Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Happy News

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Given I gave them a whack a little while ago for the rumor of cowardice, its pleasing to note that the ACT Labor party has found its spine and endorsed a new bill supporting ceremonies for civil unions in the ACT. While same-sex civil unions are currently allowed in the ACT, the Rudd government has threatened to veto any bill which allows legally binding public ceremonies. So you can tie your life to another, but not celebrate it in front of friends or family. Petty and illogical, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from social conservatives on such issues. Anyway, good on the ACT Labor party. I’m pretty confident that within 10 years we will have homosexual marriage in this country, but it will require more boldness like this if its to be achieved.

Meanwhile Simon Berger, a pre-selection candidate for Nelsons safe Liberal seat of Bradfield has again gone public with his homosexuality. The politics of this are tough to read. Berger certainly gains name recognition and status for his boldness (joining only Penny Wong in being openly gay). However this is the same seat where a young Nelson was questioned by 5 very stern older ladies if the earring in his ear meant he was gay. Even in the ACT where homosexuality is rather boringly normal, the openly gay Andrew Barr does not run on his sexuality, so its hard to imagine that this move will gain Berger any votes to compensate for the ones inevitably lost in the closed atmosphere of a Liberal Party branch. That said, it would be foolish to imagine that the hostility of the US republicans to gay marriage is replicated here at home. My own view has been that as soon as the Liberals have a leader who publicly endorses gay marriage that the rank and file will come to shift their support to the idea. After all, the Liberals were the first to have a female candidate, a migrant candidate and an aboriginal candidate. They may be a conservative party, but stand well apart from the Hanson-esq bigotry found on the far right.

The Labor party could help speed up this process should it so wish. Now whilst this wont happen, there is an interesting thought experiment to consider. Right now the Labor party leads 55/45 in 2pp, with the Liberals slipping back to 38% primary vote, Latham territory. Given such a lead, and the sure-fire dominance at the next election of the issues of the stimulus (a moderate plus) and the ETS (a strong plus), Labor is in an impregnable position. Thus, it could adopt almost any piece of progressive legislation to propose and be guaranteed a mandate for it, following the election. Going to the election on the issue would take some of the heat out of it (as a qusi-referendum), and yet because there are more fundamental issues in play, it would only play a small role in the outcome. Though gay marriage was voted down at the Labor party conference, Rudd should recognise the rare position history now affords him. Lest he wants to be tagged another Malcolm Fraser, too weak or hesitant to maximize the use of their position, Rudd ought to consider just how he will use this golden opportunity. Its clear that wont be homosexual marriage, but many other issues are on the table such as changes in Drug policy, Federal control of Health or Education, or Tax Reform are all viable. Sure its a lot for voters to deal with, but this is a once in a generation opportunity. Time to stand strong Mr Rudd.

Photo used under a Creative Commons licence by user Hammer51012

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