CANBERRA OBSERVED: by NWNews Weekly
Marriage law changes: the fight is worth it
, August 23, 2003
Despite strongly endorsing the traditional form of marriage between a man and a woman and rejecting homosexual marriage, Prime Minister John Howard is unlikely to rush to enshrine the institution through a special law.
The stark and disturbing reality is that, in the federal arena, Mr Howard simply may not have the numbers to push such a law through the two houses of the Parliament.
This is not to say he should not proceed anyway. A glorious defeat may add to his political stocks as much as a bruising and humiliating loss. Some political analysts are already suggesting Mr Howard will use the current marriage debate as a "wedge issue" to corner the Labor Party once again and force it into backing a case which has, at a minimum, negligible support in the Australian community.Level of support
Both major parties will be conducting polling on the issue to gauge the level of interest in the community, and that polling will determine whether there will be any substantive action by the Government.
As things stand, it is almost certain that such a bill would be given a conscience vote.
It is possible Mr Howard might be able to lock in the party room to back any proposed "marriage law", but there would certainly be many in the Liberal Party who would cross the floor on the issue.
Without doing a head count, it is fair to say that the majority of the Labor Party would back homosexual unions, and it is absolutely certain that all of the Australian Democrats and all of the Greens would do likewise. The National Party would presumably vote against homosexual marriages. But the Liberal Party?
It is likely that, in a conscience vote, the bleeding of libertarian Liberals would result in as many as a quarter of the party siding with the so-called "progressive" view.
In short the numbers are far from being guaranteed. The great irony and strangeness of the debate is that the push for homosexual marriages has never been high on the "gay agenda".
Homosexual rights activists certainly fight hard against all forms of discrimination in the workplace, in the matter of disposal of property after a partner dies, and even in their so-called "right" to adopt children.
But the "institution of marriage" itself is actually opposed and even despised by a large number of homosexuals and other so-called social progressives because of its Christian overtones, its binding nature, and its ideals on lifelong union to the exclusion of all others.
The more casual "partnership" is much more attractive to many homosexuals and progressives because of its completely secular nature, because it has the backing of state laws on property, and because it is easier to dissolve.
While some homosexual unions are lifelong, the statistical truth is that among homosexual men, at least, unions are much more transient. Why then is the "push" on?
The current debate over homosexual marriages was sparked by a Canadian court ruling almost two years ago, but has gathered steam only in the past few months. The Ontario Superior Court ruled that both the Ontario and Canadian Governments must change their marriage acts to permit homosexual men and lesbians to marry.
In the United States, by way of contrast, around 30 states have introduced laws enshrining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
President George W. Bush has set his lawyers working on a federal law which would define marriage as a union between a woman and a man.
"I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and I believe we ought to codify that one way or the other and we have lawyers looking at the best way to do that," President Bush said.
A statement from the Vatican has also added fuel to the debate. The statement was a simple reaffirmation of the Church's teaching on homosexuality, arguably written in an uncompromising tone.
The document also urged Catholic politicians to work for the defence of traditional marriage in their lawmaking - a plea likely to be ignored by at least some of the Catholic-educated MPs in the Federal Parliament.
Meanwhile the media reports on Mr Howard's and Mr Bush's "arch-conservative" opposition to homosexual marriages, ignoring the well-established fact that marriage is an institution that predates Christianity by thousands of years.
The attack is being waged by minority forces wanting to change the nature of marriage, not by those allegedly attacking gays.
The push for homosexual marriages is dishonest on many counts, but its ultimate aim is not equality or a battle against discrimination. The aim is to undermine marriage itself and for that reason Mr Howard should fight the good fight. Even if a loss is the final outcome, it may alert complacent conservatives to the important issues at stake.