Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How Do We Love? Let Us Count The Ways

Since the last open floor posting was quite successful, I thought I might give it another shot again.

The following is a feature scheduled to be published in SX this week.

Have a read, and then at the end I'd like to do a little survey of which of the following options people would personally prefer for their partnerships (real or speculative) and why. Or if there's another option I've missed. Or if none of these appeal.

For this post I'd just like to hear from the gays and dykes in the village; nothing against the breeders, it's just that this isn't really relevant to youse at this late stage.

PS - For the record, I fully support enactment of 3 and 4 but for myself would go with 3.


The federal government is ignoring it in the hope it will go away; Labor is “consulting the community” about it; the Greens believe they’ve already got it sorted and Family First – well, they’re still chopping up the best kindling wood with which to burn lesbians at the stake.

Yes, it’s That Beast That Must Not Be Named: Formal relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

Many of us are such couples, know couples personally, or have heard the horror stories, of how a continued denial at federal level of our relationships can hurt us emotionally and financially. And with the vast majority of Australians supporting, and only a tiny minority of fringe extremists opposing some means of ending discrimination against law-abiding, tax-paying civil citizens in committed, long-term relationships, the question now seems to be not when it will happen, but how, and to what extent.

The way I read the situation, there are 4 possible avenues to go down in the quest to end discrimination:

1. Law reform only, no formal models

Pros: This is actually a possibility under the Howard government, as we’ve seen with its various piecemeal policy reforms in the areas of defence, migration and veterans’ entitlements, as well as extending same-sex couples as “interdependents” for the purposes of private sector superannuation. It resolves some, but not many, of the practical difficulties of legal discrimination, in a very quiet, unheralded manner least likely to frighten the horses.

Cons: There is no commitment ceremony involved and certainly no legally-binding contract at the end of this. It frustratingly acknowledges the reality of same-sex couples while concurrently denying them the opportunity for formal recognition of their relationships, implying we deserve no more than the absolute barest minimum.

2. Interdependency

Pros: There is an existing precedent on which the federal government could base a model of interdependent relationship recognition – that is, the Tasmanian Personal Relationships Registration scheme, where 2 people who can prove interdependency, including same-sex couples, heterosexual couples, primary carers and elderly friends to name a few examples, are able to register their relationship. Such a registration comes complete with all relevant rights and responsibilities under Tasmanian law.

Interdependent relationship registration is theoretically supported even by the strongest opponents of homosexuality, such as Family First. Where FF has argued (recently in South Australia, for example) that same-sex state law reform is “discriminatory” against non-sexual relationships, this argument becomes moot when there is broader interdependent application.

Cons: Such a scheme essentially desexualises our relationships by equating same-sex with non-sexual relationships. In essence, there is a denial of one of the key factors of a same-sex partnership that distinguishes us from the elderly friends or carers – that is, that we fuck.

Furthermore, proving interdependency comes with a whole new set of difficult criteria to establish and prove, criteria that is unnecessary or already assumed in de facto relationships.

3. Civil unions

Pros: Civil unions are supported by many individual MPs in both the Labor and Coalition parties, even if neither has an official party position on the matter either way. Given the growing number of countries enacting civil union or equivalent schemes all over the world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend Australia’s intransigence, especially considering we were one of the first countries to begin decriminalising homosexuality many years ago and all but one of our states and territories now mostly equate same-sex couples with unmarried de facto heterosexual equivalents.

Civil unions are distinct from and do not “mimic” the existing institution of marriage, which is irrelevant, patriarchal and/or antiquated to many queer people.

Cons: Enactment of civil unions ultimately entrenches inequality by establishing a 2-tier level of relationships. Essentially, they reinforce the fallacy that queer people are not “good enough” to get married.

There is also the tension between state and federal jurisdictions to consider here. While our federal Attorney-General argues his government has no scope over civil unions, as we have seen recently with the ACT he is only too willing to overturn any civil unions enacted in the territories, and no doubt the states, he argues are in conflict with the federal law definition of marriage.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister has basically made clear he opposes civil unions altogether, and with his stranglehold on the government so tight it’s difficult to see well-meaning civil union supporters, such as Warren Entsch, getting unqualified support from enough of their colleagues for such a Bill.

4. Marriage

Pros: By definition, marriage rights for same-sex couples indicate total equality. Allowing same-sex couples to marry might revolutionise an institution already considered redundant by a growing number of people, queer and straight, and perhaps most importantly would give those gay boys and dykes who’ve dreamed of a white wedding a chance to see their dreams come true.

Cons: Same-sex marriage automatically implies parity between queer and straight relationships, where many people of both persuasions argue our relationships are just too different for this to be the case.

