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Aye do! France and New Zealand respond to same-sex marriage

The issue of same-sex marriage in Australia is again part of the national debate, after Independent MP Tony Windsor announced he was in support of a referendum on the question to be held in parallel with…

Legalise love: New Zealand approved same-sex legislation in a midst of celebrations. NZN David Williams

The issue of same-sex marriage in Australia is again part of the national debate, after Independent MP Tony Windsor announced he was in support of a referendum on the question to be held in parallel with the federal election in September.

This comes after cheering and spontaneous singing broke out from the balcony of the New Zealand parliament earlier this month as MPs voted 77-44 in favour of same-sex marriage rights. The sense that decision makers had taken a historic step forward was palpable, even to the most cynical activists. Julia Gillard was reportedly “unmoved”.

A few days later, across the world in France, right wing protesters were forcibly evicted from the parliamentary chamber as MPs voted 321-225 in favour of similar reform.

France and New Zealand now join 12 other countries that recognise same-sex marriage. The list currently is: Argentina, Belgium, Sweden, Spain, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, The Netherlands and Uruguay. In the United States, same-sex couples can legally marry in nine states.

Different paths to marriage equality

The New Zealand and French campaigns for same-sex marriage rights appear to have taken quite different routes up the aisle. According to the press, the French path to equality has “divided a nation”. In New Zealand the impression seems to be that a “civilised” nation has come together.

There have been substantial protests in Paris in favour of same-sex marriage (estimates of around 125,000 people), but these have been met by even larger numbers (around 350,000) mobilising against. Violent clashes have broken out between protesters and riot police.

Large demonstrations from the right of politics have been less frequent in recent years, perhaps explaining why coverage of these protests has contained an element of surprise. The protesters have attempted to give their movement a more progressive veneer, calling it “Le Printemps Français” (the French spring, echoing the Arab revolutions that overthrew brutal dictators).

For LGBTI rights advocates and activists, the “non” campaign in France is particularly concerning because of the impact it is having on levels of homophobic violence, especially outside of the capital. Gay bars have been targeted, individuals beaten, and calls to LGBTI helplines and support services have increased.

Why the difference?

The French bill includes adoption rights for same-sex couples, and affects all legal partnerships, rather than just marriage. But the issues are essentially the same, legal recognition and equality for couples and families regardless of their gender.

According to polls, the majority of both the French and New Zealand populations agree with the reform. Polls in France consistently show 55-60% in favour; in New Zealand around 50-55%. In both countries, as with comparisons around the world, younger people are much more likely to be in favour of equal marriage rights.

Commentators in the mainstream press have given a range of reasons for the negative response in France, usually based on their own position. Most popular seems to be the role and power of the Catholic Church. Yet we have seen other notionally Catholic countries such as Spain and Portugal pass the same law without mass outcry. Others have argued that the anti-reform campaign has been cleverly pitched to a more mainstream audience, at a level that provokes a sense outrage.

Frigide Barjot, one of the leading campaigners in France argued that the law would “de-structure” society by “destroying the concept in law of mother and father”, changing the “essence” of the family. Similar arguments were made in New Zealand by Conservative Party leader Colin Craig calling the legalisation a “failure of democracy”, and warning that a “day of reckoning” would come.

‘Only one mother, only one father’: anti-gay marriage activists take to the streets of Paris as part of Le Printemps Français movement. EPA/Etienne Laurent

Some have suggested the difference might be the relative size of the populations: the smaller number of New Zealanders have learnt how to get along, while the millions in France find it harder to reach agreement. There is no evidence for this.

What we do know is that in both countries the majority of elected politicians supported the bills, by genuine margins. The crucial difference here is the politics of the leadership.

The French parliament is led by the Socialist Party prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, with the support of Socialist Party president Francois Hollande. Before their election in 2012, the Socialist Party put same-sex marriage equality at the centre of their reform agenda. In New Zealand, the prime minister supporting the reform was centre-right National Party leader John Key.

Independent MP Tony Windsor is urging the government to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage. AAP/Alan Porritt

For the ousted political right in France, this campaign has presented a clear opportunity to attack the new left-wing government in moralistic and emotive ways. They have seized this opportunity, working with far right groups, the church and others to wage a relentless battle. In New Zealand, support from conservatives (big and small “c”) has taken the wind out of opposition sails. Presented as a sensible reform, it becomes much harder to resist.

If Australians would prefer the New Zealand response rather than the French, the government and politicians of all parties must be confident to stand up for same-sex marriage rights. The suggestion of holding a referendum on the question is likely to lead to a strengthening of the right and an increase in homophobia. A “no” campaign in Australia could do serious damage to the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people across the country.

Alongside broader medical and legal reforms, granting same-sex marriage rights sends a clear message that homophobia and transphobia are not acceptable. The sooner the Australian government realises this, the better.

