Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Ruddock Letter

Here is the text of the letter I (and several others) have received from the Attorney General, Phillip Ruddock. My translation in italics.

Dear Mr Pollard

I refer to your e-mail dated 15 May 2006 in which you raise a number of issues about same sex couples and in particular about the Civil Unions Act 2006 (ACT).

The Australian Government believes overwhelmingly in the institution of marriage and, in 2004. acted to define in legislation the common understanding in our community of marriage which is the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’. This legislation was passed with bipartisan support. The Government believes that this definition reflects the views of the majority of the Australian community.

It's not our fault - Labor voted for it too. And besides, everyone esle agrees with us. We're just reflecting the will of the people.

1 note the public assertions of ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope that the ACT legislation was specifically drafted to avoid confusion between civil unions and marriage. With respect I believe these assertions to be wrong. The arrangements under the Act bore marked similarity to those contained in the Marriage Act 1961. Indeed, on the web site of the ACT Legislative Assembly, debate on the Civil Unions Act 2006 was tiled in the subject index under the heading “marriage”, providing a revealing insight into Mr Stanhope’s real motivation.

John Stanhope and the entire ACT government are liars - only I can't say that directly 'cos it's a) not true and b) libellous.

The ACT Government did make some amendments to the Civil Unions Bill before its debate and passage in the ACT Legislative Assembly but they did not deal adequately with the fundamental concerns of the Government. As one example the legislation still states in section 5(2) that:

A civil union s different to a marriage but is to be treated for all purposes under territory law in the same way as a marriage.

In the Government’s view, the amendments passed did not alter the substance of the ACT laws.

The Government strongly opposes any action that would reduce the status of marriage to that of other relationships. It will also oppose any action which would create confusion over the distinction between marriage and same sex relationships. The Government does not believe that same sex relationships have the same character as marriages and therefore considers that they should not he given the same legal and community status as marriage.

Same-sex relationships and the people who enter into them are inherently inferior to us heterosexuals and our marriages, so the law needs to reflect that.

The Government believes the Civil Unions Act 2006 (ACT) compromised the unique status of marriage. This is why the Government decided to take action to ensure that the legislation would not be able to come into operation in the Australian Capital Territory As you may know the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Australian Government has disallowed the Civil Unions Act 2006. This disallowance has the effect of repealing the Act.

I should note that the Australian Government condemns discrimination in all its forms, including discrimination on the basis of sexuality. The Government believes that each of us should have the opportunity to participate in the life of our community and to experience the benefits and accept the responsibilities that flow from such participation without fear of discrimination. The Government is committed to maintaining the Australian traditions of tolerance and respect for diversity, which are the foundations of one of the world’s most successful multicultural societies.

And in case anyone should think differently, I personally forbade all government departments from co-operating with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) Enquiry which is currently documenting existing anti-gay discrimination, to try to prevent them from finding the evidence that proves me wrong.

For example, Government amendments to superannuation law since 1999 have allowed trustees to accept binding death benefit nominations from members so that death benefits are payable to a person nominated appropriately where that person is a dependant of the deceased member or his or her personal representative. In 2004, the Government expanded the definition of dependant, and thus the range of potential beneficiaries of tax-free superannuation death benefits, to include people in an ‘interdependency relationship’. This will benefit, amongst others, people in same sex relationships who may not otherwise have met the definition of dependant.

This is the smallest possible change we could get away with, and of course you still have to prove you had a relationship (because you don't have a marriage or civil union certificate) and that you were dependent on the other person. If you were financially independent you probably won't get the cash - but then again, you won't need it, will you? And trustees don't have to accept death benefit nominations - it's at their discretion. And you still don't get a spouses survivor pension. And Commonwealth employees are excluded.

Further, in the area of migration, a person who shares an interdependent relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident is able to apply for an interdependency visa to allow them to reside in Australia. This includes people in same sex relationships.

But if you come to Australia on a working visa, your partner still doesn't automatically get one too, the way a wife does - even if they are 'dependent' on you. And anyway, even though we recently relaxed the rules on this, we're thinking of changing our minds.

The Government has also agreed to extend certain conditions of service entitlements to members of the Australian Defence Force in interdependent relationships, which will include members with same sex partners.

Yeah, the bastard poufs in Tasmania somehow persuaded the RSL this was a good idea, and we can't argue with our old soldiers.

In the area of industrial relations, the Commonwealth Workplace Relations Act 1996 contains provisions that prohibit an employer from terminating a person’s employment on various specified grounds, including because of their sexual preference. Complaints of unlawful termination on the basis of sexual preference can he lodged with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).