Also, given the 2004 same-sex marriage ban was supported by both the parties currently capable of forming government, it’s unrealistic to assume this will become a reality in Australia anytime soon. There is a perception, correct or otherwise, that same-sex marriage does not sit well in mainstream federal politics. The solution of the Greens, to legislate for state same-sex marriages, runs the same risk as civil unions – that is, if they were overturned, we’d effectively be taking one step forward, two steps back in the quest for equality.

While I don’t know for certain the best way to go, I do know that while politicians continue their standard electoral point-scoring rhetoric throughout this debate, same-sex couples continue to suffer and Australia falls further behind the rest of the world. Some even leave the country they love so that their commitment can be fully celebrated and endorsed.

Is our country really so very different, so unique, that enactment of the second, third or fourth of the abovementioned schemes is utterly unthinkable?


At 26/4/06 4:48 pm, Blogger M-H said...

I'd go for 3 myself, then 4. Been married, not interested in re-entering that institution myself, but would like the possibility of a civil union. But I think that G&L people who do want to get married should be able to.

At 26/4/06 6:19 pm, Blogger Lumpen said...

Hmmm. The crew involved with the Gingham Menace and Bite here in Vic have argued for equality for all, and we're pretty suprised that the idea didn't gain any traction.

In other words, the privileges of the married should be enfranchised to all, single, queer, straight or whatever.

We've been called anti-marriage - which we are (were) - but we think marriage is dumb more than anything. We just don't think that married people should have privilege at the expense of singles and other non-traditional relationships.

So yeah, equality for all should be an option. Not that it has any chance at the moment. Looks like Warren Entsch's proposal is a possibility.

At 26/4/06 6:22 pm, Anonymous woulfe said...

A really curly mop of hair is a pain, so they say: it often looks a mess and there are fewer choices about what you can do with it. Yet I suspect if you offered all the curly-haired people in the world their choice of hair type, a helluva lot of them would choose to stay with what they’ve got. They, their friends and their family have grown used to it, and it’s become an integral part of the way they see themselves. Besides, curly hair has always had that certain something.

I reckon it’s a bit like that with same-sex relationships. We’ve built our relationships without role models, without rules, and without the approval of the rest of the world. Possibly we might have chosen otherwise at the outset, but now that we’ve put in all the effort into establishing a relationship, now that our friends and family have accommodated our partner in their lives, many of us (unsurprisingly) see little need to get married.

It seems to me that when you ask us to think about what we would prefer for our partnerships, the responses will always veer towards the status quo. However if you ask us what relationship choices our same-sex attracted nieces and nephews (and children) deserve to have, the answer will tell you a lot more.

I think they should get no more and no less than everyone else: fully recognised de facto relationships, and marriage should they choose it.

At 27/4/06 1:29 am, Blogger Snarky Platypus said...

I really like Lumpen's idea of privileges for all.

Realistically, option #3 is the most likely path. I believe that non-heterosexual couplings should have exactly the same rights as heterosexual couplings so theoretically #3 and #4 should be what we're aiming for, but pragmatism should rule the day. I don't really care what they name it (I like "ritual of eternal damnation"), just as long as we get the relevant rights.

I find option #2 interesting and it suits my ideology slightly better than the other options, but the noted weaknesses are quite valid and my personal views on sex and relationships are a bit different to say the least...

At 27/4/06 7:48 am, Blogger Alan said...

You've got the argument the wrong way round. Heterosexual marriage shows some slight signs of surviving the advent of gay marriage in Canada and Massachusetts. Non-marriage same sex relationships (NMSSRs perhaps) will survive the advent of marriage equality when it comes to Australia. Okay, so if marriage equality is no greater threat to the blissful NMSSR state, what's the question? You end up arguing that same sex individuals should have less rights than other people? That's not a position that carries a lot of logic.

The Tasmanian model is attractive, but only because there are people in interdependent relationships who are never going to want to marry. Otherwise it's a partial model defined as much by the constitutional restrictions on states and the bloody-minded commitment to inequality of the Howard government as anything else.

So #1 #3 and #4,

At 27/4/06 9:41 am, Blogger Sam said...

SP: I'm afraid I can't be even that optimistic. Given that Entsch is now pushing the #2 line for his Bill - which I don't think will get up anyway - I believe #3 is only an option when Labor wins government and control (with the Greens) of the Senate. I can't imagine both these things happening together for at least two more elections.

Alan: I guess I'm arguing from a pragmatic position. I don't see same-sex marriage legalised in Australia in my lifetime. I would love to be proved wrong but I don't think I will be. In the interim, I think #3 is a flawed but workable alternative. Unfortunately, the inequality that defines the Howard government is not about to be conquered anytime soon.

At 27/4/06 4:13 pm, Blogger Arthur_Vandelay said...

I support option #4, for reasons stated here.

At 27/4/06 8:21 pm, Blogger Apteryx said...

