sex marriage, whose fifth anniversary the religious right will celebrate next month. So affronted were our political leaders by what the Canadian authorities had sanctioned, and so eager were they to preserve the moral order in Australia, that they hastily enacted this hateful law. Its passage was of such high priority that even anti-terror legislation before the Parliament was shoved to the side.

Greens leader Bob Brown, himself in a gay relationship, described it as an ugly manifestation of the Howard government’s "straight Australia policy" — a policy endorsed heartily by the Labor opposition. But five years on, the ALP appears much less comfortable with its traditionalist stance on marriage (even if the Prime Minister is avowedly wedded to it).

Earlier this week, the Tasmanian branch of the ALP caused a stir by adopting a policy in support of same-sex marriage. Federal Government backbenchers such as Louise Pratt and Trish Crossin have spoken publicly in favour of matrimonial equality, and Rainbow Labor — an internal ALP lobby group — is agitating for a change of policy at the party’s triennial national conference now under way.

But most Labor parliamentarians are still unwilling to criticise the mean-spirited same-sex marriage ban. The Government is clearly afraid of upsetting groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby and the Salt Shakers, which preach intolerance and employ fear as their weapon of choice. In our politicians’ appraisal, retaining the ban is the safe and easy option for now. But their silence in the face of this injustice is almost as harmful as the vicious rhetoric of the right-wing groups — who are busy organising to ensure the ban remains in place.

The Prime Minister, like most of his colleagues, has tended to rely on popular opinion to justify his objection to equal marriage rights. But a Galaxy poll released in June has him searching for a new line. It turns out that just 36 per cent of Australians agree with his position. Three in five of us now support marriage equality, and younger generations, who lack some of the prejudices of the baby boomers, overwhelmingly favour change.

The Government and its conservative allies are swimming against the tide of history. Around the world, courts and legislatures have started waking up to the senselessness and inhumanity of denying same-sex couples the basic right to marry — a right protected by international law. This is not just in progressive Scandinavia, but also in devoutly Catholic Spain, South Africa and half a dozen US states.

Australia’s decision-makers, meanwhile, continue to fawn over a small minority of electors who are rapidly dwindling in number — men and women who see gay relationships as somehow inferior to their own and unworthy of legal or social recognition. Every so often, we hear them in the media calling homosexuals promiscuous or sick.

Labor claims in its new draft policy platform, which is due to be adopted tomorrow, that it has "always stood for equality", that it opposes "all attempts to divide Australians by pandering to prejudice". Yet that is precisely what it’s doing. Same-sex marriage is not an item on some radical gay agenda. It is a basic human right, and it’s beyond time the Government recognised it as such.

Jacqui’s and Sarah’s marriage, and same-sex relationships in general, should offend none of us. Surely we, as a nation, are mature enough to allow all people, regardless of their sexuality, to get married.

One day, of course, the forces of love will prove more powerful than the forces of fear.

But for now, we are left standing at the altar. Waiting, patiently, for equality.

Tim Wright is a spokesman for Equal Love, which will hold a rally for same-sex marriage at Federation Square tomorrow at 1pm.

[Link: Original Article]

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