Tag Archives: Same-sex Marriage

The rainbow football

UnknownA Writer writes No Fibs.

IN July 2013 I started contributing to independent Australian news site No Fibs, a journey which began with the controversial issue of marriage equality.

The 2013 federal election was yet to be called, but former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had toppled Julia Gillard and done something totally unexpected – he’d come out in support of same-sex marriage.

When I approached former Fairfax journalist and one-time editor of pioneer online news site Webdiary, and editor-in-chief of No Fibs, Margo Kingston, I felt in my gut that marriage equality was going to be pivotal election policy ground, and asked her why there was nothing on it at No Fibs.

In her generous, proactive manner, Margo asked me to step-up and write something for the site.

What’s interesting about this piece, written a year ago, is that not much has changed for marriage equality in the interim: it’s still a political football.

Even though the government has changed and we have a few more federal MPs who support same-sex marriage, the issue is still being booted up and down the field, waiting for a politician of any stripe to take the free kick this majority-supported human right will be.

SAVVY SENATOR Senator Sue Boyce shows the Senate what an equality conscience looks like.
SAVVY SENATOR The LNP’s Sue Boyce shows the Senate what an equality conscience looks like.

The chances of marriage equality in Australia.

SUPPORTERS of marriage equality in Australia would have been forgiven for thinking the issue was dead in the water under the 43rd Parliament.

We endured Tony Abbott’s predictable religious opposition. We winced at Julia Gillard’s incomprehensible atheist mantra against relationship freedom. We shed tears as Penny Wong assured us of a more enlightened tomorrow.

Then something happened which nobody predicted. Kevin Rudd, with one cogent blog post, became the highest-profile Australian politician, and Christian, to get behind marriage equality.

Before he was reinstated as Prime Minister, this news remained a hopeful anecdote. Now it’s fast becoming the point of difference which may wedge Rudd into a win at the ballot box.

Galaxy polling from last weekend indicates 11 per cent of polled Coalition voters would back Kevin Rudd and Labor at the election, based on his support for same-sex marriage.

So, what are the chances of marriage equality under the 44th Parliament?

“It does give you anxiety to know that holding hands in public is still considered by some to be a political act.”

In November 2011, at the ALP National conference, two things happened which defined the marriage equality credentials of the ALP. Support for same-sex marriage was adopted, but also a subsequent motion allowing Labor ministers a conscience vote should a bill come before parliament.

This double-edged sword was wielded in 2012, when the Government voted on marriage equality with their consciences, while the Opposition voted with Tony Abbott’s. The bill to amend the Marriage Act was resoundingly, and predictably, lost.

The ALP’s conscience vote on same-sex marriage cannot be changed at party level before their next national conference, which is why Rudd’s new front bench is busy saying Tony Abbott’s grip on his ministers’ views is heavy-handed.

So let’s look at Abbott’s stance. Despite the coming-out of his lesbian sister Christine Forster, Tony Abbott has remained unconvinced by her deeply held desire to see equality in her country, let alone within her own family.

The Abbott daughters talked about Dad’s outmoded opposition to it, and Christopher Pyne subsequently made suggestions that the Coalition party room would have no commitment for or against marriage equality, after the election.

Progressive voters, quite rightly, saw these as so many dangling carrots. When pressed, Abbott dismissed the suggestion there was a need to define marriage equality as an important issue for a potential Coalition government, citing how close his views were to Prime Minister Gillard’s.

Marriage equality never had less of a chance in Australia, until Rudd’s backflip.

Most of the religious themes of his blog post were lost on me.

As someone who gave a live submission to the Human Rights Commission’s 2006 Same Sex: Same Entitlements hearing, which was used by Rudd and his first cabinet to remove almost 100 pieces of legislation discriminating against same-sex couples, I knew he’d long had all he needed to understand that the case for same-sex marriage was already a human rights no-brainer.

TALK ABOUT KEVIN KRudd's backflip on marriage equality was a surprise.
TALK ABOUT KEVIN KRudd’s backflip on marriage equality was a surprise.

But it wasn’t what he wrote which held my attention, it was what he said at press conferences, stating a desire to end the “unnecessary angst” amongst a large proportion of the community.

It’s an interesting word, angst, but it’s a great description of the stasis an increasing number of same-sex couples endure while we wait for our leaders to sort out marriage equality.

We are encouraged into joint financial commitments, and all the customs and commitment inherent in extended family life, yet we are denied access to the fundamental legal and symbolic bedrock of loving relationships, if we find we want or need one.