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25 Comments sorted by

  1. Miles Ruhl

    Thinker

    Thanks Roz, interesting perspective on the potential negative outcomes of a referendum which I hadn't previously thought of. I agree it could be disastrous, but I think with poll after poll consistently stating over 60% in favour it will be a winner.

    Shame our PM doesn't feel the same. I like many aspects of her leadership, but her stance on LGBTI rights and her pandering to the dog whistles on asylum seekers gets at me.

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  2. Rod Govers

    Retired IT administrator

    Abbott and Milne come out and say no to a gay marriage referendum but where's Gillard? Hiding in a closet somewhere?

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    1. wilma western

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Rod Govers

      Gillard and her new Attorney General have stated that the best solution is a conscience vote in parliament as this is how the issue was resol;ved in NZ and UK. This has been their consistent attitude since the change in the party platform.

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  3. Jack Arnold

    Polymath

    Independent Tony Windsor is once again the voice of commonsense in a politically difficult situation. The Parliament represents the people and is unable or unwilling to have a free vote on this matter for whatever reason. So return the matter to the people and let them decide.

    Certainly it would be preferable to hold a 'Gay Rights' referendum on 14 September 2013 rather than ratify Local Government as an arm of the federal government.

    We, the people, should determine this 'Gay Rights' matter for ourselves.

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  4. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    Tony Windor is possibly looking for any alternate view on anything at all in an attempt to shore up his electoral chances just in case he decides to run again.
    He might also realise that any attempt to run a referendum in the coming election will only be a distraction from key electoral issues and no doubt might present a bonus to Gillard in that respect so we should not hold our breath for too long on Gillard coming out with another of her earth shattering grave and urgent announcements.

    In…

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    1. Rod Govers

      Retired IT administrator

      In reply to Greg North

      John Howard and his government had "a new definition applied to marriage just for the hell of it" in 2004.

      Why shouldn't two consenting adults of the same sex be allowed to marry and have the same rights as you?

      And when did the gays get to vote on your marriage?

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    2. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Greg North

      Tony Windsor does not need any shoring up in his e;lectorate; even Notional party polling shows that the unelected hacks have had a double barrelled win beyond their wildest dreams. Richard Torbay former Independent MP for Northern Tablelands, and former pre-selected candidate for New England (to exclude Barnaby Joke) has resigned both positions leaving the way open for a Notional Party nobody.

      Torbay was slated as being able to defeat Windsor by Notional Party polling, but NOT on the ground political sentiment.

      Now Barnacle Joyce has thrown his hat into the ring for New England where the voters remember that he used his casting vote to sell off Telstra to give John Howard a pension. Notional Party polling allegedly shows Windsor will likely win New England, possibly with an increased majority if this referendum suggestion is successful.

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    3. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Rod Govers

      A marriage is generally thought of Rod as being between a man and a woman and I suppose we could say if two people of the same sex being wedded, united or married were to be considered a married couple would it not be OK for then those of opposite sex to seek to have another name and if not why not?

      With same sex unions being legally recognised, I imagine those people in unions would have the same rights and even without a union, do not gays have an entitlement to vote?

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    4. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      With all that good information Jack, I am sure you can do well for Tony during the election campaign.

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    5. wilma western

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Greg North

      Windsor has stated he is standing for re-election, and his idea to add a "popular vote" - unsure whether referendum or plebiscite - to the already agreed referendum to recognise local govts in the Commonwealth constitution - probably seemed a convenient and fair way to resolve the issue. One that his rival Barnaby Joyce could hardly disagree with - of course that's expecting B J to be consistent - hmm?

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  5. Jason Bryce

    logged in via Twitter

    You are all reactionary old conservatives.
    Since Rudd amended the Family Law Act to give all defactos (straight and gay) exactly the same rights as married couples, there is absolutely no need for a law about marriage at all.
    And there should be no law about marriage - straight or gay. Marriage is an anachronism from the church so children don't called bastards.
    Gay Marriage? what about no legal marriage at all. If you want to get married, do it, but leave the rest of us out of it.
    What a complete non-issue.

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    1. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Jason Bryce

      @Jason Bryce

      Personally, I share your opinion of 'legal' marriage. However, at present Australian law can be used to further discriminate against people - Gays can live together but do not have a choice to marry. No matter your stance on the anachronism that is marriage, while it remains vetoed to people simply because of sexual orientation it remains a form of discrimination.

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    2. Jason Bryce

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Hi Dianna,
      The only thing that gay people are missing out on is the label - the piece of paper - that says I am 'Married' therefore my children are not bastards in the eyes of the Lord and church.
      How reactionary is that? How discriminatory is that?

