Thursday 27 March 2014

World Vision SPEAKS NOW... then caves in!

Anthony Venn-Brown, of Freedom2b, reports that the U.S. based Christian charity WORLD VISION announced that they would allow Christians in same-sex marriages to be employed with the organisation.

                                                                    Richard Stearns

While the board was not unanimous, it was "overwhelmingly in favour" according the the US director Richard Stearns. "Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with out practice on other divisive issues," he said. "It also allows us to treat all our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage."

However, a backlash by conservative Evangelical and Pentecostal groups railed against World Vision for moving away from 'biblical teaching'.  Some denominations, such as Assemblies of God, urged their members to withdraw support from WV, with the immediate result that thousands did just that, ultimately depriving the 1.2 million children sponsored by the charity. World Vision is one of the 10 largest humanitarian organisations in the U.S., with annual revenues topping $1 billion.

Consequently, within 48 hours, World Vision reversed its decision and Stearns humbly begged forgiveness, saying "We are broken hearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority."  The Associated Press quotes a letter to supporters which stated that the board had made a mistake and was returning to pits policy requiring celibacy outside of marriage "and faithfulness within the Bible covenant of marriage between a man and a woman."

Apparently the Canadian branch of WV does not discriminate against gay & lesbian people and complies with local laws that prohibit discrimination in employment. Twitter feed suggests that each World Vision office implements its own employment policy and US policies would not apply to WV Australia.

Venn-Brown asks how many people who have supported the charity have gay or lesbian family members.  He also asks WV to recognise the number of its supporters who worship in churches that have moved on from outdated concepts and welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians. Venn-Brown also suggests that alienated youth who are leaving churches and rejecting traditional Christianity as irredeemably homophobic are unlikely to want to support this charity in future.  The Huffington Post commented: "Even now as evangelical leaders are crowing about their victory, there will be more young people, gay and straight, who will become convinced that there is no place for them in the Church.

What would Jesus do?

Saturday 22 March 2014

Queen Elizabeth SPEAKS NOW (or does she?)

Last July (2013), Queen Elizabeth II gave her Royal assent to a Bill that gave gay, lesbian, bi and trans people the right to marry in England and Wales.  Now, in March 2014, she has given her signature to Scotland's marriage equality bill. Whatta dame!

Contrary to the fears expressed by Australian politicians and church leaders, under the new laws churches and other authorising bodies can choose to 'opt in' to allow weddings for same sex-couples to be held on their sacred premises but they are not compelled to do so.  Things are much simpler in countries where marriage is regarded legally as a civil ceremony, with the church fandango an optional ceremony.  (Perhaps this is why so many ostensibly 'Catholic' countries have long since granted full equality to queer folk with respect to marriage.)

The question remains (as posed by Australian Marriage Could Her Maj have done anything else?  According to the UK constitution, she is obliged to sign off on laws passed by 'Her' government.  Were she to demur, it would create a crisis.

AME noted that in all her years as head of the Commonwealth of nations, the Queen has never mentioned gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people.  In fact, as lobby group All Out uncomfortably noted, in 36 of the 54 member nations of the Commonwealth such people are regularly persecuted, arrested, murdered and executed and many of the laws that underpin the persecution come from the colonial era, when British penal law was instituted.

In places like Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda and dozens of other former colonies (including Jamaica!), queer people aren't fighting for marriage, they are fighting for their lives.

Perhaps the Queen is content with a largely ceremonial role, but there are calls for a real leader to speak now to address these wrongs.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

The High Court SPEAKS NOW... and says NO!

In devastating news for those who got married in the Australian Capital Territory this week, the High Court has ruled the ACT's Marriage Equality laws are invalid. 

By passing a law allowing same-sex marriages to occur in the Territory, this local parliament had directly challenged the Federal Marriage legislation, which, constitutionally, has been a matter for Federal parliament.  

The Marriage Act had been amended in 2004 by Philip Ruddock, the Attorney-General under conservative Prime Minister John Howard, to specifically exclude marriage rights for same sex partners.  The wording of the amendment stated:

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

As some Australian couples were traveling abroad to solemnise their unions, the amendment also stated:

Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

Given the High Court's ruling this week, the constitutional division of authority will hold, and the marriage laws, finally tested before the country's highest court, will maintain the status quo.

However, according to its national director, Rodney Croome, the intervention of Australian Marriage Equality has helped to compel the court to declare for the first time that the Federal Parliament can legislate for marriage equality. 

Further, yesterday - following weeks of lobbying - AME helped establish a cross-party working group with Labor, Greens, and Liberal National Party members to progress reform through the nation's Federal Parliament. 

So the need to lobby the lawmaker politicians in Canberra returns, once again, to centre stage.

However, over the past few years hundreds of thousands of emails have been sent to MPs and Senators across Australia. So much so that AME feels that MPs' email systems have been overwhelmed and the majority of the emails are probably now going into spam folders.

In that case, the next move would be to take the extra step, beyond electronic communications, by phoning and speaking to, or arranging to meet with, local MP representatives and Senators to let them know why marriage equality matters.

This website can assist in finding out where MPs stand on the issue:

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Aussie Pollies SPEAK NOW... and women lead the way!