It does give you angst to know that if something happened to your partner, through death or incapacitation, even a distant relative could make a case for financial gain, while you are left chasing statutory declarations warranting what a simple marriage certificate could.

It does give you anxiety to know that holding hands in public is still considered by some to be a political act, knowing that we should have secured marriage equality long ago in order to start the real work: changing hearts and minds, under the protection of full equality enshrined in law.

Kevin also did something which added to my confidence in him on this issue. He stood up to his sister.

Loree Rudd, of Nambour, Queensland, infamously ditched her ALP membership in 2011 when the party adopted same-sex marriage. She’s since renewed it, for obvious reasons, but her brother told her about his change of heart on the issue the night before he made it public.

If he explained it to her the same way as he explained it to us, I imagine Kevin reminded Loree that Australia is a secular nation in which religious conviction is secondary to social reform. That realisation, matched with his vocal reassurances to Australia’s same-sex community, is what you call leadership by any definition.

Newly minted Prime Minister Rudd and his Deputy Anthony Albanese have since affirmed their commitment to making marriage equality a reality in Australia, even suggesting alternatives if the Coalition remains unchanged in its opposition to conscience voting.

Despite many in its ranks making their support for marriage equality public, including self-proclaimed preferred Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, and Senator Sue Boyce’s decision to cross the floor and vote for it, Tony Abbott and the Coalition remain locked into opposition to same-sex marriage in Australia.

A clear choice has presented itself where there so recently was none.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

There is no grey area in Marriage Equality

PINK AS Same-sex marriage is long overdue in Australia.
PINK AS Same-sex marriage is long overdue in Australia.

A Writer ramps-up the politics.

TO increase writing output I can thoroughly recommend writers move to an island.

With the mainland and its issues left far behind, and only the sound of birds in the nearby wetlands, my writer’s voice has blossomed since arriving on Coochiemudlo, in Queensland’s Moreton Bay.

A healthy dose of political writing has formed a key part of my work, and, thanks to the number of websites seeking original content, it’s been great to have work published to hungry audiences.

Top-of-mind for this writer is always LGBTQI equality – an issue which is not going away.

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come – there was a time when even Senator Penny Wong was not a marriage equality advocate, and Tanya Plibersek MP wrote against it while backing her leader, Kevin Rudd, in opposition. Time for a little reminder in where we were just over twelve months ago.

This opinion piece originally appeared in LGBTicons in February 2013.

“The aftermath of his death revealed the rotten core of Australia’s attitude to same-sex equality.”

Michael Burge’s fight for equality Down Under.

I CAME to terms with the fact that I am gay whilst living in a converted barn on the edge of a frozen field in the grip of a Suffolk winter in early 1998. Loneliness, and the creeping realisation that I was wasting my swiftly disappearing youth were the motivating factors, plus the knowledge that I’d tried playing it straight for far too long.

In desperation, while on a day trip to Cambridge – city of so much stifled sexuality – I purchased a book called How to be a Happy Homosexual.

Yes, the shop assistant gave me ‘that’ look, as she turned it over, clocked the title, and promptly buried it in a paper bag for me.

In an early chapter, author Terry Sanderson suggests an exercise which struck me as weird, but I rolled my eyes, went to the bathroom mirror, and told myself that I am gay.

The self-acceptance I received in that moment changed my life forever.

Within months I left England for home. I felt sure that Australia would provide me with all the answers I needed to make this desperately important transition.

It took me another 18 months to break the closet door open. In preparation, I parachuted from an airplane to help a friend celebrate her 50th birthday, thinking that if I could manage that, coming out would be a cinch.

Then I took another leap and came out to everyone.

A year later I manifested a relationship with Jono, a beautiful, generous, funny man with similar showbiz aspirations. We shared our lives for four irreplaceable years before he died suddenly one night at the age of 44.

As the reality of his motionless body sank in, lying in the emergency department, I realised I was in for years of grief. I ran my hand across his forehead and told Jono he was worth every tear. I had no inkling at that stage how magnified my grief would be by other forces.

Jono and I never discussed the legalities of our relationship. We were married in every sense of the word, but we were blissfully ignorant of how precarious our legal status was. The aftermath of his death revealed the rotten core of Australia’s attitude to same-sex equality.

I could write at great length about the number of ways my human rights (and his) were trampled on by Jono’s family, some of his friends, and various government agencies and businesses in their service.

Thankfully, the state laws of New South Wales had enshrined same-sex de-facto relationships into law the year Jono and I met. Given time, I was able to reverse the criminally fraudulent acts perpetrated to ensure my name was not on Jono’s death certificate, and that I had no access to it.

