Mar 2, 2016

Labor’s 12-year road to Damascus on same-sex marriage

With Joe Bullock gone, there are few left within Labor who are opposed to same-sex marriage. But it was not always thus.

Josh Taylor — Journalist

Josh Taylor


Twelve years after Labor declined to block John Howard’s changes to the Marriage Act banning same-sex marriage, there are few remaining in the federal party who oppose marriage equality, after the shock departure of Joe Bullock.

The year 2004 is a year many in Labor would like to forget. Mark Latham was their leader, and the party supported then-prime minister John Howard’s push to add a clause to the Marriage Act to ban same-sex marriage. Although the Labor Party officially opposed same-sex marriage, Howard was attempting to wedge the party on the issue, and hastily attempted to pass legislation. The first bill was referred to committee in the Senate, but Labor opposed it in parts. Then-attorney-general Philip Ruddock then introduced a second piece of legislation removing Labor’s sticking points to try to get it passed quickly. Labor was all for it. Latham at the time:

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6 thoughts on “Labor’s 12-year road to Damascus on same-sex marriage

  1. AR

    How long will we have to wait for a similiar volte-farce “..after Labor declined to block John Howard’s changes to the Marriage Act” on the recent pusillanimous refusal to counter the metadata & other nefarious security legislation?
    Tomorrow? Yesterday or last year was already too late – spooks never cede their powers.

  2. Poopsie Deutschland

    This is an excellent article, Josh. Well done.

    It, however, misses one crucial point: at the State level, Labor has picked up where the Feds have let the country down. The ACT’s various attempts to legislate for marriage equality, Tasmania’s efforts and certainly, in my home state, Qld Labor’s civil unions (variously under the Bligh and Palaszczuk governments).

    So, while it can be argued that change within federal Labor has been incremental, at a State level it has been faster and more progressive and that must surely have moved the federal party on towards its current position.

    I think it also needs to be acknowledged that the likes of Kristina Kennealy who, as a woman of deep faith, has been able to reconcile these two seemingly antagonistic positions, to come forward as a advocate for equality.

    In comparison, the Liberal Party is years away – especially when their only true advocate (the current PM) can now barely even bring himself to utter the words “marriage equality” lest he lose his tenuous grasp on his leadership. At least in Qld the LNP Opposition didn’t oppose the Palaszczuk government’s civil union legislation which sought to reinstall what Campbell Newman and his LNP government removed.

  3. drsmithy

    Too little.

    Way, way too late.

  4. Hoojakafoopy

    It’s ABOUT Time

  5. Blair Martin

    The whining from Bullock’s staffers caught up in their boss’s absolute bastardry is first rate. Tying themselves into pretzels by defending his view, their personal view (if they hint it is different)and complaining then attacking people who call them out for their duplicity and shallowness. They will be remembered….

  6. Andrew Bartlett

    It is worth adding some extra details to Josh Taylor’s useful outline of some of the history surrounding the current legislative ban on same sex marriage in Australia. As his article pointed out, it was Latham-led Labor which enabled this ban on marriage equality to become law due to their vote for it in the Senate. As Leader of the Democrats in the Senate at the time and one of those who voted against the Bill, it was sad to see some Labor Senators who were clearly against the legislation being forced to vote in favour of it. I still cannot understand why Labor now allows its MPs a conscience vote on this issue, but did not allow a conscience vote at the time that John Howard’s legislation to exclude marriage equality came forward.

    It also needs to be remembered that Labor Senators were required to support this legislation being guillotined through the Senate, with debate being cut short despite the fact a Senate Committee into the issue was still underway, even before any public hearings had been held. This precluded the public and the Parliament from being able to hear from those who would be directly affected by the law and the discrimination it entrenched.

    Despite those voices not being heard, the Senate debate occurred in the context of voices from gay-hate groups being heard loud and clear, as at the same time the law was going through the Parliament, a large gathering of fundamentalist Christian extremists was held in the Great Hall of Parliament House. Amongst the speeches made, gay and lesbian people were described as “moral terrorists” with “vile passions”, their relationships were denounced as unnatural, inherently unstable, highly promiscuous, harmful to children and a type of psychiatric disorder, and their children labelled as suffering from shame and guilt. These speeches were made in the Great Hall not long after the Parliament’s Presiding Officers had refused to give permission for the Dalia Lama to use the same venue to give a speech.

    Given concerns about the potential for poisonous public vilification of gay and lesbian people occurring if a plebiscite is held on the issue of marriage equality, it is worth recalling the types of comments made in the heart of our Parliament House when this legislated attack on gay and lesbian people first occurred. It will be a great day indeed when that shameful decision is reversed and equal love is finally affirmed and embraced by our Parliament.

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