While Australia had a uniform Marriage Act
from 1961 until 2004, there was nothing specific (except for common law) that prohibited marriage of two people of the same gender. The requirement that marriage was between a man and woman was only inserted into the act by the Howard Government
. The government at the time claimed the change was to clarify the term ‘marriage’. The 2004 amendments were introduced in the final two sitting weeks of parliament and only a few months after the UK introduced its Civil Partnership Act
. The Australian amendments were supported (nominally at least) by all political parties except the Democrats and the Greens.
During 2009, the Rudd government legislated changes to allow ‘civil unions’ to be recognised for all couples (regardless of the partner’s gender) as well as formally recognising rights for de-facto couples. Something like 85 pieces of legislation were changed to allow this to happen.
In February 2012, Fairfax Media
reported that two thirds of Australians were in favour of same-sex marriage. By July 2014, there was 72% support
. Greens Senator Hanson-Young has had a bill before parliament since 2010 and there have been various attempts to change the law since.
On 1 June 2015, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten introduced a private members bill
into the House of Representatives that would delete the words inserted by the Howard government’s 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act
as well as other sections that prohibited marriage equality or similar marriages solemnised overseas being recognised in Australia. Despite the lack of government members in the House at the time, the bill was shunted off to a committee. Tony Abbott’s response is that while marriage equality may be considered by the government in time, it is currently more important to pass the budget measures. In the same week, according to The Saturday Paper
, Abbott himself is attempting to change the discussion to yet another ’national security’ debate
First we got senior diplomat Greg Moriarty appointed to the newly created position of national counterterrorism co-ordinator. (Sherlock fans, I regret to inform you that Moriarty bears much more resemblance to Mycroft than to his evil namesake.) Justice Minister Michael Keenan got the new title of minister assisting the prime minister on counterterrorism, and then Philip Ruddock and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells got new posts aimed at tackling radicalisation.
Being fair to the Abbott government, it has spent considerable time both inside and outside parliament urging the ALP to allow the small business measures associated with the 2015 budget to pass — and to be fair to the ALP, passing the small business measures is something the ALP always said it would do. On 3 June, Shorten moved a motion, to a lower house almost empty of government members, to pass the small business legislation immediately. The government voted against it
"Let us pass this bill straight away," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday.
"Let's get it through this place in a hurry," Small Business Minister Bruce Billson said last week.
On Wednesday, Mr Shorten obliged.
The government seen voting against putting their own small business budget measures to an immediate vote.
"We are not going to delay this legislation for one minute longer," he told the House of Representatives and then put forward a parliamentary procedure that if approved would allow an immediate vote.
The government opposed Labor's motion so it failed by 47 to 77 votes.
The leader of the house Christopher Pyne immediately decried the incident as a stunt, because the Senate is in estimates and not sitting this week.
"Labor are a joke. Ending the debate on small business won't get the bills to the Senate any faster – the Senate isn't in session!" he tweeted.
"So why the calls for Labor to get out of the way in such urgent tones," Labor backbencher Joanne Ryan immediately responded.
Small Business Minister Bruce Billson released a statement describing the spectacle as a "another pointless piece of politics by Labor".
Speaking at a media conference in the Canberra suburb of Dickson a short time later, Mr Shorten said: "If they're in such a hurry to help small business, why were they so slow today?"
"I think the government's got some explaining to do," he said.
In question time on Wednesday, Labor pursued the Prime Minister, asking why his government had voted against passing its small business bills straight away.
Mr Abbott said the Senate was not sitting.
"What we saw from the opposition this morning was yet another childish stunt from the Labor Party, an attempt by the Labor Party to deny 11 Labor members and 31 Coalition members the right to speak on this bill and ensure that they were able to demonstrate their support for the small businesses of Australia," Mr Abbott said.
Stunt? — yup, it probably was. It is pretty amusing that on Wednesday the government is voting against something it was calling on the opposition to pass on Monday and Tuesday. It seems that there is an alternate agenda within the government: probably something to do with a number of government members getting a speech into the Hansard appealing to a part of the LNP’s core support base — small business. Getting and keeping the front page free of the budget (after the 2014 fiasco) also reduces the risk of adverse polling for Abbott and his government — which could be construed as keeping Abbott in a job.
Chris Berg, writing on the ABC’s ‘The Drum’ website suggests
The budget was delivered on Tuesday, May 12. National security week was launched on Monday, May 25. That's 13 days. Really just 12, if you factor in the budget lockup and newspaper print deadlines.
