Mardi Gras and law reform

I’m attending the Mardi Gras parade tonight for the first time in a few years. I’ve been plenty of times in the past, and I’ve always found it a very up beat, positive occasion. There has been a lot of progress towards equality and acceptance over the decades since the Mardi Gras started. It is now very clear the majority of the Australian community supports non-discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and there has been significant law reform to remove discrimination in all the state and territory jurisdictions – although the job is not complete there yet.

However, the big failure has been at federal level, where there remains a plethora of discriminatory provisions in a wide range of laws. This piece from Online Opinion by the federal Human Rights Commissioner gives some insight into it.

A private Senators Bill to remove all these discriminatory laws was first introduced in 1995. It led to a major Senate Inquiry – the recommendations of which were ignored by the government – and the legislation has been reintroduced after every election since then. The Bill was in my name for a number of years, and currently stands in the name of former WA Democrat Senator, Brian Greig.

Despite some small advances in a few areas, like migration and superannuation law – some of which I was involved in achieving – the vast majority of discriminatory provisions from last century still remain.

The federal government has made reassuring noises a number of times about removing all of this discrimination from the law (apart from matters to do with marriage and adoption). I remember writing about it on this blog over a year ago, when the Prime Minister made some very clear statements about his view that reform should occur:

“I am strongly in favour … of removing any property and other discrimination that exists against people who have same-sex relationships.”

It was a very positive statement, but he’s obviously not strongly enough in favour of this principle to actually do anything about it. I wrote a letter to him at the time offering to assist. If you’ve had the experience of not receiving an answer to a letter you’ve written to a politician, I can reassure you it happens to Senators too. I never received an acknowledgement to that letter, let alone a genuine reply.

Some publicity has appeared this week once again suggesting government reform in this area is imminent. I hope that is true, but I’ll believe it when I see it. This is the government that was prepared to have major reform to superannuation – the ‘superannuation choice’ changes – held up for three years for no other reason than their refusal to remove discrimination against same sex couples. They finally partly gave in, allowing same sex partners to be considered under the label of ‘interdependent relationships’ – a step forward but still short of genuine equality.

Just last week, the government rejected amendments I moved to the new Citizenship Act, which would have ensured the definition of spouse in the Citizenship Act included same sex couples alongside de facto opposite sex partners. It makes it hard to believe any commitment to reform is genuine when they’re still opposing straight forward improvements like this.

POSTSCRIPT: This post on Personal Political gives a good first hand description of what it is like to participate in the Mardi Gras parade, and what it is like to watch it.

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  1. Good on you Andrew. We’ve missed Mardi Gras since we moved up from Sydney. Very jealous.

  2. Mr. Bartlett,

    Aren’t laws by definition discriminatory?

    There is this assumption that laws that positively discriminate in favor of traditional heterosexual couples are therefore laws that are wrongfully discriminating towards one sex unions.

    I don’t see the principle behind this assumption. One sex couples seem to be arguing for the “rights” that traditional couples are afforded while claiming such “rights” to be a sign of discrimination.

    In short, one sex unions simply take that stand that they want something and therefore they should get it because it is “equal.”

    My question is what makes the assumption of “equality” right? Should those “rights” afforded to traditional couples be extended to ALL unions whatever the composition consists of?

  3. Thordaddy says

    My question is what makes the assumption of “equality” right?

    That would be that liberal democracy thing, Thordaddy. Equality under the law probably seems like a bit of quaint notion in this extremist neoconservative era, but the principle (if not the practice) is a foundation stone of our whole system of government, and a key value of our society.

    Discrimination solely on the grounds of gender has been recognised for some decades as anathema to that principle. Discriminating against people solely on the grounds of the gender of their partner falls into that category.

  4. Senator!Sparring partner and describer of all things accurately,Beattie,has decided Aussies are great at throwing away their litter,and a word he described this behaviour as is selfish.I do note that the Mardi Gra produced some and no doubt Beattie feels pretty masculine in saying so.I have a problem with those who vote,for people like Beattie generally,who think that voting is the only legitimising opinion,and for the rest of the time speak little that would pass as even useful to represent.Like the City to Surf race in Sydney,a event that shows off the physically competitive competitors,but also shows off the weight of individual drinking containers, unable to put into little lightweight pockets somewhere comfortable,if bin nearby isnt.So these participators also show selfishness.And well are they leading by example?After all nearly every profession will have a runner? Whatever ,one says about the Mardi Gra could be construed as anti Gay.As a person who doesnt have a home rubbish service,I am offended by,Beattie,Mardi Gra crowds,City to Surf participators,and all that that could evoke as response.Much talk continues to be the antithesis of what actions are saying.Beattie has decided to use the generality Aussies,when not everyone who goes anywhere is,and my observations make me think a small relative number do the greatest littering….There seems a reluctance by governments to know exactly why littering happens at all,whilst economic matters dominate including subsidising Mardi Gra.Obviously,this is off subject a little bit,but please post your observations of the night,and incidents,if seen.

  5. Philip

    Yes, the Mardi Gras parade does leave a lot of litter behind, although a lot of work is put into the clean up.

    I can recall in the past walking bit along the parade route after it had all finished – all the trash and rubbish, plus a few people worse for wear, certainly made a contrast to all the glitter and smiles and glamour a few hours earlier. I guess that’s just an analogy for any glammed up high though.

