New York, New York !
Professor Kerryn Phelps, AM
The scenes outside the Stonewall Inn after the announcement that the New York Senate had passed the legislation to enable marriage equality could have not been more different from the riot that gave Stonewall its reputation as the epicentre of the gay rights movement, back on 27 June 1969… Jubilation, tears of joy and relief, marriage proposals, the crowd spontaneously breaking into choruses of ‘New York, New York’.
Watching it on Twitter and YouTube provided a sense of immediacy, but I have never before wanted so much to be there in New York City to experience first hand such a moment in history. Back in Australia, and ironically, this weekend yet another ALP State conference defied the bloody-minded rhetoric of its Federal leader to vote in support of marriage equality. How on earth Australia's Prime Minister could possibly continue to mouth those offensive and divisive words about marriage being ‘between a man and a woman’ is beyond my comprehension. Someone needs to take her aside and tell her that the first rule of leadership is to be worthy of following, and the second rule of leadership is to check behind you to see if anyone is actually following you.
Poll after poll shows that Australians are ready for this fundamental injustice to be rectified. Polling shows 75 percent of Australians believe it is inevitable. Every state ALP branch that has been given the opportunity to vote on this has voted in support of marriage equality. So in this supposed democracy, Julia Gillard does not seem to care that she is completely at odds with the majority of people and her own party, by whose grace she occupies the top office.
In many respects Julia Gillard seems to have deliberately isolated herself from reality on this issue. She has regularly met with minority, right wing, religious fundamentalists opposing marriage equality, while steadfastly refusing any requests to meet with organisations or individuals supporting change and the majority view. Her response to the New York announcement was cringeworthy. The contrast with recent statesmanlike speeches by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg could not be more stark.
If the problem is that she does not want to be seen to change from the view she expressed during the election campaign, then the carbon tax backflip should be precedent enough to allow a rethink. If you want an example of an intelligent and courageous change of heart, look no further than the Catholic and Republican New York Senator Mark Grisanti on the floor of the house as he voted in the affirmative.
I have it on good authority that Prime Ministerial staffers were directly involved in making sure there was no quorum for the vote on gay marriage at the Victorian ALP conference, ensuring that the vote could not go ahead. They were also active on the phones trying to stop GetUp from bidding on the mid-Winter charity auction for dinner with the PM. As the social media would put it, WTF?
Apparently dining with same sex couples was not going to be an acceptable winning bid for ‘our’ PM. The problem is, stumping up $31,000 had proven to be the only way there was going to be any access for marriage equality advocates, access provided regularly and free of charge to its opponents.
This is not just about marriage equality. Electors are savvy enough to extrapolate the handling of this social justice issue to broader matters of government responsibility, trust and democratic representation.
The drive to achieve marriage equality is not going to go away. It cuts to the very emotional heart of a person not to have their primary love relationship recognised and respected as equal to those that differ only in the gender of the partner. On a practical level it is just not okay for same sex couples and our children to be denied the legal protections that are automatically conferred if your partner has a different gender.
Julia Gillard, the time has come to behave like a true leader of a democracy. Allow democratic processes to proceed unhindered. Listen to your political colleagues. Look at the opinion polls. You have no mandate for your position, either within your party or conferred by the Australian people. And check behind you to see whether the people who inadvertently elected you to lead the country are behind you. Most are them, as you would be aware, are not.
I was born in Australia. I grew up here. I love this country. But today, I think I will fantasize for a moment how it feels to be a New Yorker.