Lovely French Models & Other Snares

pic by Frank Kovalchek

The Liberal religious righties are in a panic. In the space of a few short days their cheerleaders have been flinging themselves in front of the juggernaut of #MarriageEquality4Christmas.

They claim the issue will split the party and bring on a leadership spill: preferred replacement, Scott Morrison <<shudder>>.

The Godboys claim the branches are turning feral, seeing anything less than a full-throated NO from the party room, like a conscience vote, as a betrayal. This is true, so far as it goes. It’s what happens when you win pre-selection by stacking your branch with fellow Christaliban extremists (the reaction in less deranged Liberal territory is “Oh fer Crissakes, let’s get this done and off the agenda.”).

Furthermore, say the Godboys, even if it does come to a vote, the numbers are not there. Australian Marriage Equality says they are – just. Clearly some 2-faced Liberals are telling both sides what they want to hear. Bringing the issue to a head will force them off the fence, while they would prefer to go on playing both sides against each other.

Meanwhile a shedload of ‘divines’ have weighed in pleading “won’t someone think of the children?” Yes, we will, which is why we don’t want you within a cooee of them. Your intervention, proceeding as it does from a place of utter moral bankruptcy, does you no credit. No matter how clean or well intentioned you may individually be, just shut up and clean up your own houses before you presume to interfere in ours.

Peter “On The Waterfront” Reith (and others) wheeled out another delaying device: the old “Let’s have a plebiscite!” chestnut. A plebiscite would solve nothing: they’re non-binding. MPs still have to vote. But – crucially for those who are trying to stop us – not till the next parliament.

Morrison and Ruddock’s delay mechanism is different.  Feigning reasonableness, they say “Let’s chill, guys, there might be alternatives to just correcting the Marriage Act.”

Like many a politician before them, they are flirting with a French Model. This French model (or more properly, Napoleonic model, since it derives from the Code Napoleon) separates legal marriage (run entirely by the state), from religious marriage (managed by religious institutions). It’s used not just in France but also the Netherlands and other European countries.

pic by Yuval Y

The French model is, of course, simple and elegant. Marriages are conducted by the civil registrar or their representative and have legal force. Religious weddings conducted by clerics are an add-on, with no legal meaning: you’re not legally married unless you have a civil marriage as well (which is as simple as signing the register in front of the registrars representative and witnesses).

Italy is a special case: Catholic clergy report marriages they have conducted to the registrar, but couples married in any other religious tradition must also have a civil wedding.

Separation of church and state means no cleric may act as a representative of the registrar, as currently happens in Australia. This seems to me to be a fair and generous compromise. The state manages marriage, the churches etc manage weddings, and they can each have their own separate rules.

The Lovely French Model is indeed rather seductive. But her Australian clients are not serious.  It’s just another delaying tactic. And in any event, can you not hear the howls of outrage when clerics are stripped of the right they currently hold to act on behalf of the registrar?

What does all this tell us? It tells us that we are winning. It tells us that the religious right have run the numbers over the Coalition party room, the House and the Senate, and concluded that we have won. Any #MarriageEquality4Christmas bill introduced now, especially with bi or multi partisan support, would pass.

They no longer believe it when their own colleagues tell them that they would vote against it. And so they are frantically trying to think of something, anything, to stave off a vote for as long as possible. Because as things stand, they know they have lost.

All the more reason, then, to pile on the pressure. Warrant Entsch should bring on his all-party bill next week when the house resumes, kick-starting the discussion in the Liberal party room, and thence on to the vote. Forget August: the time is now, and we can have #MarriageEquality4Christmas.

Ignore the religious vapouring and the French models: #LetsDoThis Now.

Rodney Croome of Australian Marriage Equality agrees, and points out that the French Model as spruiked by Philip Ruddock and friends is a misrepresentation.

“In France, legal marriages are performed in civil ceremonies at town halls with an optional religious ceremony that has no legal standing if that’s what the couple wants.”

 “Philip Ruddock and Scott Morrison have misconstrued the French system and seem to be proposing the complete abolition of legal marriage, which is definitely not what has happened in France, or any other country for that matter.”
“We find it appalling that defenders of traditional marriage would prefer to wreck the institution than allow same-sex couples to marry.”
“The millions of Australians who are happily married would also find it astounding that conservative politicians are proposing something as radical as taking their legal status away.”
He also blasted ideas of a plebiscite:
“We also reject outright the proposal for a plebiscite because it will delay an urgent, overdue reform until after the election, and even then marriage equality will still be in the hands of politicians to resolve because the vote won’t be binding.”
“If a plebiscite is held at the next election parliament probably won’t consider marriage equality until 2017, meanwhile Australia will fall further and further behind other countries.”
“What we are seeing with proposals to abolish legal marriage, conduct a plebiscite or block a free vote in the Coalition are opponents of marriage equality panicking in the face of the inevitable growth of support within parliament and the community.”
“Every country that has marriage equality went through this kind of nonsense and came out the other side with full equality.”

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)