Monday, April 16, 2012

Response to Senate Inquiry into Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010

Since I received an email today indicating that submission to the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 has been released as a public document and numbered Submission No. a1070, I thought I'd share my submission here.


 To the Senate Enquiry on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010,

On December 6th of 2011, the USA’s Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, delivered a speech to the United Nations to mark International Human Rights Day, in which she explained the importance of recognising the rights of the LGBT community on an international scale. In her speech, Clinton made the argument that, while “some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; […] they are one and the same.”

Addressing the rights of a group of people who have been subjected to discrimination, vilification and violence, Clinton’s speech was being heralded as historic from the moment it became available to the public. And, as with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, or even Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology speech to Indigenous Australians, Clinton’s speech makes a simple but powerful point: that, recognising and acknowledging the mistakes of the past, we can and must move forward.

By passing the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010, Australia will be able to do exactly that.

In her speech, Clinton made the following point that I believe is of particular importance to the matter that is currently being put before the Senate:
“[…]progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate.”

As the situation currently stands in Australia, with various polls showing that over 60% of people believe that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, our laws are lagging behind cultural change. And, while it is true that there have been many changes made to our laws to address inequality based on sexuality, this Bill presents the Senate with an opportunity to further address the broader issue of homophobia in this country by acknowledging that ‘separate but equal’ is not, in fact, equal at all.

The United Nations recognises the right to marry as being a human right; and, as Clinton argues in her speech, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” Marriage equality is one step that we as a nation can take toward creating an environment in which same-sex relationships are no longer seen as abhorrent or unnatural. It is an opportunity for us to acknowledge that same-sex relationships are not somehow antithetical to our concept of family, but that families come in all shapes and sizes. And it is an opportunity for us to send a message to our LGBT youth that they will have all the same choices available to them as their heterosexual counterparts, while also letting their heterosexual peers know that discrimination is not supported by the Australian government.

In closing, I wish to once more quote Hilary Clinton’s speech at length and suggest that the members of the Senate should keep these words in mind when they are voting on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010:

“As it has happened so many times before, opinion will converge once again with the truth, the immutable truth, that all persons are created free and equal in dignity and rights. We are called once more to make real the words of the Universal Declaration. Let us answer that call. Let us be on the right side of history, for our people, our nations, and future generations, whose lives will be shaped by the work we do today.”

Kind regards,
David Lenton

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why The Australian Greens are Different.

The resignation of Bob Brown as leader of the Australian Greens came as a surprise to everyone, including members of the party. At the same time Christine Milne stepped seamlessly into her new role as the leader of the Greens and Adam Bandt was voted into the role of Deputy Leader, there was an outpouring of support for the outgoing leader, paying tribute to him for his contribution to changing the political landscape in Australia over more than three decades of political engagement, both from outside and within the Government.

Detractors of the Greens, of course, have taken this as an opportunity to argue that since the party most likely won't survive this change-over to a leader that they see as somehow inferior, this will inevitably mean the end of the Greens

Even those who have taken a more measured approach to the change in leadership have raised questions about whether this will damage the party in the long-term, suggesting that it has been Bob Brown's particular brand of politics that have all but single-handedly raised the Greens up to the level of influence and prominence that they now hold.

As much as I see this kind of commentary as being, at least in part, a byproduct of an increasingly sensationalised media (for an example of this, all you need do is look at how long and hard the media worked to push the Labor party's respill), it is undeniable that the Greens are now in a new phase of the party's life. We've had one leader for sixteen years - and now he's off to scale the mountains of Tasmania with his partner. When he's not washing the dishes, anyway.

The Greens are facing change.

And as a Greens member, I'm not at all worried about this; because the Greens are the party of change.

I face the risk of this being taken as political rhetoric (and I could understand the claim, even while insisting that this is not the basis of my argument), but I think that this is one of the many things that differentiates the Greens from other political parties in Australia. Exactly because of the leadership of Bob Brown, the Greens are a party that, rather than trying to maintain the status quo, has at all times relied on the passion and drive of its membership to affect change.

Whether it be environmental or cultural issues, the Greens have been a force for progressive thinking in a political environment that has otherwise been extremely resistant to change. With an eye to the future, the Greens have been ahead of the game when it comes to things such as the recognition of Indigenous rights and land ownership; recognising the importance of environmental protection and restoration; the rights of asylum seekers; women's rights; disability support; and same-sex marriage. And as even this short list of issues exemplifies, it is a party that has not only reacted to events as they unfold - as has tended to be the way of the two major parties. Rather, the Greens have looked for inequality and taken up the chant of grassroots campaigns and groups across the country, championing those causes in a way that is both respectful and inclusive.

 When Bob Brown announced his resignation, it was clear that he had no concerns about the future of the party in his absence. Why would he? He, of all people, would be in a position to know that the party he left behind is not based on a cult of personality. It's a party predicated on the passion of its membership; and it is a party that is focussed on making this a better Australia for all of its citizens, not just a short-sighted few.

This is not something that Christine Milne is unaware of. Indeed, Milne has quickly reinforced the importance of the party's membership. She said, in part:

"Now is the opportunity to show all Australians that the Greens represent a broad and deep cross section of Australian society, brought together by shared values and commitment, not by a single person."
Those who are cynical will read this and see a shrewd but predictable plea to Greens members and supporters - an attempt to keep things under control. But that's because they don't understand that what Milne is saying here is just a reiteration of something that any Greens member already knows, at least on some level: we are a party of grassroots movements. We are driven by, and for, change.

