Taking A Punt On Marriage


pic: GWIRE

Australians are great gamblers. Right now LGBTI Australians are currently being asked to take a punt on a marriage equality bill which many think flawed. Let’s assess the risk.

“Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good”

That’s what those of us who are doubtful about Dean Smiths marriage bill are being told. It’s supporters have judged that the bill is ‘good enough’; that its merits outweigh its deficiencies.

Contained in this is an implicit threat: if we lose this because some of you decide it isn’t “good enough”, if you decide instead to hang out for something better, we could end up with nothing. Or at any rate, nothing now. And it’ll all be the fault of the doubters, like me.

I don’t propose to rehash the detail of why I think this bill is NOT good enough, and why, if it’s the only thing on offer, we should say, “no thanks, we’ll wait for the next bus, rather than sit at the back of this one”. I have written about this more than once on this blog, including HERE .

Many others whose opinions I respect greatly, and who have battled for equality for decades, such as Shelley Argent, Rodney Croome and Alastair Lawrie (to single out only three), have said it better than I can. Rodney has written a whole book about it, available HERE, Alastair has posted extensively about it on his blog HERE, as has Brett Kappler HERE.


It’s no secret that AME has been carrying out a long running feud with Rodney Croome and his allies (including me), ever since Rodney walked out on AME some time ago in a dispute over policy. Our refusal to dance and sing Hosannahs for Dean Smith and his bill has infuriated Alex Greenwich of Australian Marriage Equality, and Sally Rugg from GetUp.

Again, I don’t propose to rehash the details of that argument, but I will say that Rodney has tried repeatedly to heal the breach, and been rebuffed at every turn. The AME is not for turning. They think that the prize – and the credit for winning it – is within their grasp, and they are not about to graciously share that credit with anyone else, no matter how hard and how long they have worked for the same end.

Their fallback argument, straight from George Brandis’s office and into their mouths, is, “Don’t let the perfect drive out the good.”

Which begs the question: are the dangers inherent in the Smith bill too trivial to worry about, or are they such that the Smith bill is not, in fact, all that “good” at all? After all, on the face of it they appear trivial and insubstantial compared with what the DelCon right wants.


It’s true that arguments against the religious flimflam in the bill do tend to sound like a mirror image of the Christian Lobby’s “thin end of the wedge” and “slippery slope” rhetoric, of which we were rightly scornful during the campaign.

They’re not. Considered dispassionately, the problem comes down to this: accepting Smiths bill involves, essentially, making a punt on the future. A bet that the religious right, led as always by the Australian Christian Lobby, will not seek to exploit any loophole in the bill by whatever means possible, to chip away at whatever measure of equality the bill offers. A bet that they will not use whatever religious nonsense they can cram in there as a precedent to argue for more religious “protections” in other laws.

This is not a bet I am prepared to make. The ACL are no fools. They have been preparing to lose this fight for some time. They have set up and are amassing a war chest for a legal arm the Human Rights Law Alliance.

And what do they plan to use this legal juggernaut for? They told me in a letter:

“The letter makes several references to the sorts of laws the ACL hopes the courts will strike down, if HRLA can raise the very large sums of money needed to run cases all the way to the High Court. These include [among many others]:

  • The ban on protestors picketing abortion clinics and approaching the women seeking a termination
  • Defend doctors rights to ‘practice according to their conscience”, e.g. refuse contraception, abortion
  • Reverse the ban on street preachers in streets and shopping malls
  • Protect people who express their Christian beliefs at work from dismissal
  • Stop or reverse any change to the current definition of marriage
  • Block or reverse any ‘right to die’ legislation”

Immediately we can see that’s one bet we will lose: the ACL have set it down in black and white: they propose to mount a well-funded full-frontal assault on marriage equality from the day it passes into law.

Any slight toehold we allow in the Smith bill will be mercilessly exploited. It therefore behoves us to give them none. Not a toehold. Not a chink. Or we will regret it.


You can also see in this list the other types of laws they will try to smash down: if the Smith bill contains any special rights for the religious that they can leverage to attack others, they have, in writing, given us clear warning that they will use it. We could hand them a weapon to use against others. This cannot be ignored.

This is not a “thin end of the wedge” or “slippery slope” argument: this is clear publicly available evidence that once they get a foot in the door the greatest opponent of equal rights will exploit “religious freedom” to the full to attack the rights of not only LGBTI people, but many others besides.

This is why they are so vehement about Smiths bill containing clauses which merely repeat what is already there in other anti-discrimination law. They will undoubtedly point out that parliament wanted to reinforce religious “protections”, that they thought it necessary to do so etc etc. You can write your own script from there.


The ACL is in cahoots with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the biggest richest, most litigious anti-LGBTI hate group in the world. Even now they are employing this very strategy to try to tear down equal marriage in the USA through the courts, chipping away at LGBTI rights bit by bit.

Tony Abbott has been a guest of the Alliance more than once. He has given clear hints that he too will carry on the battle after marriage equality becomes law.

“Whatever the outcome for this particular vote, it might just be that the sleeping giant of Australian decency, the sleeping giant of people who love our country and want it to be at its best, might just be awakened,” he said.

Knowing all this, are you prepared to take the risk of backing this flawed bill? Think very very carefully.

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)