But the battle to achieve ownership of this crucial piece of paper, which eventually allowed me to reclaim our joint financial affairs, turned me into an overnight marriage equality advocate, simply because marriage would have saved me from the deepest disenfranchisement I ever wish to experience.

So I began talking about same-sex marriage to anyone who would listen, warning gay friends in de-facto relationships in particular about the risks they faced if something went wrong – death, separation or incapacitation.

Surprisingly, I was met with off-handedness from couples who blindly trusted their families would respect their relationships, and those who couldn’t see that same-sex co-habitation is still very much a political act in Australia.

Thankfully, the marriage equality movement swiftly took a foothold in the gay community.

Right in the middle of my grief, two Australian same-sex couples who were married in Canada noticed the Australian federal Marriage Act did not explicitly state marriage had to be between people of the opposite gender, so they applied to marry under Australian law to ensure their overseas nuptials were legally recognised on home soil.

Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock went into a panic about this obvious oversight, and worked his hardest to add six words – “between a man and a woman” – to the legislation. Conservative Prime Minister John Howard saw the addition of gender into Australia’s Marriage Act as a much-needed law reform, and the law was swiftly amended under his personal leadership in 2004.

When Kevin Rudd led the Labor party to victory in 2007, sweeping away 11 years of conservative government, he did so on the promise of removing legislation that financially discriminated against same-sex de-facto couples.

These were welcome reforms, but despite having a majority in the Senate, Rudd stopped short of any kind of leadership around marriage equality. Most commentators put his reticence down to religious convictions.

So it was a great relief when Julia Gillard became Prime Minister in 2010. As a self-declared atheist, she brought the possibility that faith-based lobby groups would be firmly reminded that we live in a secular nation. As a woman living in a de-facto relationship, she seemed equipped to understand why the full spectrum of coupling choices should be available to all citizens.

In 2012, months after the Australian Labor Party adopted gay marriage as a policy platform, Julia Gillard ensured her senators a conscience vote on a bill designed to consider that over 60 per cent of all respondents in the Australian community now supported same-sex marriage.

Sounds good, right?

NOT HAPPY, JULIA The shock in the same-sex attracted community was palpable.
NOT HAPPY, JULIA The shock in the same-sex attracted community was palpable.

Well no, actually, because Gillard’s leadership on the issue was limited to crossing the floor (followed by most of her frontbench) to express her atheist conscience by sitting with the conservative Opposition and voting against allowing same-sex couples in Australia our equal human rights.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott forced his colleagues to tow the line in a bloc of ‘no’ votes, flying in the face of the Liberal Party’s claim to have invented the repercussion-free conscience vote.

The Australian gay community witnessed this with jaws dropped. We had hoped our leaders would see things in a more 21st century light.

Thanks to all this political dissembling, same-sex marriage in Australia was defeated by an enormous margin, and remains dead in the water.

The news about the progress of marriage equality in the United Kingdom is heartening, but we are paddling in denial about how far back Gillard and Abbott have put the issue in this country. Neither leader has the conviction of Barack Obama, or David Cameron’s understanding of equality.

If only I’d looked at my country’s record for dragging its feet on gay law reform before I left the United Kingdom!

Australia lagged 30 years behind Britain on completely decriminalising homosexuality – which started in 1967 in Britain, but arrived as late as 1997 in Tasmania.

We do not yet have the right to create civil unions, which were legalised in Britain in 2005. The best we have are relationship registers, a process which feels rather like registering your dog with the local council.

Despite feeling like I’d lost my ability to love someone else, I was lucky enough to find love again, and by 2008 my partner Richard and I decided we’d like to formalise our relationship. The closest place we could be ‘civilly-unioned’ (it sounds weird, but let’s call it what it is), is New Zealand.

Our civil union certificate has legal status in very few places in Australia, but certainly not where we currently live and own a house together.

Despite our wills, powers of attorney and guardianship, we still have no single piece of binding evidence if the validity of our relationship were to be challenged.

So how long will we remain in this parlous state?

Julia Gillard refuses to give a cogent explanation as to why she believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman. She remains the greatest anti-gay-marriage leader this country has ever seen.

But there is a link between this refusal and her inability to form a secure, united cabinet since the first day she held office. Within the ALP ranks a progressive core keeps dragging the deeply divided party towards an understanding of equality.

