Federal Labor has run out of excuses. Since 2004, it has trotted out a series of arguments to oppose same-s-x marriage, and each one of them has subsequently tumbled away to reveal naked prejudice. Rudd has been mugged by reality, and the showdown will be this Saturday.

The Religious Right are gathering in Canberra this weekend and Rudd is the guest speaker. There is only one thing this audience want to hear from him. One thing only. They want him to announce that he will strike down the ACT’s recently amended Civil Partnerships Act.

The current Act offends the Old Testament Taliban because it “mimics marriage”, in that it provides for a state-sanctioned ceremony as part of the registration process. That’s right, the pressing concern at this week’s gathering of reactionary Catholics, Fundamentalists and Pentecostal Christians isn’t world poverty, terrorism, global warming, social housing or alcohol abuse among teens, it’s the fact that two people in love want to make a shared commitment to one another in front of friends and family.

Sadly, Rudd will pander directly to this prejudice and use the conference to announce that, yes, he will quash this legislation in the ACT for the third time. Thunderous applause from the room will follow and then everyone can have a cup of tea and a Milk Arrowroot. Moral decline averted.

But there won’t be any applause from the majority of Australians who not only support civil unions, but gay marriage itself. If the most recent Galaxy poll on this topic is to be believed, up to 60% of voters support full marriage rights for same-s-x couples, let alone the “marriage lite” option of partnership registration.

Labor used to argue that most Australians opposed gay marriage, and that’s why they did. They can’t say that anymore. Then they tried telling us that most gay and lesbian people opposed the institution of marriage and didn’t want to embrace it (without asking the gay community first), but they can’t say that any more either. Gay community polling shows overwhelming support for the right to equal marriage.

Then they said they opposed any partnership arrangements that “mimicked marriage” and went so far as to enshrine that position into Labor policy. But they can’t use that excuse anymore because that particular section of the policy was jettisoned at the ALP national conference earlier in the year. That decision by the party faithful gave the green light to official ceremonies for same-s-x couples under Labor regimes.

Despite this, a spokesman for the federal Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O’Connor, recently confirmed the federal government still thinks such ceremonies ”undermine and mimic” marriage despite the recent removal of this nonsense from Labor policy. (He can expect a phone call from Rainbow Labor, the party’s gay and lesbian caucus, very shortly).

Which means Labor now has only one argument to fall back on: “National Consistency”.

When federal Labor last quashed civil union laws in the ACT, it claimed it was doing so only in the name of “national consistency”. Apparently it had nothing to do with homophobia. No, at that time federal Labor pointed to Tasmania’s existing civil partnership laws, and which had no element of ceremony, and demanded the same for the ACT. “National consistency is required”, was the stern word from the Federal Attorney’s office.

And this is now where it all falls apart for federal Labor. You see, on Tuesday of this week, the Tasmanian government announced that officially recognised ceremonies are now available for same-s-x and other couples in the Apple Isle. That’s right, Tasmania now has a civil union scheme with official ceremonies for gay, lesbian and straight couples.

The obvious question now for Kevin Rudd, is why trash official ceremonies in the ACT if they can exist in Tasmania? Surely, if the ACT is to be guided by “national consistency”, then it must follow the direction now set by Tasmania? After all, Tassie was first.

If, as I predict, Rudd uses the Religious Right’s conference this Saturday to kill off civil ceremonies in the ACT, then there are no more excuses for Labor. The issue will have been reduced to pure anti-gay prejudice and the nasty politics it engenders. Dietrich Bonhoeffer will turn in his grave.

For the citizens of the ACT and its legislature, the issue will no longer be about “civil ceremonies”, but self determination.

For Labor’s rank and file, the issue becomes their relevancy in shaping policy.

For gay and lesbian people, the issue becomes their humanity being used as a political football.

But for all Australians, the issue becomes the separation between church and state.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey