December 1, 2011
By Jacob Combs
By now, you’ve probably seen the marriage equality ad “It’s time” from the Australian multi-issue orgazniation Get Up, which has blasted its way around the internet and already has almost 3 million hits on YouTube since its debut a week ago.
Seattle Gay Scene has the scoop on the actor featured in the ad, a 25 year old Renaissance man from New Zealand named Julian Shaw who works as a filmmaker, journalist, novelist and actor. Shaw made his first documentary “Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story” about the South African drag queen and HIV/AIDS activist when he was a teenager, and his second documentary, “Cup of Dreams,” follows New Zealand’s rugby team as it tries to win the World Cup.
Given its popularity, I wanted to write a bit more in depth about what’s going on in Australia regarding marriage equality, which has recently become a defining issue in the country’s political discussion. Late last night, Queensland, a state in the northern part of Australia, voted to legalize same-sex civil partnerships by 47-40 count. Queensland is traditionally a more socially conservative state, so the victory of civil partnerships there is seen as a boost to marriage equality activists.
Unlike in the U.S., marriage in Australia is a federal issue, so citizens in civil partnerships are not considered married under the law, although they do receive equal rights to heterosexual couples. Five out of the country’s eight states now provide such rights to same-sex couples.
While neither of the major political parties in Australia supports gay marriage, a large segment of the population does. According to the organization Australian Marriage Equality, a full 62% of the country’s citizens support allowing same-sex couples to wed. Although Prime Minister Julia Gillard does not personally support marriage equality (and has yet to sit down to dinner with a group of gay couples who won the chance to do so at an auction), the center-left Labor party that she leads has been under pressure to change its policy positions at a party conference this weekend.
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is at a crossroads right now, and it looks as though its various factions are straining under the pressure. Guillard has been pushing for what’s called a conscience vote, in which individual members of parliament are allowed to vote according their personal opinions on an issue rather than the party line. She has taken this plan to the ALP conference for approval, but the passage of civil partnerships in conservative Queensland makes it uncertain that she will prevail. The Labor Right and the Australian Workers Union have bound their delegates to support Gillard’s position at the conference, but they have been unable to come up with an alternate wording to the motion being considered that would amend the party’s platform. That motion, written by two openly gay Labor members, one from the Left and one from the Right, states:
Labor will amend the Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life. These amendments should ensure that nothing in the Marriage Act imposes an obligation on a minister of religion to solemnise any marriage.
The Left is confident they have the numbers to accomplish a full change of policy with this motion, although an alternate wording could be proposed at any point before the vote. The conference will take up the marriage equality issue on Saturday, and we’ll have updates here at P8TT regarding their decision and what that means for Australia going forward!