After the predictable election of the conservative federal government in Australia, two other jurisdictions have thrown down the gauntlet to the federal parliament by launching their own legislation  with regard to same-sex marriage.  

The government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) -- where Canberra is located (think the D.C. and Washington) -- has passed a bill authorising same-sex marriages in the Territory, throwing conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his pugnacious Attorney General a curly constitutional challenge.  

Constitutionally, the imprimatur to recognise marriages has always been a power accorded to the Federal government, rather than the governments of the individual states and territories, so this move by the ACT administration will be thrashed out in a High Court challenge announced by Abbott's krewe.

Prime Minister Tony Abbot's sister Christine Forster, photographed here with her partner Virginia Edwards, has different views from her brother on equal rights. (Photo: Janie Barrett  The Age)

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said in an address to the ACT Parliament on Oct. 22nd that her government had moved to enact the law despite the threat of a High Court challenge by the Commonwealth.
ACT  Chief Minister Katy Gallagher
"There is no longer any excuse if there ever was to discriminate against same sex couples in our community," she said.
"They are our children, our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our leaders, our business people, our mentors and our colleagues. More than anything, they are our equals.
"The marriage equality act puts this fundamental principle and human right into law."
Many Australian couples have already traveled to the more enlightened neighbour New Zealand (where marriage laws were changed in April 2013 and became law on 19 August 2013), to exchange vows, and the group Australian Marriage Equality reports more than 700 couples have now expressed interest in marrying in the ACT.

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell had introduced a bunch of late amendments to the Marriage Equality (Same-Sex) Bill 2013 in order to improve its chances of surviving a High Court challenge from the Abbott-led federal government.
The amendments were aimed at fending off the High Court challenge by minimising any inconsistency with commonwealth legislation.
Immediately after the ACT move, the Murdoch empire newspaper The Australian carried a story that  confirmed the Abbott government would request the High Court give the case "an expedited hearing". 

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Senator George Brandis said the federal government had received advice from the acting commonwealth Solicitor-General Robert Orr QC that the bill was invalid.
The spokeswoman said the federal government would challenge the legislation in the High Court and urged the ACT Labor government not to give effect to the laws.
"Irrespective of anyone's views on the desirability or otherwise of same-sex marriage, it is clearly in Australia's interests that there be nationally consistent marriage laws," she said.

 The new federal Attorney General George Brandis wants to minimise 
   distress for same-sex couples.  (Picture: Aaron Francis Source: The Australian)

Speaking now from both sides of his mouth, the federal Attorney-General George Brandis claimed that this move was in part to minimise any ''distress'' for the hundreds of gay couples expected to marry from mid-December onwards if the court sides with the Commonwealth.
New South Wales will begin debating same sex marriage laws in state parliament next week after a group of MPs pushing for the reform received expert advice their bill can survive a challenge in the High Court.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Labor MP Penny Sharpe - a member of the cross-party working group advocating for the laws - will introduce the bill in the upper house on October 31. 

The group of NSW MPs has advice from barrister Bret Walker, SC, that their bill is constitutionally valid. The advice says the key consideration is that the NSW bill gives same sex marriage a separate ''status'' from a marriage under the federal Marriage Act and therefore is not in conflict with it.
Penny Sharpe.
"There's been a sea change within conservative thinking on the issue of marriage equality": NSW State Labor MP Penny Sharpe. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
''In our view, an act in the form of the NSW bill would not be inconsistent with the Marriage Act 1961,'' it concludes.
University of NSW constitutional law expert George Williams said the bill was in ''good shape'', having been carefully redrafted after an upper house inquiry.
''They really have done everything they possibly could to give it the best chance of surviving,'' he said. ''There's no certainty about this. But it maximises the chance of it being constitutional and Bret Walker's advice is that it gets there. But really only the seven judges [of the High Court] can tell you that.''

State parliaments in Tasmania and South Australian have previously voted down same-sex marriage bills but proponents are watching closely the outcome in the courts. 

The previous Labor administration in Canberra removed many other areas of discrimination against same-sex couples in long-term relationships, with legislation passed in 2008.  But they baulked at providing equal marriage rights.  During the 2013 federal election campaign, former PM Kevin Rudd suddenly switched positions on the issue and came out in favour of equal marriage rights, but his party lost control of the upper and lower houses and Labor went into Opposition, leaving the ground to the deeply conservative Abbott, who has refused to allow politicians on his side a conscience vote when the issue came up under a Greens' sponsored bill last year. 

With the Conservatives in power in federal parliament and soon to gain control, too, of the Senate mid-year, the chances of a vote in favour of changing the marriage laws -- even if a bill were to be tabled -- still look slim.  This constitutional challenge seems to be the only way forward at this time.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

The French and British parliaments SPEAK NOW

In January, conservative opponents of the French government plans to change the laws permitting same-sex marriage rallied an estimated 120,000 to the streets of Paris. While recent polls in the country had suggested that a majority of French voters support marriage equality and adoption rights, the mayors of over a thousand towns, as well as the Catholic Church strongly voiced their opposition.