This quick hop from economics to security is indicative of a broader problem with the Abbott government's populist push. It knows it doesn't want to be unpopular. But it's not sure what it wants to be popular about.
The 2015 budget is nothing like the political catastrophe that the 2014 budget was. If anything it has been well received. Everybody likes the accelerated depreciation changes for small business. The fiscal reckoning has been postponed, and nobody but sticklers, obsessives and economists could object to that.
Clearly, changes to the Marriage Act
don’t figure prominently in the Abbott government’s agenda. This fits with Abbott’s public pronouncements in the past, as well as the public pronouncements of other ‘well known’ government members such as Concetta Fierravanti-Wells who was recently interviewed on ABC’s PM radio program
Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells was recently given the job, in harness with Philip Ruddock, of inquiring into tough new citizenship laws.
Today, she says allowing a conscience vote on same sex marriage would be a "cop out".
Senator Fierravanti-Wells says it could lead to a fracture between the Liberal Party's base and its parliamentary wing.
She spoke to James Glenday.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I don't believe that this issue is a conscience issue. It's not a life or death issue, which has traditionally been the purview of conscience votes.
Thirty seven of the USA’s fifty states already allow marriage equality— although North Carolina is currently involved in a political intrigue that would surpass Game of Thrones
to allow magistrates to choose only to marry those who fit their particular moral and/or religious beliefs. As the New Yorker
discusses in this article
, the proposed law — that was vetoed by the Republican (conservative) governor in spite of his personal support — is demonstrating signs of having the governor’s veto vetoed by the legislature! The (possibly) unintended consequence is that there could be the re-instatement of the long overturned ban on couples of mixed ethnic backgrounds marrying each other — despite the marriage being that of the seemingly all important man and woman — if the particular magistrate doesn’t approve. Apparently the US Supreme Court is currently deciding if equality in marriage will be legal in all fifty states, which may overrule the North Carolina brouhaha in any case.
Other countries, including New Zealand
, have allowed marriage equality over the past few years. In Ireland, a traditionally Catholic country, it was put to a referendum during May 2015 and 62.1% of the voters
approved the change. Ireland’s parliament now will introduce the necessary legislation by the end of the year.
Reaction to the Irish referendum was generally positive around the world. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported
Political analysts who have covered Irish referendums for decades agreed that Saturday's results mark a stunning generational shift from the 1980s, when voters still firmly backed Catholic Church teachings and overwhelmingly voted against abortion and divorce.
"We're in a new country," said political analyst Sean Donnelly, who called the result "a tidal wave" that has produced pro-gay marriage majorities in even the most traditionally conservative rural corners of Ireland.
Politicians live and die in Australia at the whim of polling data. Just ask John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. Unless there is a significant problem with the data in a number of surveys, there seems to be a significant level of support for marriage equality in Australia — despite the protestations of various members of parliament (from both major parties). So what is the problem here: is it that both sides of politics are scared of making the change, or are they attempting to differentiate themselves and lose the vote from the unaligned voter?
Shorten knows very well that his private members bill will not become law. Hanson-Young’s similar legislation has been sitting on the table since 2010 (when the ALP was in power). A number of political players have advised him that his bill wouldn’t help the process — assuming he does want the changes he has sponsored. Abbott has indicated he is prepared to allow a bi-partisan bill into the parliament for debate. The ‘problem’ with bi-partisan bills is that no political party can ‘take the credit’ for the initiative.
There are LNP members of parliament that have indicated they will co-sponsor a bill with the ALP to make the debate happen
. The experience in other countries demonstrates that changes that allow marriage equality do not cause revolution, moral decay, pestilence or any real impact to most people’s lives. Maybe if the polling is correct, both sides of Australian politics should take a reality check and listen to what the public actually want. If Ireland can ask the public and act on public opinion, why can’t Australia?
Ironically Fairfax Media claims that changing the marriage act would cause a $1.2 billion boom to the economy
. With the Australian economy almost flat-lining, perhaps it’s the boost we all need.
What do you think?
Apparently focus groups are showing that voters consider this a non-issue, not because they are indifferent, but because they see it as inevitable and just want the government to deal with it and move on. As 2353 points out, politicians are too busy playing games with the issue to listen to the people. As ‘the people’, speak up now and leave a comment.
Next week Ken will take a philosophical look at national security and answer the question ‘Where does Abbott really stand on national security?’. His answer may surprise you.