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Issue #1804      November 22, 2017


YES despite bankrupt politics

It has been a long struggle against the forces of the ultra-right and socially conservative and religious groups to gain marriage equality and after last week’s resounding YES vote we are one step closer. There is now broad support across parliamentary parties and the cross-benches. The high turnout in the postal survey of 80 percent and the 61.6 percent YES-vote left politicians in no doubt of where the public stood on the issue of same sex marriage. The result of the Australian Bureau of Statistics survey was met with jubilation in the LGBTI community when it was announced on Wednesday, November 15. It meant much more than just being able to get married: it was a long-awaited step in the recognition of the rights under the law of all Australians, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The NO “debate” was largely centred on fear-mongering and diversions around wedding cakes, and an array of lies about the consequences of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. Around 40 percent voted NO in the survey.

The postal ballot, as predicted, caused a great deal of unnecessary trauma and pain, which could have been avoided if Parliament had fulfilled its obligations to legislate from the start.

It is only in the decades since the 1970s that laws were passed de-criminalising male acts of homosexuality. South Australia has still not overturned what is commonly referred to as the “gay panic defence”. This is a legal argument used by defence lawyers to downgrade murder charges on the basis that the defendant was “provoked” into homicide by a sexual advance from the victim. It was only abolished in Queensland this year and in Western Australia in 2008.

Ironically, the postal survey foist on the public as a delaying tactic has backfired on the extreme right and other social conservatives in Parliament exposing just how out of step they are with the wider community.

Not that they are giving up. They might have been forced to abandon Liberal Senator James Paterson’s proposed bill. Its “protections” for same-sex marriage were a licence to discriminate in the name of anti-discrimination. The intention was to legislate for wide exemptions to state and territory anti-discrimination laws including for service provides like bakers and florists in the name of protecting parental rights and religious freedom.

A bill introduced by liberal Senator Dean Smith on the same day as the survey results were announced does not restrict existing freedoms; it extends a freedom to a section of the community which is presently subject to discrimination. The bill was jointly sponsored by fellow Liberal Senators Linda Reynolds and Jane Hume, Labor’s Penny Wong and Louise Pratt, Greens’ Richard Di Natale and Janet Rice, as well as crossbenchers Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Derryn Hinch.

“I thought we had gone past the point in this country where we had signs that said ‘we don’t serve Jews, we don’t serve blacks’,” Senator Wong said. “The Australian people voted to lessen discrimination and not to extend it,” She argued the bill put forward by Dean Smith, which has some exemptions so churches can refuse to conduct same-sex weddings, had appropriate protections.

In legal terms, the introduction of marriage equality would change nothing about the current position of religion, parental authority, and children’s education. Church and state marriage law have been at odds for 160 years, ever since remarriage after divorce was made accessible in the British world in 1857. Parents whose views of marriage differ from state law have thus been communicating these differences to their children without obstruction for 160 years.

Parents will continue to have the freedom to teach their children why the law is contrary to their moral or religious beliefs.

The “no” campaign also argues that the protection of religious freedom requires that religious individuals should be exempt from sexual discrimination legislation, where that is in tension with their beliefs.

Religious organisations currently have significant exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation. State laws currently permit religious bodies to discriminate on the basis of sex, where such discrimination conforms with the “doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion” or is necessary “to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents to the religion”.

Next article – Penalty rates – Club workers hit

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