The Greens will continue to embrace change as we enter this new era. And, as Milne goes on to say in the conclusion of her statement to Greens members:

"Never before have we had such a critical moment to demonstrate that the Greens Party is far greater than the sum of its parts. Let’s show Australia who we are, what we stand for, and where we’re going."

I don't know about you, but I don't feel worried. I feel inspired.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why "Choice" Is Scary When it Comes to Matters of Sexuality (And Why It Shouldn't Be)

I want to start off this post by saying that I'm a gay male who also identifies as queer, hence the reason I make references to 'we.' It's possible that I'll make comments that could be seen as adding to the erasure of other sexual identities (although I'll obviously try not to!), because I'm coming at this from a rather narrow P.O.V. in this particular instance. If this does happen, please feel free to let me know in the comments or via email! 


So, this happened. Then people, somewhat predictably, got angry.

Here's the thing: Nixon is clearly talking about her own experience of her own sexuality.

"...for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me."
See? It would be impossible for Nixon to have made this statement more explicitly about her own personal experience. Not only that, but she's absolutely correct to point out that she has an inalienable right to define her own sexual identity, based on her own sexual history. It is, after all, her own sexual identity.


I can understand why other people find the 'choice' narrative to be a scary one when it comes to the topic of sexuality.

As Nixon clearly recognises, this is not an argument over which the queer community generally has control:

"Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate."
I think it's a bit simplistic to suggest that the queer community has just 'ceded' this point, as if we've ever really been in a position of power when it comes to setting the tone of this conversation. However, point by point, here are my own responses to these questions: It can be! It's not! No, they shouldn't! But they do.

The argument that heterosexuality is the norm and homosexuality is an aberration isn't a new one. In fact, it's been the underlying principle of how we've understood homosexuality (and all "alternative" sexualities) since the word came into popular usage. As this post points out, not only is the "belief that homosexuality is not biologically determined...strongly correlated with religiosity," but this belief has an impact on the rights that those with religious beliefs then think should be afforded to those who have made that 'choice.' This serves as an example of how, couched in a narrative that situates homosexual conduct as the sinful and/or unnatural act of people who have chosen to go against the word of God and the natural order of things, references to 'choice' have generally been anything but positive for queer-identified people.

Suggesting that sexuality is a choice can be seen as adding credence to the idea that we are wilfully doing the wrong thing by being who we are. Perhaps more dangerously, it can be seen as adding to the credence to the notion that "pray the gay away" movements are somehow legitimate, despite the fact that claims of its effectiveness are unsupported. And, given that the battle for equality is ongoing, it's also somewhat politically dangerous.


Monday, January 23, 2012

On Being a Feminist (Male) Who's Vocally Pro-Choice

At a time when women's bodily autonomy is increasingly under attack, I think that it's important for feminist men to voice their support for women's right to have control over their own bodies. I don't say this because I think that the voice of men is more important than that of women.  

Gawd no.

I say this because, as stupid as it is, women are more likely to have their opinions read through an overtly negative lens of gender-bias than men. While men might be called out on their ideas, their perceived intelligence, their politics or any other number of factors related to the ideas that they put out there, they are a lot less likely to have to deal with discrimination based on their gender alone. Sexuality and ethnicity, etc., can be the cause of discrimination, but these are things that women will face as well - and these types of discrimination will also often be couched in terms related to their gender, to boot. This means that a lot of really well-reasoned arguments are dismissed, purely because they were written by people who have vaginas or who identify as women; and if having a dick means that I can contribute to getting us beyond this point, then I am all for taking advantage of that.

I also say this because, as infuriating as it is, it's predominantly men who are trying to gain control of women's reproductive rights - and I think that other men who disagree with this increased focus on the inner working of women's bodies need to be vocal in their acknowledgement that, at the core of it, this is all about sexism. As far as I'm concerned there's no ifs or buts about this - it's sexist to suggest that women aren't in the best position to make decisions about their own bodies, because, boy, those women just don't realise what's best for society (read: male egos), am I right? I mean, how can the one who's literally going to be living with the consequences of their pregnancy - not from afar, but in an embodied something-growing-inside-them-for-nine-months sense - really know what's best for them?


Women's bodily autonomy isn't just an issue for women to be vocal about; it's a matter for anyone who's interested in equality. The anti-choice (it's not pro-life) movement is about the control of women. It is essentially about putting them in a position of submissiveness to the desires of men, focussing on their capacity for baby-making ahead of their own individual needs and desires. It reduces a woman's sexual expression, at the extreme (e.g. where discussions of restricting access to birth control take place), to a choice between being pregnant or not (excluding instances were reproduction isn't possible). It reduces women to being less than they are capable of being.

That's wrong.

I don't feel that it's my place to take up the fight for women's reproductive rights as if it's a battle that requires my voice in order to legitimise it. It doesn't. Anything I could say on the matter has already been said a thousand times over by women who have a lot more authority on the issue than I. If anything, I see my role as being one of acknowledgement.

I acknowledge the right of women to have control over their own bodies. I acknowledge the ability of women to speak with authority, particularly on matters that have a direct impact on them. And I acknowledge that it's not my place to challenge a woman based on nothing more than the fact that our genitals don't necessarily match.

I think that, as a man who also identifies as a feminist, it's my place to recognise that it's not my place in all of this that actually matters. I can share my opinion on the topic - and have obviously taken the opportunity to do exactly that - but it's not my body at stake, so it's not my choice that really matters.

I really do think that it's really as simple as that.