Definitely a 3. I wouldn't want to get dragged into the whole #4 breeder thing after they've sullied it so bad (or is that soiled?).

At 28/4/06 1:45 am, Blogger weasel said...

Agree with Lumpen, but also with Penguin.

Would never want a marriage myself and think they should be considered irrelevant in law (or as just one form of evidence of partnership/interdependency), but if they must exist then I am not really keen on them being hetero only.

That said, they used civil unions in the UK and everyone stillc alls them marriages informally and it all seems to be going well, so in terms of achieveable solutions maybe that's the go.

At 28/4/06 3:20 pm, Blogger Splatterbottom said...

Not having the relationship brought within the rubric of marriage leaves the very real possibility of legally recognised non-marrige relationships being treated differently in future, even if they start out the same as marriage.

There is also something wrong with having something that looks like marriage but is called something different. That will fix in some peoples' minds an inherent inferiority which should be avoided.

The question is whether it is better to take what is more easily achieveable now, or push for what in the long term is the preferable outcome.

At 28/4/06 4:05 pm, Blogger Sam said...

Agreed, SB. It's a battle between long-term ideology and short-term pragmatism, the latter of which unfortunately necessitates some degree of compromise.

Ideally, enactment of civil unions and consequent witness of such unions not bringing out the death of society/marriage/oncoming of the 4 Horsemen, etc would then make arguing the natural progression to legalised same-sex marriages a little easier.

At 28/4/06 5:36 pm, Blogger Splatterbottom said...

I hear what you say, Sam, but I'm a bit more cynical. Once there is a settlement reached on say #3, it may be harder to re-open the debate in future, to achieve #4.

At 3/5/06 12:19 pm, Blogger sjusju said...

Personally, as I get older and some of my youthful cynicism wears off I'm leaning towards #4. I do think that having a ceremony of vows and a celebration (designed to match your relationship) can be something which is a good thing for some couples.

Marriage is no magic fix, but I think the process of defining what you expect from the relationship, and gathering loved ones to witness and support you in those commitments can be useful for some people.

I'd also lean towards it because the public celebration model is a clear and understandable signal for el prima's kids that I'm also committing to them as a parent in the long term.

Personal wishes aside, I think we deserve full equality - equal rights for same sex defact relationships, a new category for interdependent (not necessarily sexual) relationships, and I could happily live with a civil union as a step on the way to full equality. (ie ALL OF THE ABOVE!)

Just to comment on Lumpen's remarks about equality for all - in my understanding, most of the special privileges which flow from marriage are in relation to your spouse - and are bestowed along with mutual obligations to your spouse - therefore I find it hard to understand how we could ever make them equal for single people. Eg - marriage means that your partner automatically inherits if you don't have a will or pre-nup - how could this benefit be extended to someone who is single?

If someone knows of any marriage privileges which are stand-alone individual privileges (rather than mutual rights/obligations in relation to a partner), I'd be interested to hear about it.

If your end point is the abolition of marriage - I think that is a bit of a pointless campaign. The only way marriage is going to disappear is if people get well and truly sick of it and adopt better alternatives. Besides, I think it is better to work on a positive campaign, that focuses on legal equality and supporting relationships as good things in our lives, rather than take a negative tack and always be seen as bunch of whingers.

Yep, there have been plenty of dumb dysfunctional marriages, but in the end I think the value of the institution depends on how useful it is for the people who want to be a part of it. Ie it is only as dumb and dysfunctional as the humans who make it.

And to me, a big part of the historical dumbness of marriage has been the legal subjection of women (most of which is now gone, at least from the formal laws - rape within marriage / subsuming the woman's legal personhood upon marriage etc) and marriage's exclusion of same sex couples. So I'd see equal marriage as a big reform to the institution, which has the potential to make it more equitable for all concerned.

As for whether equal marriage is a real possibility in Australia... definitely not under Howard, and (even if the ALP win a federal election in the next 8 years) not very likely under the current lilylivered crop of ALP leaders. (except for julia gillard. I know in my heart that she'd back us all the way... or maybe it is just a crush...)

What is more likely to happen is that we'll get civil unions in the states/territories, everyone will think of them/refer to them as "weddings" (no matter how much Ruddock stamps his little foot), then the federal government will eventually be pressured to equalise benefits at a federal level.

I don't think it is helpful forcing people to pick and chose which form we want and settle for that one model for everyone - we should work towards equal access to all forms of relationship recognition. We might achieve some before others, but that shouldn't cloud the overall goal of equality.

thanks sam for looking at this. Will be interesting to see what the NSW lobby comes up with as its strategy...

At 3/5/06 12:19 pm, Blogger sjusju said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3/5/06 12:20 pm, Blogger sjusju said...

Sorry for double posting! Especially with such a long rant... it wasn't my fault - the thing kept asking me to type verification codes!

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