Actually we did away with 'unfair dismissal', which was relatively easy to prove and could be argued in front of the commission, and replaced it with 'unlawful dismissal', which means you now have to pay thousands to lawyer up and go to court - if you can afford it - and meet a higher standard of proof.

In addition to the AIRC, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has power to inquire into and conciliate complaints of discrimination on the ground of sexuality in the employment context. HREOC also has the power to inquire into any Commonwealth act or practice which may be inconsistent with specified human rights and to report to me on its findings and recommendations, Such reports are then tabled in Federal Parliament.

However, we nobbled HREOC by refusing to co-operate with their current enquiry into discrimination against same-sex couples, and of course we can just reject or ignore the report when it coms in. Should play well to the god-botherers in the marginals.

All States and Territories of Australia also prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference in a range of areas of public life, including education and employment. ‘the majority of States and Territories also prohibit harassment on the ground of sexual preference.

We can't do much about this because all the State governments are held by the Opposition party. So we might as well take the credit for it while we're about it.

The Government believes that existing measures create a legal and policy framework that adequately addresses discrimination on the basis of sexuality.

We're going to ignore the HREOC enquiry, we're not going to let Warren Entsch have a conscience vote on his anti-discrimination bill, in fact, we're even thinking about bringing in a ban on same sex couples adopting. You don't vote for us anyay - and there's more votes in bashing you.

Don't forget, I'm the minister who recommends to cabinet what we do with the HREOC enquiry, and I'm the minister who recommends whether or not Entsch's bill is in the public interest. So you can all fuck off and die. Have a nice day.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Bleak House - Courts Not the Way

The way to win our equal rights cannot be, first, via the courts, then perhaps via legislation, and finally, converting public opinion. The order has to be reversed if there's to be any lasting success.
In Australia the argument has to be, first and foremost, about being treated equally. We are already tolerated, mostly, and grudgingly. Now we have to move towards acceptance, until the current law seems as absurd to the majority as it now does to us.
There are no short-cuts - as the US experience shows. Check out the link for details in this report from US News.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Media Tart Mark III

First it was radio. Then the newspaper. Today, I taped my first television appearance. Bent TV, which provides gay programming on Channel 31, has asked me to be a regular on a segment called QFocus, a fortnightly discussion on news and current affairs.

Along with my good mate Pete Dillon, formerly of VGLRL.

I haven't seen myself yet but I suspect I'll be horrid. I kept trying to remember not to do all the things I do on radio - look down at my notes, scratch my nose, pull faces at what someone else is saying . . . . and failing. I couldn't tell which cameras were on and when, and I couldn't see the time cards that were being flashed up saying 'three minutes left' etc.

So I didn't know where to look or when to shut up, AND I talked over the panel chairman, the lovely Mark Mead. But then again, so did Pete.

The resulting effort will air on Channel 31 on Thursday night, sometime after 10.30, or so I believe. Please don't watch - wait till I get better!!!

Are you gay or straight? Admit it, you are most likely an in-between

Matthew Parris

Times of London

Sexuality is a supple thing, and sometimes can be influenced, even promoted

SOMETIMES IT IS only after a period of absence that, on returning, we can see something — a room, a face, a place — for what it is. Perhaps we used to be too close to look properly, but now we see clearly what we never saw before. So it can be, also, with an idea.
Earlier this summer a television researcher making a programme about homosexuality and politics asked me a question that I must have heard a hundred times during the past couple of decades, but had not for some reason been asked recently: not for a year or two. “How many gay MPs would you estimate there are in Parliament?”

