Party room splits, clashes with state Liberal
divisions and constitutional complications all seem set to arise over Cabinet’s
decision to override ACT laws allowing same-s*x couples to celebrate civil

In the US, a constitutional amendment
seeking a national ban on gay marriage, strongly backed by US President George
W Bush and conservative Christian groups, has failed to pass the US Senate,
much to the excitement of Indymedia conspiracy theorists. Has our Prime
Minister simply sought to import a Karl Rove wedge that is going wrong?

That’s a silly and simplistic idea. Australia
and the United States are both secular nations, but their public morality is Christian –
or based on Christian tradition, anyway. Gay marriage doesn’t seem quite right.

At the same time, however, same s*x marriage isn’t the same sort of
wedge in Australia as it is in the US. We’re
more easygoing. We have a smaller evangelical population. And compulsory voting
means that elections aren’t such a matter of mobilising key interest groups. In
Australia, this is more a matter of splitting blue collar social
conservatives away from the ALP – and tweaking tensions between groupers and
the latte left.

Yet moving on the issue is causing tensions
in the Liberal Party, too. Victorian Liberal leader Ted
Baillieu has broken ranks with Prime Minister John Howard to support gay civil
in his state. The man who would be king, Peter
Costello, wants a quid each, going by his comments to The Australian. And the party’s least likely gay rights advocate, former RAAF engineer and croc hunter Warren
Entsch has urged the ACT Government to make
to its civil unions legislation to avoid it being overridden by the

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said
yesterday the Territory would reduce the notification period for people wishing
to enter into civil unions, to enable ceremonies to begin within the next two

However, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has told the ACT Government it
should change its new civil unions law so it does not equate gay civil unions
with marriage.
AAP quotes the Attorney’s spokesperson as saying the ACT government
should make the changes “if it was serious about creating a framework for legally
recognising same s*x couples. This only confirms the Government’s view the ACT
government’s intention all along has been about undermining the constitutional
right of the commonwealth to legislate for marriage”.

Yet there are more constitutional
issues at stake here. Corbell says the territory government will today move a
request in the Legislative Assembly for Governor-General Michael Jeffery to use
his powers to request amendments to the ACT Civil Unions Act, rather than
acquiescing to the Federal Government’s advice to disallow it.

ACT laws come into effect when gazetted by
the Chief Minister after being passed by the Legislative Assembly. They do not
require direct royal assent.

Instead, under the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988, the governor-general can disallow ACT
laws within six months of them being made. He can also recommend amendments to a

Former ACT chief minister and Liberal
Senator Gary Humphries has reservations on the issue too. He has told the ABC he is not convinced
the motion to disallow the laws is justified.
“I won’t accept the ACT being told it cannot legislate to do something for
which it was given a power to legislate by the Federal Parliament about 16 or
17 years ago,” he said.

Which raises an interesting issue. The
Prime Minister obviously thinks there are some votes in this matter. It’s why
he pursuing it. But he’s pursuing it in an interesting way, taking the Cabinet

A matter like this would normally go to a
conscience vote – and probably wouldn’t make it through the Senate.