Tony Abbott believes that being a conservative politician comes with automatic opposition to same-sex marriage, despite British Prime Minister David Cameron’s assertion that he supports same-sex marriage because he is a conservative.

So Australians for marriage equality are left with a choice between two staunch same-sex marriage opponents at our next election.

I used to think equality was a tenet of the Australian way of life, but to my surprise the word does not even appear in our constitution. Our politicians are under no obligation to stand up for something which isn’t mentioned in our supreme legal document.

BRISBANE PRIDE My partner Richard brings up the rear with the other trash at the loud 2013 event.
BRISBANE PRIDE My husband Richard brings up the rear with the trash at the raucous 2013 event.

But thanks to lobby groups, same-sex marriage has become our politician’s first real struggle with equality since the removal of the White Australia Policy in the 1970s, and the granting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights under the Mabo ruling in the 1990s.

While it chooses to use terms like ‘a fair go’ and ‘closing the gap’, our Parliament avoids the truth – that equality can never be a partial state. Equality either exists or it doesn’t, there is no grey area.

The removal of six words – “between a man and a woman” from the federal Marriage Act will cost this secular nation nothing.

But it will finally end my journey home from that lonely Suffolk barn, and make me a very Happy Homosexual indeed.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Nuptials and the Deep North

WEDDING PARTY Elves around the fire at our reception.
WEDDING PARTY Elves around the fire at our reception.

A Writer encounters Queensland’s LGBTQI equality record.

ON the same day as the Northern Territory found that a dingo did indeed take Azaria Chamberlain, the Queensland Government decided to release some news of its own. Perhaps, since there was plenty of other distractions for the media, they thought we wouldn’t notice?

A very important factor in our decision to move to Queensland was its record on same-sex equality.

Despite the state being a bit late on decriminalising homosexuality in 1990, in 2011 the Bligh Government passed a bill allowing same-sex civil unions.

But on Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Newman’s new conservative government bowed to pressure from christian groups and repealed part of the legislation. Civil unions are still legal in Queensland, but no state-sanctioned ceremonies are allowed for same-sex couples creating such unions.

Apparently some christians don’t want to see same-sex attracted people ‘emulating’ marriages in our ceremonies.

Obviously such objectors haven’t been to too many same-sex marriages lately … you see, we don’t really ‘do’ marriage like these christians do. We ‘do’ marriage a whole lot differently.

“The tide has long-since turned for same-sex equality across Australia.”

Richard and I were married at Twizel on the South Island of New Zealand, during a Lord of the Rings tour guided by Discovery Tours, who take people into the foothills of the Southern Alps where location shoots were conducted for the movie trilogy.

We’re not dyed-in-the-wool LOTR fans, we just wanted to get married in a wilderness region without all the hassles of permissions and insurance. The setting was magnificent and soul-lifting, a perfect place to create a lasting union.

Back at home in the Blue Mountains, however, we went further by hosting a Lord of the Rings-themed party in our garden, for our family and friends. Richard thought of the costume idea, because he didn’t want to be the only one dressed-up.

We had quite a small house, but that was offset by a huge garden, so, in late May 2008, we invited everyone for what we hoped would be a lovely autumnal afternoon and evening, outside.

About half an hour before the ceremonial start to the party, the weather took a turn for the worse. Our guests, bedecked in everything from Hobbit feet to Ent branches, and smatterings of Elvish ears, sheltered in a billowing marquee.

Now, The Reverend Fred Nile might have prayed for rain on our parade, but as Richard and I dressed in our medieval-style outfits, a patch of blue sky shone out of the west.

By the time we were marching up the aisle of our driveway, to stand beside the anvil where our guests were forging our wedding bands, the rain was gone.

We were enveloped in so much love – friends playing and singing our favourite songs (our wedding march was ‘Moon River’); family taking care of us (my sister Jen was dressed as an Elf we named Gilgandra, which is pretty close to Galadriel); other friends speaking or performing for us; and everyone braving the conditions around a series of fires, well into the night.

It was an elemental celebration like no other.

Leaving the garden where this event took place was a little sad – little bits of sparkly confetti were always surfacing here and there in our cool climate paradise, a reminder of our wedding party – but this time in our lives was one step on a long journey.

You see, despite some christian’s doubts about the validity of our marriage, we really are in it for the long haul.

We could be angry that Queensland seems to be a case of two steps forward, and one back, for same-sex couples … but we’re already married, and we’ve headed north.

The tide has long-since turned for same-sex equality across Australia, and we were happy to ride that wave into Queensland, with our progressive votes at the ready.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.