Pre-election homophobia: hot potato politics

Issue 

Here are a few words to get you thinking: Malcolm Turnbull. Marginal seat. Queer rights. Hot potato. Yes, these words may seem slightly obscure but are guaranteed to be nowhere near as confusing as political stances towards gay rights issues in the fast approaching elections.

There are 80 countries around the world that in some form make homosexuality illegal and Australia is one of them. Both our Prime Minister John Howard and opposition leader Kevin Rudd have been throwing around the issue of gay rights like a flaming hot potato during the last few weeks. But they barely skim the surface, doing just enough to say they've taken action on gay rights without actually addressing the major issues like same-sex marriage.

You know something's up when you sit down to read some good old queer press and flick through the pages only to find a full-page advertisement by the Liberals which says: "A letter from Malcolm Turnbull — In support of the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] community". This from the same party that introduced the 2004 same-sex marriage ban! Howard only just came out last Thursday saying that if elected he will change superannuation laws to allow same-sex couples access to payouts if one partner dies. How can queer people accept this proposal as genuine when it has taken Howard 11 years in government — and fear of losing the marginal seat of Wentworth — before such promises were made? And why will the Howard government only give homosexuals something if one of them dies first?

To take the confusion out of all this Lib-Lab nonsense and "HowRudd" policy, the Australian Coalition for Equality (ACE) and the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) have released policy scorecards that summarise the stance of the main political parties in relation to queer law reform. The main parties interviewed were the Liberal-National Coalition, Labor, the Greens, the Australian Democrats and the Socialist Alliance. Family First failed to respond to the ACE survey but still appeared on the scorecard ranking lowest of all the parties, based on available information about their policies.

One of the questions in the VGLRL survey asked whether or not the parties intended to implement the recommendations of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) Same Sex: Same Entitlements report launched in June. The report found 58 laws that discriminate against homosexual couples and recommended that each and every one of them be removed. This list unfortunately did not include the same-sex marriage ban or civil unions. The Howard government is the only major party with no intention of removing these immoral laws.

Parties that fared best in the scorecards were the Democrats, the Greens and the Socialist Alliance, who are all strongly committed to the removal of laws that discriminate against homosexuals and homosexual couples in Australia. Labor's scorecard was almost as appalling as the government's and reflected Rudd's lack of commitment to same-sex marriage and civil union reforms. Rudd, at a "meet the candidates" meeting on the Sunshine Coast on October 29, said no to same-sex couples marrying, and "sometimes" to same-sex couples adopting.

We had to fight until 1975 for homosexuality to be decriminalised in South Australia — the first Australian state to do so — and we will keep on fighting until we enjoy the same rights as all heterosexual people. Homophobia around the world and in Australia has led to the LGBTI population being denied the right to marry, or have civil unions. It has also meant having relationships labelled as invalid and even illegal and punishable by law, including jail terms and death penalties in many countries. Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) is one of many groups fighting for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people all around the world.

It is extremely important to continue pressuring the government and other major parties in this final stage of the 2007 federal elections. Queer people deserve more than to have our rights tossed about like over-cooked spuds and are sick of being treated as second-class citizens. With tensions high and the margins of sway in the election closer than ever before, this is an excellent opportunity for us to stand united and exert against influence over discriminatory Australian policy.

[Emilia Lawonski is an activist with Community Action Against Homophobia.]

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