Saturday, 10 May 2008

Overturning the ACT: international reaction

Ian Johnson is an expatriate Australian who runs OutNow, a leading global gay and lesbian marketing company. This is what he had to say about the overturning by the Rudd Government of civil unions in the ACT.


Rudd Government Nixes ACT Gay Unions

The departure of the Coalition government led by John Howard was widely applauded by gay and lesbian community groups. What a difference six months can make. Kevin Rudd's Labor government risks gay community support with new decision on Civil Unions in the ACT Australian Capital Territory.
Kevin Rudd has been a very popular Prime Minister during his first six months.

With approval ratings as preferred Prime Minister at record highs, Rudd's Federal Labor government enjoy a strong level of popularity with the Australian electorate.

Cracks though may be starting to appear -- as an unpopular decision by Rudd's Federal Labor government regarding proposed new Australian Capital Territory (ACT) laws on gay and lesbian Civil Unions leads to gay community members removing their previous support for Kevin Rudd and his Labor government.

Rudd's government said last week that they will use their power to override new ACT laws granting gay couples civil unions recognition in the ACT for the first time - if the unions include any form of public ceremony.

This technical contortion by Rudd to avoid being seen to sanction gay 'weddings' seems almost ludicrous in operation.

Worse for Rudd, it follows the same legal play-book as the machinations employed by the former coalition government under PM John Howard to overturn previous attempts by the ACT government to implement laws granting Civil Unions rights to lesbian and gay couples.

"They said if we legislate to provide for a legally recognised ceremony then they will override our legislation in exactly the same way John Howard did," ACT Attorney-General, Mr Simon Corbell told The Australian newspaper.

The reason Rudd is doing this is to shore up support from conservative forces traditionally opposed to gay marriage.

But using tactics last employed by John Howard is most definitely not a good look for a government seeking to brand its policies with a fresh approach to its predecessors.

What I think bothers me most is that this is politics at its worst by Labor.

Allowing civil unions laws, but only if there is no accompanying ceremony is not just petty - it is mean-spirited on the part of Kevin Rudd's government.

It also risks losing the support of the more than 1 million gay and lesbian voters as well as many other voters comprising the family, friends and other supporters of gays and lesbians.

As an Australian myself, I can only say that this decision is the first one that makes me strongly doubt whether to vote for Labor at the next Federal election.

For a supposedly 'modern' reforming ALP government, in 2008, to deny gay and lesbian citizens their right to full equality under the laws of marriage seems both backward looking and, dare I say it, inherently conservative.

Rudd Labor has already appointed Australia's first openly lesbian government minister, Penny Wong. He suffered no loss of electoral support for this. Yet his new civil unions decision risks losing significant goodwill for Labor amongst gay and lesbian voters.

You have to ask too, what level of celebration would be 'permissible' at what, for most gays and lesbians entering such civil unions, would be an immensely important acknowledgement of their love under such new laws.

Just imagine if the State were to dictate how non-gay couples could celebrate their marriage. 'No union allowed unless there is no public celebration.' Ridiculous in the extreme, no matter what the gender of those getting hitched.

One thing Mr Rudd most definitely ought not be doing is trying to tell the gay and lesbian community that they can have their rights to form a civil partnership, but only behind closed doors.

An Australian Labor Prime Minister trying to force gays and lesbians back into an officially constructed legal closet? Shame on you Mr Rudd.

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