      The new Family Law Act makes sure no one is missing out on any property rights, custody rights or any tangible benefits.
      Maybe some gay people could stop looking for a cause and start supporting the Labor government that gave them real equality.

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    3. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Jason Bryce

      Some gays (for reasons I do not understand are religious and/or conservative), besides gay people have as much right to screw up their lives as straight.

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    4. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      A wedding certificate and a whole heap of grief for many people in a separation or even without it is what a man/woman couple get who go through a uniting process, usually called a wedding ceremony be it in a church with a minister of religion or out in a park or wherever with a celebrant.

      Currently, as it stands with some states, maybe not all yet, same sex couples can also be united and apply for a union or partnership certificate, so much of a muchness.
      If marriage is defined as a union between man and woman and there is another definition name for same sex unions, where is the discrimination?

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    5. Eric Glare

      HIV public speaker & advocate

      In reply to Greg North

      Greg North, the difference is you have completely redefined the meaning of equality - you are evoking George Orwell's pigs who were more equal that others. Unions instead isn't having to sit at the back of the bus because we are inferior -we are so inferior we must have a separate bus/horse cart for GLBTI relationships. Given we could do without marriage altogether, it is many times better to change marriage law than to change equality - which currently not enough of the comfortable majority understand…

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    6. Eric Glare

      HIV public speaker & advocate

      In reply to Jason Bryce

      Jason you don't seem to be aware that we, GLBTI, do not have anti-discrimination protection at the Federal level. Yes we have to support each other if a partner is unemployed ore retired but we can still be sacked from a Federal job because of our sexuality or gender diversity. There is a proposal being discussed but it may not get to law before the election.

      And if the argument is so pithy why the over-bloated reaction?

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    7. Jason Bryce

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Eric Glare

      Eric-
      "we want respect and dignity" ha ha ha
      From who? the church types who think being unmarried is a sin? BREAKING NEWS - They think being gay is a sin. Why do you want respect from them?
      Maybe what you really mean is - "we want feel superior to unmarried couples and their bastard children too"
      Shame on you.

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    8. Eric Glare

      HIV public speaker & advocate

      In reply to Jason Bryce

      Jason, it has little to do with religion or children which are not mentioned in the portion of the marriage law that we want changed. You are talking about the baggage that some people bring to marriage not what is in the law. And we are not trying to change the views of the minority who think unmarried relationships and children born out of wedlock are immoral or are any less than other people. I don't respect their sense of morality because its lack of kindness and lack of grounding in evidence…

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    9. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Eric Glare

      Well said Eric.

      Jason you don't believe in marriage and that's fine, however for many people it is a ritual they are being denied because of discrimination against GLBTI people.

      When we do finally accept people irrespective of race, colour, creed or sexual orientation we may consider ourselves equal to other animals.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8081829.stm

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  6. Albert Rogers

    logged in via Facebook

    I still detest the use of the word "gender" as a euphemism for "sex". the word "plume" in France has the feminine gender, whereas "stylo" is masculine. The latter, if I've spelt it right, is a ballpoint pen. All cats are masculine, regardless of their sex, and all frogs are feminine.

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    1. Eric Glare

      HIV public speaker & advocate

      In reply to Albert Rogers

      Albert, wholeheartedly agree that gender and sex should not be conflated but do we need to distinguish feminine/plume and masculine/stylo pens? That would be completely culture and fashion driven, after all not that long ago pink was masculine and blue a feminine colour. And I think cats are fem but dogs (except those awful fluffy things) are masculine.

      But when distinguishing a person's sex and gender we are referring to differences in biology -the former about genitalia, sex organs, hormones…

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    2. Albert Rogers

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Eric Glare

      My point is that I want gender to refer ONLY to grammatical entities. Pens are so obviously not male and female that in French it should be clear that gender is only accidentally associated with male and female.
      I'm not convinced by the argument that we're using "gender" to refer to brain-located differences, and if I'm asked if my 'gender' is male or female, it is as if I were asked whether my hair colour is hard or soft, and there is no correct answer offered. We need an entirely new word, but of course, like "quantum leap" it'll get corrupted!

      < I'm a physics major, and the reason LEDs are monochromatic is that each photon is associated with a quantum leap of a fixed, very small unit of energy. A white LED is like a fluorescent tube, it emits light from phosphors illuminated by a monochromatic ultra-violet frequency! >

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  7. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    "A no campaign could do serious damage to the health...." really? Surely all those folks willing to splurge on elaborate wedding gear etc etc and who have already had the courage to "come out" over years that were much less accepting aren't as fragile as this!

    Such arguments only reinforce the perception that the "marriage equality " lobby just want the easiest way forward - and maybe they even doubt the polling. It was easier to attack Penny Wong and Julia Gillard for insisting that they…

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