Is Julia maybe a teensy bit homophobic? Or just par-for-the-course, predictably, utterly cynical? I’ve been wondering and the result, alas, is this rather long post — but I figured we needed the facts, ma’am, just the facts. However it does have a conclusion, thank Google.
This either/or has arisen several times now, in prominent spots, set off by rockjocks Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O in their June 30 interview with the PM. A caller, 20-y-o Tatsuya, asked, “what is your view on same sex marriage, and would you consider legalising it?”
In her measured sandpaper tones, Gillard said, “This is the frank answer, we’ve got very clear Labor party policy on this and it won’t be changing – that we believe the marriage act is appropriate in its current form, that it’s recognising that marriage is between a man and a woman, but we have as a government taken steps to equalise treatment for gay couples, in the things that government does in social security benefits and the like.”
Pressed for her personal views, Gillard’s next frank answer was: “Look, that is my view, I think that’s where we’re at as a community now, and I think it’s appropriate that for these very sensitive issues that we’re reflecting community views.*”
The point is, she did not have to state her personal opinion at all. She could have simply said, this is party policy. And that, as with all party policies, it might be reviewed in the future in the light of different “community views.” Which leaves us with the two options.
Either: Gillard really does hold that view — which Rodney Croome takes apart, below,
Or: she doesn’t believe it, but thinks there is political mileage in it.
In any case, she has taken the trouble in subsequent interviews and q&a’s to keep stressing that it is her own position.
(*Polls: The last poll we have is by Galaxy, June 2009: support for gay marriage rose to 60 per cent, up from 57 per cent two years ago. A Galaxy poll taken in December 2008 found that 60% of Queenslanders believe that same sex couples should be able to have a civil union with the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, while 54% of Queenslanders believe that same sex couples should be able to marry.)
You, as a woman
On ABC’s Q&A, August 9, audience member asked, “How do you justify your stance on same-sex marriage? Tradition once dictated that you, as a woman, could not vote, own property or run for Parliament, let alone become PM. So why can’t Australia “move forward” with the times on this issue too, to give equality to all its citizens?”
Gillard’s frank answer: “Okay, thank you. I understand there’s a variety of community views on same sex marriage and I suspect what I’m going to say now is going to disappoint you but I’m going to just tell you the truth and the truth is that the position, my position, the position of the Labor Party, which we worked out at our national conference, is we believe that the Marriage Act should stay in the same way that it is now, so marriage would be defined as marriage between a man and a woman but we also, as a government… [have] gone through federal legislation and worked to take those discriminations away … the Medicare Safety Net … count their expenses together … Superannuation … So, you know, we’ve done those things. I know from your perspective it’s not enough but that’s the things that the government has viewed to be really important.” (Full answer below**)
Tony Jones: “All right, there’s a long debate there …”
Not the 7:30 report
On August 10th on Channel 10’s 7pm Project a million people watched Gillard give the same highly qualified answer before Hughsey got bored and moved her forward. One of the hosts graciously offered her an out: ” Is it hard sometimes that you have to just do what the party agrees on?”
Gillard: “PM: Oh no, I support that, I agree with it …”
At Rooty Hill
From the SMH: Prime Minister Julia Gillard predicted her answer would disappoint some in the room … declaring: ”I think in our culture there has been a special status around marriage — the genesis of the marriage act — and we’re intending to keep that special status.”
That prompted an emotional response from a woman who said: ”I’m a taxpayer. I’m a law-abiding citizen and I want to be able to say to that woman that I love: ‘Will you marry me?’ Not ‘Will you civil-union me?’
What reason could Gillard have for being against same-sex marriage?
Rodney Croome‘s article in the Age, July 2, included this neat and thorough interrogation of Gillard’s postion:
“She is an atheist, so it can’t be because she believes God ordained marriage as a holy sacrament and condemns homosexuality as a sin.
She has no children, so it can’t be because she believes there’s an obligatory link between procreation and the right to marry.
She is in a de facto relationship, so it can’t be because she opposes legally recognising different types of relationships.
She is a female leader, so it can’t be because she believes in some kind of profound biological difference between the sexes.
And as our first female Prime Minister, she can’t believe that discrimination in the past justifies discrimination into the future.”
So we return to the inescapable binary: she either holds a prejudice against same-sex marriage (and therefore, to a lesser or greater degree, gay people), or, she wants the socially and religiously conservative, and the anti-gay, and the religious fundamentalist voters to think that she is on their side.
Is there a more palatable reading?
The Salt Shakers smell a plot
Curiously enough it is the Christianist (to use Andrew Sullivan‘s term) Salt Shakers who point the way most concisely. Their reading of Julia Gillard’s negative position on same-sex marriage is that it is a sham, a Machiavellian feint to obscure what will be her inevitable shift to condoning s-s love & marriage.
The Shakers’ tone of voice: “Whilst it might be easy to be thankful that the Prime Minister is not openly supporting homosexual ‘marriage’, it is important to take a closer look at her own statements and Labor Party policy on this issue …”
Their helpfully close scrutiny of Labor policy (a policy which is the despair of gay wonks and activists) do provide grains of pro-gay sentiment which, Shaker-wise, might well transmute into the seeds of s-s marriage:
“… at their last conference, held in 2009 … There was a strong push by the left wing of the [ALP] to accept marriage for homosexuals. That move was defeated — but a compromise position was reached: the policy was changed to REMOVE any reference to marriage being between a man and a woman.” (Bold text, theirs)
And: “Instead of saying they supported ‘relationship registers’ which didn’t ‘mimic marriage’, the policy now says ‘Labor will take action to ensure the development of a nationally consistent framework that provides “The opportunity for all couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life to have their relationship officially recognised”.’ … Hence the federal government didn’t challenge the ACT’s ‘Civil Partnership Act’.
