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Issue #1553      27 June 2012

Editorial

Class nature of marriage equality

The recent release of census data shows that over 1,338 Australian same-sex couples, nearly 2,700 Australians, have travelled overseas to marry. There are 65,000 Australians in de facto relationships who are prevented from marrying. Such are the bald figures. So why are the state and the church against same-sex couples being married?

After all, a man and a woman who decide to live in a de facto relationship after three years are considered in the eyes of the law to be legally married. This is not because of any romantic notion about marriage by the state but because the relationship will involve money and property and, likely, children. Marriage as we know it today historically is based on property.

When patriarchal society emerged in the zenith of its power more than 150 years ago with the rise of mercantile capitalism ownership of property formed a fundamental part of the system. Women were the property of their husband. Marriage involved the transfer of property – the bride – from her father to her husband as chattel. Then it was almost impossible to get a divorce. Desertion was rife.

As a pillar of the capitalist system, the church sees marriage – as it defines it – as an institution vital to its continued power, indeed to capitalism itself. Thus for many decades – into the 20th century – churches opposed any changes to divorce laws that made it easier for couples to end their relationship.

If you strike blows against that pillar, challenging that power, there will be a reaction, as there is, from the Vatican all the way down to the pious hypocrites in Australia’s parliament who publicly espoused that that gay marriage was against their beliefs. The creed that a person’s religion is a private matter between the individual and his or her faith is always shattered when it comes up against the political, as it always does.

To put it in context, in an interview on ABC radio in the lead up to this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras an organiser of the event called the gay rights movement in general a liberation movement: liberation movements take many shapes, sizes and forms. These things form the basic political nature of the struggle for same-sex marriage.

Asylum policy disgrace

From the timeline of contacts between Australian authorities and the capsized asylum boat indicated by Home Affairs Ministers, Jason Clare, it appears that more timely action by the Australian rescue authorities could have averted the latest asylum boat tragedy.

The refugee support group Refugee Action Coalition has rightly called for a full inquiry into the information that all Australian authorities had about this boat and that the lack of coordination between Indonesia and Australian rescue authorities was a serious issue hampering rescue operations. Prompt action early Wednesday morning could have saved lives.

Australian policies are putting asylum seekers at risk. People on the boats know that if they are captured by Indonesian authorities they will be detained perhaps indefinitely.

If the Australian government was willing to process asylum seekers in Indonesia and guarantee that recognised refugees would be re-settled far fewer people would need to get on a boat to get protection. Australia took only 17 UNHCR refugees from Indonesia in the first three months of 2012.

Merak Tamils whose boat was turned back to Indonesia in October 2009, spent a year in detention, were found to be refugees, yet are still waiting for Australia to resettle them. Asylum seekers have to get on boats if they are going to get protection.

In a statement the rights group pointed out that both Liberal and Labor parties are focussed on violating refugee rights by expelling them to Malaysia or Nauru rather then putting refugees’ rights to safety and protection at the front of humanitarian policies.

Next article – Obituary – Anne Duffy-Lindsay

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