    Last night’s parade seemed to be one of the longest I can recall. A huge number of floats with some amazing diversity just amongst the ones I saw, which was just a sample (one of the down sides of particpating on a float in the parade is you don’t get to see all the other floats).

    Amongst those I saw, the Kylie float was the most impressive. It must have about 200 participants – a real wonder to behold. A less upbeat but strong float was the one from Amnesty International, which included a David Hicks message, along with their general equal rights theme.

    The Anglicans, Catholics and Jews all had floats – I’m sure there were other religous ones there. Most had recorded music of one shape or form, but the NSW Police had a live police band – the one song I heard them play was fantastic, I assumed it was a recording until I got up close.

    The crowd response is always good. Even a downbeat person such as myself finds it hard not to get affected by such relentless displays of positivity and happiness.

  6. While I agree with Bartlett that equality:

    … is a foundation stone of our whole system of government, and a key value of our society…

    I also tend to agree with Thordaddy that laws are inherently discriminatory. The question I put to Thordaddy however is “Why should the government only ‘positively’ discriminate in favour of heterosexual couples?”

    In my opinion, the reason governments reward and encourage people to enter into partnerships/marriages is not just due to our Judeo-Christian tradition (as the Prime Minister suggests) but also because a community of partnerships is more advantageous than a society of individuals. Couples are able to share resources and care for each other throughout their lives which decreases the level of assistance they need from third parties and the government. People in loving, long-term relationships create a life-long bond which helps them to overcome obstacles and issues they encounter. Heterosexual couples are also rewarded and encouraged to form through “positive discrimination” so that the nation continues to survive by creating loving, supportive families. [Note: I didn’t say “to reproduce”. At the end of the day, a government doesn’t care (or shouldn’t care) how children are created (sex, adoption, IVF). Rather, a government should be concerned as to whether the children are properly socialised.]

    Thordaddy also raised this question:

    Should those “rights” afforded to traditional couples be extended to ALL unions whatever the composition consists of?

    Well that question is now easy to answer; all rights afforded to “traditional couples” should be extended to all unions where the giving of those rights would deliver those same benefits. In the case of same-sex couples, I would argue that those same advantages would be delivered.

  7. centophobia,

    The question that is never answered by the homosexual advocates is WHY extending traditional marriage benefits to gays, let alone ANY union the human species can devise, is to the betterment of society? All they can say as of now is that it is “equal,” yet, you have already acknowledged the discriminatory NATURE of all laws and “equality” does not necessary equate with the good of society.

    Why is “equality” in this case GOOD?

    As to your question, it retains a false premise. The government does not discriminate in terms of marriage laws. Marriage laws are equal across the board and APPLY equally to all citizens. If some citizens decide that they do not want to abide by the laws and traditions then this is no argument for bending the rules to suit their desires.

    I am part of a heterosexual couple, but I have attained no marriage benefits. Is that discriminatory? I think not.

  8. Thordaddy, I have explained why, in my opinion, extending traditional marriage to gays is to the betterment of society and I didn’t simply say for the sake of equality.

    …a community of partnerships is more advantageous than a society of individuals. Couples are able to share resources and care for each other throughout their lives which decreases the level of assistance they need from third parties and the government.

    You, on the other hand, have not explained why you believe extending traditional marriage to gays would NOT be to the betterment of society.

    You also said that “marriage laws are equal across the board and APPLY equally to all citizens.” Now you’re suggesting that laws aren’t discriminatory? You can’t have it both ways I’m afraid…

    Your last comment confuses me: “I am part of a heterosexual couple, but I have attained no marriage benefits.” What does this mean? Being married hasn’t enabled you to feel like you belong or that you’re needed? Or that your children (whether or not you have any) would be adequately looked after if they were sick or if you died?

  9. centophobia,

    At first glance your stance sounds reasonable, but on further inspection it seems a regression in thinking. Your stance presupposes the equality of all “partnerships” and avoids asking the next logical question.

    Are some “partnerships” better for society than others?

    I think the answer is an unequivocal YES. It seems clear that “partnerships” based on individual rights and “equality” are much less sustainable and beneficial to society than those that are based on something more substantial, namely, the preservation and continuation of society itself. Even your term “partnerships” seems to undercut your argument as it is a term traditionally used to identify business relationships. But alas, gay “marriage” is very much along the lines of such a business relationship as the argument for it is almost always couched in terms of “individual rights” and “equality.”

    Next, you are confusing the nature of laws with the application of laws. We both agree that laws are inherently discriminatory, but that doesn’t preclude those particular discriminatory laws from being applied equally to citizens of a society. Marriage laws and traditions are discriminatory by nature, but they are applied equally to all citizens. Hence, I am in a heterosexual union, yet, I am not married. Therefore, I have no more claim to discrimination than anyone else who decides to forego traditional marriage laws in expectation that society should change it laws and traditions based on my individual desire.

    You would have no argument for someone in my situation that decides to remain unmarried, but then turns around and expects the benefits of traditional marriage because I’m in a partnership.

    How could you deny anyone- that is in one of the infinite amounts of “partnerships” that the human individual can conceive of– the benefits of traditional marriage?

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