Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Uncivil Partnerships

It’s likely to be an unholy alliance between the Queensland LNP and the Christian Right.
With Queensland LNP President Bruce McIver and Premier-hopeful Campbell Newman steering the conservative bus further and further to the right, the issue of civil unions may well be a defining point of difference between two parties that have far too much in common.
Last November, Andrew Fraser spearheaded the ALP’s campaign to legalise civil partnerships, and drove it through barrage of opposition from within the LNP, and from special interest groups opposed to gay rights. The dividing line between those who support gay rights and those who don’t isn’t always clear cut, and the Queensland vote, just a few months back, was supported 47-40. LNP members were instructed to vote as a block in opposition to the bill; ALP members were permitted a conscience vote. The way this vote was handled by Labor and the LNP respectively is now reflected back as an election issue, months after the bills were passed.
At the time, Anna Bligh shared an uncharacteristically gushy moment: "This bill is fundamentally about the human rights of Queensland’s citizens, but it is much more than that. It is about the joyful business of love and that is why it has touched the hearts of so many Australians, why so many people believe that Australia should be dealing with this issue."
The LNP opposed the bill and rejected the opportunity for a conscious vote. The LNP decision was final: Civil partnerships aren’t a priority in the minds of Queenslanders, so we won’t support them.
Frankly, that’s a pretty self-serving and disingenuous thing to say, and here’s why:
·         Civil partnerships are a priority for the gay community.
·         Civil partnerships are a priority for many others in the community who have gay family members, gay friends, or even just an interest in equal rights for all.
·         Even if Civil Partnerships aren’t a priority for all, it’s no reason to make them unattainable for all.
·         It’s not the real reason for opposing the bill.
So why is this still an election issue?
It’s an issue because the LNP and their “Christian Soldiers” want it to be an issue. They oppose the bill on moral grounds, and expect that they have the right to impose their moral imperatives on all Queenslanders – not just the ones who agree with them.
Back in November, much of the opposition to the bill came from the Australian Christian Lobby’s spokesman Wendy Francis. Prior to the vote, Ms Francis was given the opportunity to present on ABC612 Brisbane her five key reasons for opposing the bill. To balance her opposition, we also heard from Paul Martin, Executive Director of the Qld Association for Healthy Communities (the former Qld AIDS Council). Take some time to examine their arguments. The vote went ahead that night, Wendy’s team lost, and there were reports of her leaving the gallery in tears.
I have great respect for anyone who fights so passionately and sincerely for what they believe in.
Fast forward three-and-a-bit months, and we’re still hearing the same arguments. Scores of Queensland couples have registered their civil unions; registered couples have started to receive their documentation this week.
But what’s this? Campbell Newman is opposing the Civil Partnerships Regulation 2012? But hasn’t that already passed? I hear you scream?
Of course, when the bill was before the house, Mr Newman wasn’t an elected member. He still isn’t, and even if he had been, the result would not have changed.
Around the same time as the landmark vote in Queensland, a Galaxy poll found that in excess of 78% of the population supported LNP members being allowed a conscience vote on same-sex marriage. Even that had no impact on the Queensland LNP’s decision to vote as a block. The LNP's commitment to opposing this law is apparently more important than their commitment to represent the community.
As has been reported widely in the past few weeks, the LNP’s strong opposition to civil partnerships is not shared by Mr Newman. He does, however, support his party’s conservative stand: "We oppose the bill and we continue to oppose what it's about. If we can, if we get into government, we will repeal it, but that may not be possible and we don't wish to leave people in legal limbo," he said last week on the campaign trail.
Then, he was asked what would happen to couples who had entered a civil union if the LNP wins government and the bill was overturned. He was clearly losing patience: "I can't be clearer than that."
Yes, Mr Newman, you can be clearer than that, and you must.
Today I have trawled the LNP’s website looking for the official version of Newman’s position on the existing Civil Partnerships Regulation. I’ll save you time: there’s nothing there. In fact, there’s far less policy content relating to families and values than I would’ve expected. Some of the dot points resemble slogans more than policies.
Even the good old ACL has taken a stab at getting a definitive answer from the LNP. They weren’t successful either. The question, complete with agenda-laden preamble, is

Around the world, wherever Civil Partnerships are described as the “same as marriage”, the church or Christians come under pressure to provide marriage services to them. The Civil Partnerships Bill, which was recently rushed through Parliament, provides for civil partnerships which mimic marriage in all but name. The Bill provides for partnership ceremonies and amends other laws to change the meaning of “spouse” to include those in a civil partnership.
Will your party repeal all of the Civil Partnerships Bill or those parts which mimic marriage?
The LNP’s answer:
             LNP stands strongly for the defence of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
             Our main focus this election will be on rebuilding the state economy.
             Any decision will depend on whether there are any registered unions after the  election.
The LNP stands strongly for the defence of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The LNP has made it crystal clear that our main focus this election will be on rebuilding the state economy, and addressing the pressing cost of living issues that are affecting Queensland families.
The LNP voted against the Civil Union bill in Parliament last year because it was a political stunt by the Bligh Government to distract attention from its long list of policy failures.
Any decision on the future of civil unions in Queensland will be made after the March election, and will depend on whether there are any registered unions.
Meanwhile, the ACL has set up a new website. The media release is below.

Where does all this leave Queenslanders?
Given Mr Newman’s responses to media, and to the ACL on this issue, it appears that either the LNP doesn’t an answer to the question, or they want to keep it a secret.
The Civil Partnerships Regulation 2012 is now law, and couples – gay and straight – are free to enter into those legal partnerships. If, however, the LNP wins the election on March 24, Campbell Newman will, against his own beliefs, dismantle that law, and with it, the status of legal partnerships of couples already united will be uncertain.
Perhaps, in time, Campbell Newman's commitment to oppose Civil Unions will prove to be the least palatable of all. After all, in his heart of hearts, he supports civil unions.

Sal Notes: I am a straight woman in a bizarrely happy relationship with my man. The rest of it is not your business.
The Australia Christian Lobby (ACL) is a registered company limited by guarantee. The ACL is a lobby group, not a church.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a clear, level-headed comment on this important issue.

    Whether thre LNP repeals civil unions and turns back the clock on a whole bunch of other sex and gender-related reforms - such as surrogacy - will depend on how well new Premier Newman can fend off LNP President Bruce McIver. That man is the religious conservative you really have to watch in QLD - bigoted, powerful and very persistant in trying to impose his will on MP's.

    The return of Joh-era social attitudes to QLD politics is surprising. But maybe I've just been naive. Fundamentalist Christians have remained alive and well within the LNP since those dark years. They just haven't had much of a voice due to the media largely ignoring them until now, with the LNP better organised and certain election victory at hand.