Now in mid-February,  France’s lower house of Parliament, the AssemblĂ©e Nationale (National Assembly), has passed a bill allowing for same-sex couples to marry and to adopt children.
 The bill, supported by the Socialist administration of President Francois Hollande, was passed by a vote of 329-229 despite a further number of large rallies, drawing an estimated one million people, called by opponents of the reform in the lead-up to the vote. (Tens of thousands of others had also marched in colourful demonstrations over the past year calling for same-sex marriage rights.)

“We’ve waged a great and noble battle,” French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told reporters shortly before Tuesday’s vote.

A vote in the Senate will now take place on April 2, with it expected to be closer than in the lower house, with Hollande’s party not holding an outright majority.  It is expected, however, other left-leaning representatives in the upper house will support the passage of the bill.

If the bill passes the Senate in two months time, France will join Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa and Sweden as countries allowing for same-sex marriage well as nine states and the District of Columbia in the US and a number of jurisdictions in Mexico and Brazil.

The success of the bill in the French Parliament comes only a week after a similar bill was passed by Britain’s House of Commons after Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron strongly advocated for the reform.

Here, some local advocates have suggested Australia is fast falling behind on its obligations of equality for all citizens when compared to other western nations. Australian Marriage Equality national director, Rodney Croome, said France's message to Australia and the world was that the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity apply equally to same-sex couples.

“The French vote, together with last week’s overwhelming vote in the UK parliament, highlights how quickly Australia is falling behind other western countries,” Croome said.

“Given the romance associated with Paris I expect many Australian same-sex couples will marry under the new French law, only to return to Australia to find their solemn vows count for nothing.”

Other advocates like Andre Banks, founder of LGBT online activist group AllOut, agreed it was a historic moment for France:

“French couples who just want to have the freedom to choose marriage as a way to show their love and their commitment to each other, have waited long enough,” Banks said. “French polls overwhelmingly demonstrate French people are in favour of marriage for gays and lesbians. I hope the French Senate passes the bill swiftly.”

-Thanks to Serkan Ozturk and GayNewsNetwork, as well as the Star Observer.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Former PM Bob Hawke SPEAKS NOW

Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke has stated that he is 'very much in favour' of the law being changed to permit same-sex couples to marry.

Bob Hawke in his younger years
On Wed. 21st November, ABC News chief political crrespondent Simon Cullen posted a story about an appearance by Hawke and another former PM, John Howard, at a charity event in support of Lifeline.

Prompted by the host of the event, former TV presenter Ray Martin, John Howard refused to change his position on same-sex marriage but Hawke was quoted as saying:

'I feel very deeply on all issues of discrimination, and in this area of sexual discrimination it just needs to be said straightforwardly -- you can be born with curly hair, you can be born with this gene-disposition towards homosexuality. If a person is born that way and they want to have the rights of the institutions of our society, they should have them.'

In her coverage of the same event for GAYSTAR NEWS, Anna Leach cites Australian Marriage Equality national convenor Rodney Croome, who welcomes the support of the former PM and contrasts Hawke's position with that of current Labor PM, Julia Gillard, which he finds deeply disappointing. 

In June, Gillard told same-sex marriage campaigners that her own relationship proved that you don't need marriage to show commitment. (Gillard lives with her partner Tim Mathieson but they have not married.) Her example failed to convince campaigners who pointed out that she had the choice whether or not to marry, while same-sex couples don't have the same choice under law.

Anna Leach also raised the comments allegedly made by another former Labor PM, now back-bencher Kevin Rudd, in July, that Gillard's position on the issue stems from a deal with the Christian right of her party to guarantee their support of her leadership.  If that were true, Gillard would have felt quite safe in allowing a conscience vote on her side of the House when it came up in Parliament, knowing that enough conservative Labor members would vote against it and the proposed changes to the Marriage Act would fail.  Rudd later denied making the suggestion.

Sunday 18 November 2012

New Zealand SPEAKS NOW

After the spineless performance by Federal MPs in Australia, who voted down changes to the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry (despite the surge of public opinion in favour), New Zealand is preparing to show the Aussies the way.

Here are some links to the same sex-marriage debate in New Zealand.

The first link is to a member’s bill on the New Zealand Parliament website. From the right hand menu on this page you can read the debate notes for the first reading and the evidence presented to the select committee.

The Marriage (definition  of Marriage) Amendment Bill is in the name of Labour MP Louisa Wall.

The MP submitted the bill to a ballot of member bills and it was drawn on 26/7/2012. The first reading was held on 29/8/2012 and was passed 80-30 (conscience vote) to be referred to Government Administration Committee – a cross-party select committee of MPs which will examine the bill, listen to submissions (submissions were due 26/10/2012), and report back to the House by 28/3/2013. The committee may recommend amendments which are voted on during the second reading. If it passes the second reading the bill then goes to the committee of the whole House (all MPs) when MPs can put forward further amendments in the form of Supplementary Order Papers. The 3rd and final reading is then held and, if passed, the bill is then given royal assent.

Incidentally, Prime Minister John Key has said he will support the vote through all stages.

Evidence to select committee:

Louisa Wall email and Wiki link:

Wiki on  same-sex marriage in NZ:

Other links: