Monday, November 14, 2011

Australia to Vote on Equality: PM Scuttles Chances

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, from the left-of-center Labor Party, is a staunch opponent of marriage equality. Most of her own party supports the measure and polls show that 62% of all Australians feel the same way.

But Gillard has a "strong conviction that the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation and should continue unchanged." Gillard, like so many defenders of "traditional" marriage does not live by her own words. She is not married and instead is shacked up with man. In "traditional" terms she is "living in sin."

Gillard and the man she "shacks up" with.
She also reveals her ignorance of this history of marriage by saying it should "continue unchanged." If that were the case Ms. Gillard would be in jail for living in sin and would be forced to marry her partner, Tim Mathieson. Ms. Gillard would not be an attorney in all likelihood, unless her husband permitted such a scandalous thing. Any wages she earned would belong to him. Traditionally she would be denied the right to vote, or run for office, and thus wouldn't be prime minister, or even local dog catcher. It would be assumed that her husband represented her at the polls. She would be very restricted in her ability to divorce him if she saw the need. Traditionally she would be legally incapable of refusing his sexual demands, and if she did, he would have the right to take it forcefully. It would not be considered rape under traditional marriage. I suspect that Mrs. Mathieson would be a relatively unhappy woman, but she would be fulfilling her traditional role, in traditional marriage.

Perhaps she should be thankful that marriage has not remained unchanged instead.

Gillard has faced a growing complaint within her own ruling party about her constant attempts to prevent a vote on marriage equality. So she is pulling a parliamentary maneuver to allow a vote while making sure it fails.

In the parliamentary system the normal process if for the party caucus to determine the position of the party as whole. Members of Parliament represent their party and are normally bound to vote along with the decision of the caucus. If this were followed, the Labor caucus would vote for marriage equality and all MPs would vote along with that decision. Given that Labor holds 72 of 150 seats, their votes with a handful of independents and/or Green Party MPs would be sufficient to pass the measure.

But, a handful of Labor MPs, such as Gillard herself, are opposed to equal rights for gay couples. So Gillard is calling for "conscience" vote which would allow MPs to ignore the party caucus and vote against the measure. This would divide the Labor Party vote in parliament and is likely to send the measure to defeat.

However, supporters of marriage equality, such as Senator Arbib, say that if the opposition Liberal Party allows their MPs a conscience vote as well, then social liberals in this economically conservative party would be sufficient to make up for Labor Party defectors.

Gillard has made it clear she will not allow her Party to reflect the wishes of party members or MPs. She says the government will not bring forth legislation for equality but any Labor MP is free to introduce a private member's bill. Gillard has promised to fight the party membership on the matter at party conference.

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