All at once it struck me that the question was absurd, like asking “how many merlot drinkers are there in this room?” Does the questioner mean heavy merlot drinkers, exclusive merlot drinkers, drinkers who wouldn’t exclude merlot if offered it, or drinkers who might like merlot if they were to try it? The answer to the question of how many gay MPs there are is “between five and two hundred, depending on what you mean”.
In my Notebook column in The Times I have been recording, in an occasional way, candidates for inclusion in a speculative list of truths or nonsenses staring us in the face that we somehow cannot see: things future ages may dismiss with a snort — just as we look with incredulity at our forebears’ faith in the theory of the four bodily humours or possession by demons. Here is another modern candidate: the idea that there is a set of males called homosexuals, and another called heterosexuals, plus a handful in the middle called bisexuals who can’t decide. This, we shall one day realise, is a distorting glass through which to look at male sexuality.
Let me suggest, first, what I think is the truer picture; and secondly my evidence for it. Thirdly, I shall explain why I believe such evidence is being rejected by an unwitting conspiracy between opinion-formers in the male “gay community” and moralisers in the heterosexual world.
Make a horizontal line whose left margin represents a sexual orientation so completely heterosexual that such men have never felt, however fleetingly, any sexual attraction to another man; and whose right margin represents gay men utterly unteased by any other interest. Mark 30 million dots between these two poles, representing each of us men in Britain, located towards left or right depending on the balance of the attractions we’ve felt in our own life. How will the resulting scatter look as a shape?
If popular talk is to be believed, the shape would trace the silhouette of a wine glass lying leftwards on its side: long, thin stem in the middle, opening out to a big bowl on the left and a small base on the right. The large cluster (at least 80 per cent, the bowl) would be the “straights”. A much smaller but distinct cluster (perhaps 5 to 10 per cent, the base) would be the “gays”. The stem would be a thin scatter of “bisexuals”.
But if only we knew it, the true shape, I believe, would be closer to that of a champagne bottle lying rightwards on its side, its base to the left, tapering gently towards its mouth at the right. I think a substantial preponderance of men are more heterosexual than homosexual, but scattered fairly evenly between 100 per cent and half-and-half; and that the smaller number who think of ourselves as gay are likewise quite evenly distributed along the spectrum from the halfway point.
My evidence? Direct experience and personal observation. I’m the type who calls himself totally homosexual, but I know from dreams and from occasional involuntary physical responses that some small heterosexual part of my nature, though elbowed aside, is still there. My sexual sample is less prolific than I would once have wanted, but I reckon about a third of the men I’ve slept with were what you might call “viable heterosexuals” — in the sense that they wanted and got girlfriends, believed themselves to be more straight than gay and in many cases ended up (unforced and happily) married. I’ve also known a fair few men who seemed quite contendedly gay, then changed their lives and went straight. And, of course, vice versa. We all know that plenty of married men dabble in homosexual behaviour; but plenty of gay men have flings with women too.
I talk to people. This is an area notoriously difficult to access through professional polling, but late-night conversations between people who trust each other are different. They suggest to me a world where men do not find their own actions and feelings neatly fit the categories that language furnishes for us. We end up saying, effectively: “Well, I am this but I did that — don’t know why really.” I doubt our age is supplied with the right language or conceptual framework to talk about these things. Perhaps Europe before the 20th century was not so wrong as we now think to have adopted no category of “homosexual” (or indeed “heterosexual”), and to have talked only of urges, acts and “sins” to which all human flesh was prone.
If I am right, why have both the gay and the straight worlds so fiercely resisted the ambivalent and perhaps fluid analysis I propose? Reasons why those we might call “hetero-evangelists” might resist it are obvious. It suits their view to see homosexuality as a deviation and to think in terms of “normal” and “abnormal”. The wine-glass silhouette suits this view much better than the champagne bottle.
Gay reasons for rejection of my “even scatter” theory are clear to me too, however. First, we who call ourselves gay know well that most men who call themselves “bisexual” are more gay than straight, but afraid or unwilling to say so. But what we overlook is that for every gay posing as a bisexual, there are probably a dozen bisexuals posing as straight.
Secondly — and this is very important — the idea that many of us have a potentially variable sexuality opens up the uncomfortable possibility of personal choice; and we gays have lived in a transitional era in which we have very much wanted to believe and claim that “God made us” like this, and “we can’t help it”. Whether or not this is true, it is comforting for those troubled by suppressed guilt, and has provided a knock-down argument against those moral conservatives who say we could choose, and therefore should choose, not to be gay. It has also seemed to rebut the complaint that homosexuality could be “promoted” or that gay men might “corrupt” potential heterosexuals. What, however, has not yet dawned on still embattled crusaders for equality is that true equality — equality of self-regard as well as public esteem — will have arrived when we are as careless as a blond or a redhead might be whether or not we were made that way.
Does “I can’t help being black” strike you as a self-respecting argument against racism? That “I can’t help it” is a subtly self-oppressing argument for acceptance does not seem to have occurred to supposedly liberated gay activists, for whom it has always been the easiest way of ending the argument.
But it is intellectually sloppy (would you accept it from a child molester?), calculated to close off troubling thoughts about might-have-beens, and no answer to the Christian evangelists’ insulting talk of cures for our “affliction”. We retreat into a simple, bipolar world of can’t-help-it straights and can’t-help-it gays. We push these feelings and people into closets marked “latent” homosexuality, “in-denial” homosexuality and “confused” homosexuality.
I think sexuality is a supple as well as subtle thing, and can sometimes be influenced, even promoted; I think that in some people some drives can be discouraged and others encouraged; I think some people can choose. I wish I were conscious of being able to. I would choose to be gay.