Friday, March 31, 2006

No place for homosexuals in Howard's Australia

When I started this blog, I had it in my head to split my posts into a few different categories: Recipes, Restaurants, Reads, Rants and the Rest. Basically, I wanted to forget about detailing the boring minutiae of my life, in favour of something (hopefully) more interesting- my ideas on the things I like to eat, to books I like to read, the places I like to go, and finally the things that piss me off. When I started this blog, I had it in my head that most of my posts would be about the things I like, because honestly, it takes a bit to piss me off, so it is with disappointment that my first real post has to be a Rant.

Apparently, as the title suggests, there is no place whatsoever for homosexuals in Australia, as long as John Howard and his Liberal party are in government. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been living in Howards personal experiment to recreate the perfect 1950's nuclear society, otherwise known as the Commonwealth of Australia, however never before has the Government so explicitly made its intention known to treat gays and lesbians as second-class citizens.

As a resident of the Australian Capital Territory, I was excited by the prospect of the ACT government, led by Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, planning to become the first jurisdiction in Australia to offer civil unions for gay and lesbian couples and properly recognise them in the eyes of the law. The proposed legislation would be an extension of the registration scheme initiated in Tasmania several years ago, by ensuring the same functional equality for same-sex couples as for heterosexual couples.

Seriously proving himself to be a leader opposed to discrimination of any kind, Stanhope has long been an ally of the LGBT community. Since being voted in as Chief Minister of the ACT, Stanhope has sought to remove all examples in existing legislation which discriminate on the basis of sexuality. In his own words, the proposed civil union legislation is a concrete "commitment to the removal of discrimination in the ACT". Under the proposed legislation, there would be the same legal equality conferred up couples, heterosexual or homosexual, who choose to enter into the civil union scheme. The laws proposed for the ACT in now way impact upon the definition of marriage as it exists throughtout Australia, it merely constitutes a recognition and acceptance of other relationships for those in the ACT who are unable to, or choose not to participate in a marriage as defined under the Marriage Act.

True to form, the Howard Government has threatened to block the proposed Bill, as it threatens to undermine the sacred status of Marriage in Australia. Despite no mention of marriage being made in the proposed legislation, Attorney General Philip Ruddock has stated “it suggests to people who might be interested in civil union that what they have is a marriage, when in fact it is not." Conveniently forgetting the almost 50% divorce rate in Australia John Howard has asserted that “There is a special place in Australian society for the institution of marriage, as historically understood, and we do not intend to allow that to be in any way undermined."

Of particular interest is Ruddock's assertion that Stanhope is more interested in his reputation as a "civil rights guru" rather than a Minister "properly considering the needs of his electorate." Considering that the ACT has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Labour government in previous elections it would seem that Stanhope and his ACT government have the same right to legislate for this electorate that John Howard has so decisively excercised in bringing his hugely unpopular GST and workplace reform into existence. It could just as easily be argued that Mr Howard is more interested in his reputation as a financial reformer, and more passionate about making Australia his own personal vision of utopia than taking into consideration the changing needs and priorities of his constituents, and giving them what they want. Of course the timing couldn't have been better for the Howard Government, as those wacky gays and their desire to be treated like human beings has kicked the current government scandal concerning the Australian Wheat Board off the front page, and diverted your average married, heterosexual Australian's concerns away from their job security under the Government's new workplace reform program and into much more pressing matters like the security of their position at the top of the relationship heirarchy. The Howard Government can safely show it knew about bribes and kickbacks to the Middle East by a major Australian board; can authorise the termination of employment of a perfectly capable employee on the basis of a "personality difference"; and have a foreign ambassador withdrawn from our soil thanks to its unwarranted meddling in foreign policy, all in the space of one week and still maintain its facade as being an honest, family-oriented government working in the best interests of its people because it is busy fighting the real enemy- gays and lesbians who dare to think that their relationships are worth anything in the eyes of the law

According to reports, the legislation will be vetoed by the Government unless it is watered down to be nothing more than a registration scheme, similar to that of Tasmania, affording only limited benefits to the couples involved, less advantageous than current benefits offered to heterosexual de facto partners. All the typical, and typically improbable "floodgates" arguments have been trotted out by the Government, and the conservative, religious Right, with which it is becoming more closely connected, since this proposed Bill went public, all designed to get those poor vulnerable married couples quaking in their beds at night. The "Gays" will flood into Canberra, get their Certificate of Union, and then come back to more God-fearing states and demand equal rights; the Lesbians will think they're married and can adopt a child like a real woman can; "those people" being recognised as a couple will change what it means for you to be married; the skies will rain with blood and the lands shall be rent asunder.

All this rhetoric, despite the fact that the ACT is Australia's smallest legislature, enacting a Bill which would only affect its residents, and in no way tries to alter the meaning of marriage. Mr Stanhope says it best when saying that "Mr Ruddock needs to be asked what is his real concern about the ACT legislation...what is his real concern about my commitment to remove discrimination and to show respect to same-sex relationships?...One has to pose the question whether or not the real reason is that there is no place in John Howard's Australia for homosexuals."

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