Community views and the “homosexual ACT minister”
On her remark about “reflecting community views,” the Shakers accurately register that “it relies on ‘where the community is at’ rather than on a point of principle!” Noting with alarm that “already, both the Tasmanian and Victorian branches of the ALP have passed motions supporting same-sex ‘marriage.” Thus leading to the crucial question: “And if the Prime Minister comes to see that the community and the ALP support same-sex ‘marriage’, could she change her position too?”
And then — the Shakers are good at connecting the dots — they point to “Andrew Barr, the homosexual who is an ACT government minister, has warned them not to be too critical of her.” Yes, “them,” those homosexual folk. And indeed he did:
Mr Barr says the comments shows there is still a way to go before gay and lesbian people are treated equally, but believes Ms Gillard is open to persuasion. “The Prime Minister has a more flexible position in relation towards the internal Labor Party debate than the previous prime minister,” he said. “I know from my dealings with her through Education ministers’ forums that she’s certainly more open to hearing arguments, so I’m optimistic in the future this issue can be revisited.”
And finally the Shakers go home to Andrew Bolt and his blog*** of October 2007, citing a Gillard-penned document from her days in the Socialist Forum (1998-2002): “We need to recognise the only possibility for major social change is under a long period of Labor administration. Within that administration the Left needs to be willing to participate to shape political outcomes, recognising the need to accept often unpalatable compromises in the short term to bolster the prospect of future advance.” (Bold text, mine)
(***No, I can’t bear linking to this, you’ll just have to do it from the Shakers.)
The Census recognises you recognising your same-sex marriage
And here’s a thank you tip for the Shakers, a dot they missed which they can now link up: “Same-sex marriages will counted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the next national Census due on 9 August 2011.”
Paul Lowe, Head of the ABS Population Census Branch, announced in an email to Australian Marriage Equality that “the count of people in same-sex relationships who tick the ‘husband or wife of person 1’ box at question 5 will be made available as a part of the standard output from the 2011 Census.”
“In the past, if someone reported that they were married to a person of the same gender, we would then change that response to indicate ‘de facto’,” said Lowe. “From 2011 we will record their response as married, and release this information in what we call our standard output – in other words, the publicly accessible, standard census information released every four years.”
In still other words — it’s official. Kinda, sorta.
In conclusion: Doris Day or Rock Hudson?
What to believe? How much truthiness is there in Julia’s “frank” answers? Is the “real” Julia (“I think it’s time for me to make sure that the real Julia is well and truly on display”) merely homophobic or … a true-blue cynical pollie?
Recall Rodney Croome’s analysis above: there is no wiggle room. It would be truly digusting if Gillard really is homophobic. It’s something I don’t even believe was a core truth of John Howard (I figure he was just deeply, anciently ignorant).
As I am still inclined, at this moment, to give the benefit of the doubt to Gillard’s humanity, I prefer to think that is she playing cynical politics — ugly, self-justifying, rationalised politics. To take from the Socialist Forum doc: “… recognising the need to accept often unpalatable compromises in the short term to bolster the prospect of future advance.”
Or, as she is quoted from 2006 in the current issue of the Monthly: “I’m not naive you know, I’m not Doris Day who’s just somehow parachuted into Canberra. I had to fight hard to get preselected, I had to play a factional game to do that. I had to count the numbers, I had to make deals and I’d do all of that again tomorrow if I needed to.”
In this way Gillard is the precise opposite of Tony Abbott: “I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say but sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared scripted remark. Which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as Gospel are those carefully prepared scripted remarks.” As Michael Kinsley observed, “a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” On the matter of same-sex marriage Julia Gillard is unlikely ever to be gaffed, or surprised by her own spontaneity.
If Gillard succeeds in talking The People of Australia into loaning her the keys to the Lodge, and she gets to stay top-dog (don’t go there) for a while, maybe we’ll get to see Real Julia. And maybe Real Julia will come out and say, “Hey, I was just doing whatever it takes, you know. You didn’t really believe I was homophobic, did ya? Did ya?”
**The full answer she gave on Q&A:
“Okay, thank you. I understand there’s a variety of community views on same sex marriage and I suspect what I’m going to say now is going to disappoint you but I’m going to just tell you the truth and the truth is that the position, my position, the position of the Labor Party, which we worked out at our national conference, is we believe that the Marriage Act should stay in the same way that it is now, so marriage would be defined as marriage between a man and a woman but we also, as a government, have said there are all sorts of discriminations that have been in place against same sex couples that we’ve wanted to fix and take away and so we’ve gone through federal legislation and worked to take those discriminations away. It means a really practical difference. Just, you know, one example would be, you know, the Medicare Safety Net or the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Safety Net, whether you can count your expenses together as a couple or not. We’ve changed that so a same sex couple can count their expenses together the same way that a married couple could or a de facto heterosexual couple could. Superannuation, to make it clear that superannuation benefits can flow to same sex partners in the way that they flow to other partners. So, you know, we’ve done those things. I know from your perspective it’s not enough but that’s the things that the government has viewed to be really important.”
Tony Jones: “All right, there’s a long debate there …”