16 December 2009


The following article appeared in The Age newspaper on 15 December 2009, and the letter below the article, from Rodney Croome, Australian Marriage Equality, was published in the same paper the next day, 16 December 2009.

What Rodney states in his letter is that what the article's author is suggesting is just carrying on the tradition of sexual apartheid which the world has been practising for so long.

Unfortunately religion enters the equation every time, and when one considers that we are supposed to live in a country with a secular government one has to ask why it is that religions still carry so much weight. Statistics indicate that more and more people are atheists, but governments are presided over by religious fanatics who ensure their religious colleagues are endlessly pandered to.

Here are the article and the letter:

A civil partnership law for gay couples should be a priority

December 15, 2009

Giving recognition to partnerships will bring gay marriage nearer.>

Almost a year ago, my partner and I formed a civil partnership. We have been together for more than 10 years, and wanted to make a public declaration of our commitment. As Australia doesn't allow this for same-sex couples, our ceremony took place 1500 kilometres away, in the City of Westminster's Registry Office on Marylebone Road. While we are grateful to Britain for the opportunity, and to the people in London who were able to join us, this meant that no members of our families and few of our close friends could be there.

Why does Britain provide same-sex civil partnership? It's not due to greater levels of tolerance. In fact, careful surveys of public opinion show that a slightly larger majority of Australians support legal recognition of gay and lesbian partnerships. Nor is it due to the greater power of opposing voices in Australia; the British have their own advocates of something called ''traditional marriage'' (which turns out, of course, to be a very slippery concept). There, too, clerics oppose ''gay marriage'' with highly selective borrowings from the broad base of Christian, Jewish and Islamic teachings.

What the British very sensibly did was create a form of ''civil partnership'' defined and enacted by the state and made legally equal to marriage. Civil partnership and marriage generate the same rights and responsibilities in terms of taxation, assets and benefits. In Britain, my partner also has rights as my next of kin. Here, in Victoria, in 2009, his rights are not so clear, because they depend upon a recognition - by hospitals, for instance - that he is what the law calls my ''domestic partner or spouse''. It probably wouldn't matter, because most people who work in hospitals are sensible and flexible. But that's the problem with an absence of rights: you can never be sure you won't end up with the bigoted and inflexible exception.

What gay people don't have in Britain is the right to marry in places such as churches. Nor can we use religious words and symbols. The Civil Partnership Act does not use the word ''marriage'', because its framers and advocates understood that avoiding that word would deliver practical change more quickly.

I think a similar kind of civil partnership arrangement is a reasonable way of moving forward and should be a priority for Australia's Federal Government. Clearly, it will not satisfy some advocates of gay marriage. I am particularly aware of the dilemmas this creates for gay and lesbian people of faith. I can only imagine how galling it must be to know that heterosexual people with little or no evidence of professed faith can marry in your churches, when you are denied that ceremony.

Nor will a civil partnership act solve every problem. But it will achieve three things. First, it establishes practical rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples and ends a host of ridiculous inequities.

Second, it allows religious institutions to continue discriminating if they wish, while also making clear that this is what they are doing. This might take the heat out of the issue, encouraging debate and even the tolerance of difference. But if churches or synagogues or mosques don't wish to sanction or carry out the marriage of same-sex couples, or other kinds of people they don't want to recognise, then so be it. I am personally offended by the fact that they can evade one of the most fundamental obligations of citizenship: to treat all as equally as possible. I will continue to argue that faith should not sanction prejudices that have no basis in evidence and should be long gone. But that battle is for the longer term, and I'd rather have the rights and responsibilities now.

Third, recognising partnerships will significantly narrow the scope of disquiet about ''gay marriage'', because most of the people who are currently uncertain about that term are not in principle opposed to legal and social equality. Indeed, it will make very obvious the difference between those who are unsure about gay marriage and those who oppose any recognition and respect for homosexual relationships. It will reveal the latter's bigotry, and show how out of step they are with the 75 or 80 per cent of Australians who support full legal equality between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

A careful reading of the evidence on public opinion and debate in Australia suggests the wisdom of the British approach: if some people are worried by the use of the term ''marriage'', far fewer are concerned by the extension of legal and civil recognition to gay people. I don't think a civil partnership law now will prevent a sexuality-blind marriage law in the future. The most likely outcome, in a few years or a decade, is a quiet change, done without much fuss, once everyone realises that it's the quality of the relationship that matters, not the gender of the partners.

In January 2010, my partner and I will return to Britain, this time to live and work. We may be there for a couple of years, or longer, or for good. We're not leaving Australia with any bitterness, as this has always been our home. Yet there is something gratifying in the fact that we will be moving to a country that says we share the same responsibilities and rights as any other couple. There is something wrong when a country to which we have contributed so much can't extend us the same basic courtesy.

Mark Peel is a professor in the school of historical studies at Monash University

Equality in marriage is crucial, for all
PROFESSOR Mark Peel (Comment, 15/12) is wrong to claim that Australia should follow the British example on civil partnerships. Australia already has schemes for the formal recognition of unmarried couples, in Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT.
Compared with the British scheme, Australia's civil partnership schemes provide a greater range of spousal rights (in state and federal law) to a much wider range of couples.
In Tasmania and the ACT, couples can also have ceremonies with greater legal effect than in Britain.
Australia's existing schemes are superior to Britain's and should be enacted in all states.
But the bigger issue is that no civil partnership scheme can ever be a substitute for same-sex marriage. Overseas studies show civil partnerships do not afford the same legal security or social recognition as marriage, because they are not as widely understood. Indeed, where civil partnerships exist instead of same-sex marriage they entrench discrimination rather than removing it.
Marriage may have a religious connotation for Professor Peel, but most Australians understand it is a civil institution, with a majority now marrying in civil ceremonies. Increasingly, Australians also understand that without equality within this key institution gays and lesbians are not equal citizens.
Rodney Croome, Australian Marriage Equality, Darlinghurst, NSW

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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm