today's amusement ---
The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.
1) Der Spiegel -- The Republicans' Farcical Candidates -- A club of Liars, Demagogues and Ignoramuses
2) Hillary Clinton's Historic LGBT Speech Provides Hope and Change
3) DADT repeal is working as planned
4) Saudi Arabia -- Australian sentenced to 500 lashes in Saudi Arabia
5) Australia -- Labor divided after gay marriage backing
6) Australia -- Hopes for gay marriage now rest with libertarian liberals
Der Spiegel is the German equivalent of our TIME Magazine.
12/01/2011 08:39 AM
The Republicans' Farcical Candidates
A Club of Liars, Demagogues and Ignoramuses
A Commentary by Marc Pitzke
The US Republican race is dominated by ignorance, lies and scandals. The current crop of candidates have shown such a basic lack of knowledge that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein. The Grand Old Party is ruining the entire country's reputation.
Africa is a country. In Libya, the Taliban reigns. Muslims are terrorists; most immigrants are criminal; all Occupy protesters are dirty. And women who feel sexually harassed -- well, they shouldn't make such a big deal about it.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the US Republicans. Or rather, to the twisted world of what they call their presidential campaigns. For months now, they've been traipsing around the country with their traveling circus, from one debate to the next, one scandal to another, putting themselves forward for what's still the most powerful job in the world.
As it turns out, there are no limits to how far they will stoop.
It's true that on the road to the White House all sorts of things can happen, and usually do. No campaign can avoid its share of slip-ups, blunders and embarrassments. Yet this time around, it's just not that funny anymore. In fact, it's utterly horrifying.
It's horrifying because these eight so-called, would-be candidates are eagerly ruining not only their own reputations and that of their party, the party of Lincoln lore. Worse: They're ruining the reputation of the United States.
They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They've shown such stark lack of knowledge -- political, economic, geographic, historical -- that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.
"When did the GOP lose touch with reality?" wonders Bush's former speechwriter David Frum in New York Magazine. In the New York Times, Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan's former chief-of-staff, called this campaign season a "reality show," while Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan confidante Peggy Noonan even spoke of a "freakshow."
That may be the most appropriate description.
Tough times demand tough and smart minds. But all these dopes have to offer are ramblings that insult the intelligence of all Americans -- no matter if they are Democrats, Republicans or neither of the above. Yet just like any freakshow, this one would be unthinkable without a stage (in this case, the media, strangling itself with all its misunderstood "political correctness" and "objectivity") and an audience (the party base, which this year seems to have suffered a political lobotomy).
And so the farce continues. The more mind-boggling its incarnations, the happier the US media are to cheer first one clown and then the next, elevating and then eliminating "frontrunners" in reliable news cycles of about 45 days.
Take Herman Cain, "businessman." He sat out the first wave of sexual harassment claims against him by offering a peculiar argument: Most ladies he had encountered in his life, he said, had not complained.
In the most recent twist, a woman accused Cain of having carried on a 13-year affair with her. That, too, he tried to casually wave off, but now, under pressure, he says he wants to "reassess" his campaign.
If Cain indeed drops out, the campaign would lose its biggest caricature: He has been the most factually challenged of all these jesters.
As CEO of the "Godfather's" pizza chain, Cain killed jobs -- but now poses as the job-creator-in-chief. Meanwhile, he seems to lack basic economic know-how, let alone a rudimentary grasp of politics or geography. Libya confounds him. He does not believe that China is a nuclear power. And all other, slightly more complicated questions get a stock answer: "Nine-nine-nine!" Remember? That's Cain's tax reduction plan that would actually raise taxes for 84 percent of Americans.
Has any of that disrupted Cain's popularity in the media or with his fan base? Far from it. Since Oct. 1, he has collected more than $9 million in campaign donations. Enough to plow through another onslaught of denouements.
No Shortage of Chutzpah
Then there's Newt Gingrich, the current favorite. He's a political dinosaur, dishonored and discredited. Or so we thought. Yet just because he studied history and speaks in more complex sentences than his rivals, the US media now reflexively hails him as a "Man of Ideas" (The Washington Post) -- even though most of these ideas are lousy if not downright offensive, such as firing unionized school janitors, so poor children could do their jobs.
Pompous and blustering, Gingrich gets away with this humdinger as well as with selling himself as a Washington outsider -- despite having made millions of dollars as a lobbyist in Washington. At least the man's got chutzpah.
The hypocrisy doesn't end here. Gingrich claims moral authority on issues such as the "sanctity of marriage," yet he's been divorced twice. He sprang the divorce on his first wife while she was sick with cancer. (His supporters' excuse: It's been 31 years, and she's still alive.) He cheated on his second wife just as he was pressing ahead with Bill Clinton's impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky affair, unaware of the irony. The woman he cheated with, by the way, was one of his House aides and 23 years his junior -- and is now his perpetually smiling third wife.
Americans have a short memory. They forget, too, that Gingrich was driven out of Congress in disgrace, the first speaker of the house to be disciplined for ethical wrongdoing. Or that he consistently flirts with racism when he speaks of Barack Obama. Or that he enjoyed a $500,000 credit line at Tiffany's just as his campaign was financially in the toilet and he ranted about the national debt. Chutzpah, indeed.
Yet the US media rewards him with a daily kowtow. And the Republicans reward him too, by having put him on top in the latest polls. Mr. Hypocrisy, the bearer of his party's hope.
"I think he's doing well just because he's thinking," former President Clinton told the conservative online magazine NewsMax. "People are hungry for ideas that make some sense." Sense? Apparently it's not just the Republicans who have lost their minds here.
The Eternal Runner-Up
And what about the other candidates? Rick Perry's blunders are legendary. His "oops" moment in suburban Detroit. His frequently slurred speech, as if he was drunk. His TV commercials putting words in Obama's mouth that he didn't say (such as, "Americans are 'lazy'"). His preposterous claim that as governor of Texas he created 1 million jobs, when the total was really just about 100,000. But what's one digit? Elsewhere, Perry would have long ago been disqualified. But not here in the US.
Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann has fallen off the wagon, although she's still tolerated as if she's a serious contender. Ron Paul's fan club gets the more excited, the more puzzling his comments get. Jon Huntsman, the only one who occasionally makes some sort of sense, has been relegated to the poll doldrums ever since he showed sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.
Which leaves Mitt Romney, the eternal flip-flopper and runner-up, who by now is almost guaranteed to clinch the nomination, even though no one in his party seems to like or want him. He stiffly delivers his talking points, which may or may not contradict his previous positions. After all, he's been practicing this since 2008, when he failed to snag the nomination from John McCain. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
As an investor, Romney once raked in millions and, like Cain, killed jobs along the way. So now he says he's the economy's savior. To prove that, he has presented an economic plan that the usually quite conservative business magazine Forbes has labeled "dangerous," asking incredulously, "About Mitt Romney, the Republicans can't be serious." Apparently they're not, but he is, running TV spots against Obama already, teeming with falsehoods.
Good for Ratings
What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. "A starting point for a chronicle of American decline," was how David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, described the current Republican race.
The Tea Party would take issue with that assessment. They cheer the loudest for the worst, only to see them fail, as expected, one by one. Which goes to show that this "movement," sponsored by Fox News, has never been interested in the actual business of governing or in the intelligence and intellect that requires. They are only interested in marketing themselves, for ratings and dollars.
So the US elections are a reality show after all, a pseudo-political counterpart to the Paris Hiltons, Kim Kardashians and all the "American Idol" and "X Factor" contestants littering today's TV. The cruder, the dumber, the more bizarre and outlandish -- the more lucrative. Especially for Fox News, whose viewers were recently determined by Fairleigh Dickinson University to be far less informed than people who don't watch TV news at all.
Maybe that's the solution: Just ignore it all, until election day. Good luck with that -- this docudrama with its soap-opera twists is way too enthralling. The latest rumor du jour involves a certain candidate who long ago seemed to have disappeared from the radar. Now she may be back, or so it is said, to bring order into this chaos. Never mind that her name is synonymous with chaos: Sarah Palin.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Rick Perry's "oops" moment took place in South Carolina. In fact, it happened in suburban Detroit.
Related SPIEGEL ONLINE links:
a.. Photo Gallery: The Republican Campaign Circus
b.. Broken America: The Country of Limited Possibilities (11/22/2011)
c.. Execution in Texas: Governor Perry's Death Mission (09/12/2011)
d.. Bush's Tragic Legacy: How 9/11 Triggered America's Decline (09/09/2011)
e.. The Indecisive President: Obama's Weakness Is a Problem for the Global Economy (08/09/2011)
f.. The World from Berlin: 'The Biggest Loser is the Average American' (08/03/2011)
g.. Interview with Tea Party Co-Founder Mark Meckler: 'We Have Compromised Our Way Into Disaster' (08/01/2011)
Hillary Clinton's Historic LGBT Speech Provides Hope and Change
Posted December 6th, 2011 by Wayne Besen
Hillary Clinton's soaring speech on international LGBT issues was game changing. An historic address of this magnitude was desperately needed to counter the rising tide of backwards and barbaric nations that had recently been persecuting LGBT people to distract from their glaring problems.
"I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today," said Clinton to a packed auditorium of human rights activists who gathered in Geneva for International Human Rights Day. "I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time."
The list of countries that recently declared war on sexual minorities include: Russia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Iran, and Zimbabwe. For the contemptible despots who run these underachieving nations, fomenting homophobia makes political sense. By turning homosexuals into bogeymen these rulers can conceal their corruption and appear moral through the blessings of craven clergy.
If the worldwide attacks on LGBT people seem deliberate and coordinated, it is because they very well may be. In author Jeff Sharlet's book, The Family, he reveals that ambitious American evangelicals are working to surround The United States, Canada, and Western Europe with fundamentalist regimes - using homosexuality as a key wedge issue to gain power. Researchers Rachel Tabachnick and Bruce Wilson have also documented that a radical and sprawling evangelical group, The New Apostolic Reformation, has infiltrated many countries and exported anti-LGBT hate.
It has been greatly disturbing to witness the war on LGBT people unfolding in recent weeks. I had privately fretted that these AHEM's (American Hate Exporting Movements) were further along in their dubious and dangerous designs than people realized. I was also concerned that the American government would back off challenging international homophobia in an election year. After all, the Obama administration surely did not want to be browbeaten as anti-faith by phony martyrs and their false claims of religious discrimination.
However, something drastic needed to happen to turn back the tide of violence and discrimination that plagued these "loser nations." The U.S. had to make it crystal clear that those exporting hate were not representing our government. Instead, these zealots were operating a shadow foreign policy that undermined America's interests.
President Barack Obama boldly stepped into this bloody vacuum and provided desperately needed leadership and moral clarity. He issued an incredible memorandum directing all agencies to "promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons." This was followed by Clinton's moving speech that was as notable for its directness, as it was for its depth.
Usually in such addresses we get diplomatic drivel that satisfies no one and accomplishes little. But today's actions by the administration and Clinton's speech were different. The words were spoken with true vision and encrusted in values. There was clarity and passion, and no one was left wondering where our country stood on the rights of LGBT people.
This was one of those times where our nation demonstrated true international leadership and made me incredibly proud to be an American. It was stirring to witness our country act decisively as force for moral good. There was no patronizing that relegated the LGBT community to the role of liberalism's unwanted stepchild. There were no carefully crafted and focus grouped code words that sugarcoated the abuses - just the honest truth spoken from the heart.
"It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave," said Clinton in her speech. "It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished."
The beauty of Clinton's talk was that it was highly educational. It forcefully challenged the ignorant stereotypes and vicious lies disseminated by despots and their American evangelical patrons.
"Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality," Clinton said. "And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do."
Needless to say, the leaders of AHEM's and anti-LGBT politicians went nuts. "This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country," said failing presidential candidate Rick Perry, who shocked people by putting a complete sentence together. Perry conveniently failed to mention that Clinton and Obama are both people of deep faith.
The stunning events in Geneva mark the moment Barack Obama secured a national LGBT vote for his 2012 re-election campaign. Today we felt hope - but more importantly, we witnessed monumental change.
November 28, 2011 1:20 PM
DADT repeal is working as planned
By Steve Benen
About a month ago, Andrew Sullivan asked, "Now that DADT is over, can the hysterics who warned it would destroy the military concede they were wrong?"
That would be nice. They were, after all, making all kinds of dire predictions, all of which have turned out to be baseless. One military leader in particular preferred to keep "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in place, but now concedes that the post-repeal system is working just fine.
Gen. James F. Amos, the top officer in the U.S. Marines, says he is "pleased" at how smoothly the military branch has adapted to the repeal of don't ask, don't tell - and top gay rights advocates agree.
Amos, who had publicly opposed the repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military, spent the past week in Afghanistan holding more than a dozen town-hall meetings with Marines, reports the AP, which had an exclusive interview with the Marine commander.
Not once during the sessions was he asked about the repeal, according to the wire service.
"I'm very pleased with how it has gone," Amos said.
For Amos to be gracious about this after opposing the president's policy only helps reinforce how mistaken Republican warnings were.
Thomas Ricks recently noted a major on active duty who raised a similar point.
At what point in time should journalists, bloggers, etc . hold those who made wildly inaccurate predications on the lifting of the ban accountable? All the retired generals and officers (LTG Mixon, Merrill A. McPeak and Col. Dave Bedey for example) who predicted that soldiers would leave the military by the thousands, or John McCain and other politicians describing how it would affect us as a fighting force?
At some point I feel that the public should be reminded of their predictions so the next time they make predictions that are way off the mark, fewer people will give them credence.
Some degree of accountability would be a refreshing change of pace, wouldn't it?
Granted, the official end of DADT only happened a few months ago, and I suppose it's still possible that God will punish the United States for this transgression with a series of meteors, but it's not too soon to say the right's anti-gay critics, led in large part by John McCain, had no idea what they were talking about. The dire predictions that said thousands of active-duty soldiers would quit the armed forces and recruiting would become nearly impossible were, we now know, entirely wrong.
Comment received from a friend ---
If the United States Marine Corps can make such a progressive change, why can't the Southern Baptist and the Catholic Church? And the Mormon theological mythology.
My comment ---
Religion is the most addictive drug yet invented by humans.
Australian sentenced to 500 lashes in Saudi Arabia
AP - Wednesday 07 December 2011
SYDNEY (AP) - An Australian man has been sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in a Saudi Arabian jail after being convicted of blasphemy, officials said Wednesday.
The 45-year-old man, identified by family members as Mansor Almaribe of southern Victoria state, was detained in the holy city of Medina last month while making the Muslim pilgrimage of hajj. Family members told Australian media that Saudi officials accused him of insulting the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, a violation of Saudi Arabia's strict blasphemy laws.
Australia's ambassador in Saudi Arabia has contacted Saudi authorities in a bid for leniency, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. Consular officials are providing support for the man and his family in Australia.
"The Australian government is universally opposed to corporal punishment," the department said in a statement.
Almaribe was convicted of blasphemy on Tuesday and initially sentenced to two years in jail and 500 lashes. The court later reduced his jail sentence.
Almaribe's son Jamal told The Age newspaper that his father was reading and praying as part of a group when he was arrested.
Almaribe's son Mohammed said he feared for his father's well-being. "Five hundred slashes on his back, and he has back problems. I wouldn't think he'd survive 50," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
My comment ---
You want to defend Islam? You want to defend other organized religions?
--- videos at the URL ---
Labor divided after gay marriage backing
ABC NEWS - Sydney, Australia - December 04, 2011
The federal Labor Party remains divided over gay marriage despite yesterday voting to change its policy to endorse it.
Opponents of same-sex marriage say Labor's new stance will cost votes, while those in favour are angry at the compromise position which gives Labor MPs a conscience vote.
They say it was done to ensure Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who opposes gay marriage, was not embarrassed.
Labor backbencher Stephen Jones plans to move a private members bill in Federal Parliament next year to change the Marriage Act, but the conscience vote means it would likely be defeated.
Some say the best chance of success is to have it moved jointly by Labor, the Greens and a moderate Liberal.
Labor MPs are now challenging the Opposition to give its MPs a free vote as well.
"The Liberal Party will now have to ask itself very seriously 'what are we going to do in response to this'," Labor frontbencher Stephen Smith said.
Mr Jones says he too hopes the Liberal Party will grant a free vote to its parliamentary members.
"In 11 days time I'll be celebrating my 12th wedding anniversary," he said.
"I got married because I wanted to tell my family and my whole community that this is the woman I love and I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life.
"I hope that by the end of this Parliament there will be thousands more Australians who will be able to enjoy their anniversary with the person that they love as well."
Finance Minister Penny Wong also says the ball is now in the Liberal Party's court.
"It's now a matter for Tony Abbott, whether he will show his members the same respect that the parliamentary party today has been shown," Senator Wong said.
Australian Workers Union head Paul Howes has their backs.
"We know there are many members of the Liberal and Nationals parties who support same-sex marriage, some of which are in same-sex relationships but are not granted the ability to do what Labor granted our MPs to do today," he said.
But there are mixed views within the party about the implications of Saturday's decision to allow gay marriage.
Union leader Joe de Bruyn says the move towards same-sex marriage will cost votes.
"Particularly in some of the traditional Labor electorates in suburban Australia," he said.
Delegates from the Labor Right, like Tasmanian Senator Helen Polley, were simply unhappy.
"Marriage is a term that can be used and has been used for centuries to describe a relationship between a man and a woman," she said.
But Left faction leader Doug Cameron supports the change.
Senator Cameron disputes Mr de Bruyn's view that it will mean Labor loses seats.
"Absolute nonsense and silly political analysis from Joe de Bruyn. This will not be a vote-changing exercise at the next election," he said.
"If someone is voting against the Labor Party on this issue they were never going to vote for the Labor Party in the first place.
"This is about giving equality to our fellow Australians. This is about the Labor Party being a reforming party."
Video: Protesters rally for and against gay marriage (7pm TV News NSW)
About 5,000 people rallied across Sydney yesterday in celebration of the ALP's decision to change the party platform on same-sex marriage.
Supporters said it was the first real step towards legalising gay marriage, though they were disappointed with the conscience vote.
The crowd shouted chants such as "conscience vote, no way, we want equal rights today".
Anthony Wallace from Equal Love said the party should have taken a stronger stance to ensure the issue is passed by Parliament.
"It's a bit of back step now they've decided that they will push it, it's going to go through for a conscience vote, it's kind of like they gave us something and they've pulled half of it back," he said.
But Rodney Croome, a gay activist from Tasmania, told the crowd the movement had come a long way, and whilst a conscience vote was not ideal, it was good that the party platform has been changed.
A separate march of about 400 was also held in Sydney by people lobbying against the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
They clapped and yelled "yes" when they heard the conference passed the motion to allow a conscience vote.
Herminie Swainston, who was at the rally, pleaded with politicians not the change the Marriage Act.
"I agree with fairness for same-sex couples so I'm glad that a whole lot of laws have been passed to give fairness for things like compensation and inheritance," she said.
"But there's no need to change the Marriage Act."
Labor will move on from that debate today, only to face more contentious issues.
Frontbencher Peter Garrett will move a motion against the Prime Minister's plan to allow uranium exports to India, but after passionate argument, Ms Gillard's push is expected to succeed.
A motion to phase out live cattle exports is expected to fail.
The conference winds up today.
Hopes for gay marriage now rest with libertarian liberals
5 December 2011
Does the fight for same-sex marriage have an unexpected ally?
One might be disappointed that the Labor party voted to permit a conscience vote on the issue of marriage equality at the weekend, but I would strongly urge those who feel as though all is lost to consider that perhaps it is not the defeat they might think it is. Australia may yet see marriage equality in the very near future - due in no small part to the support of a number of forward-thinking Liberal MPs.
After all, the right-wing of the political spectrum, which the Coalition traditionally occupies, does not consist entirely of social conservatives and Christian fundamentalists. Indeed, many inside of Tony Abbott's broader party - and many of his MPs - fit the definition of a "fiscally-conservative social-liberal" - also known as a libertarian. These libertarians - some of whom are very powerful inside the Liberal party - may force Tony Abbott to allow his MPs to hold a conscience vote of their own.
Libertarianism has at its core a fundamental belief that the rights of the individual are paramount above the rights of religion, government or any other organisation - that people are at liberty to do and say as they wish in so long as this liberty does not impact negatively on the liberty of others. It is straightforward to acknowledge that marriage equality is in fact then a very libertarian notion.
Now, in the past, social conservatives (and homophobic pseudo-"libertarians") have attempted to use a "loophole" by arguing that children raised by homosexuals are at some sort of disadvantage and thus gay people do not have the right to a liberty that harms others; however, modern studies have shown quite plainly that this "danger" to the child simply does not exist in any widespread fashion.
In Australia, it is already against the law to discriminate, bully or harass homosexuals - and by extension their children - and this has led to a steady decline of homophobia in schools and greater acceptance of same-sex relationships amongst young people. Rather, it is arguable that teenage same-sex attracted children are more likely to fall victim to self-harm because their relationships will always be invalidated by their inability to marry.
So, with the once vaguely-rational "issue" of the "rights of the child" removed, it has become very difficult for social conservatives to mount any convincing argument with which to sway their libertarian colleagues. Feeble attempts at "slippery-slope" arguments - typically involving paedophilia and zoophilia - fall in a heap in the face of the simple common sense that children and animals cannot give legal consent. Polygamy is similarly negated by the fact that by definition only one individual can possess the ability to exercise the absolute will of another, as granted by marriage.
And, as an individual already holds certain legal and moral rights and responsibilities with respect to immediate family members, the risk of the legalisation of incestuous relationships is non-existent.
It is due to the inability to mount a realistic argument against marriage equality that, after the Liberal Party of Canada legalised same-sex marriage and then lost the subsequent election, the Conservative Party of Canada upon forming government was forced to hold a conscience vote regarding the repeal of the prior government's amendments to the Marriage Act - a vote that failed, causing the Conservatives to break a "crucial" election promise. (By the way: that same party is still in power today, and has just become the ninth longest-serving government in Canadian history.)
It is important to remember that, unlike Labor, although Coalition MPs can be directed to vote as a bloc, an individual MP does not risk expulsion from Caucus if they do not do as they are told by the Leader of the Opposition. This means that despite Tony Abbott's conservative rhetoric, those more libertarian-minded MPs can still stand for marriage equality at the time the numbers are counted even if the public face of the Coalition is strictly against the notion up to the last second before the vote is called; as happened in the Canadian Conservative-led parliament.
It is also important to realise that it is unlikely that Tony Abbott will risk fracturing the Liberal party by attempting to mandate any special privilege toward his own position by threatening his libertarian colleagues - one of whom is his chief rival, Malcolm Turnbull. He is almost certainly not going to put his leadership on the line, nor risk disunity within his own party, over his conviction that marriage is strictly meant to be between man and woman. A conscience vote will permit him the luxury of being able to absolve himself of criticism both from his libertarian members and his conservative-Christian ones.
But it could be a nail-biter. If Tony Abbott is smart, he will wait until the last possible moment before making any announcement regarding a conscience vote - even as late as the morning of the day the vote is held. If those who support marriage equality are equally intelligent, they will mount pressure upon those more socially-liberal Liberals and keep it there up until that very same moment. The battle is still quite winnable - it happened in Canada and it could just as easily happen here in Australia.
Melody Ayres-Griffiths is a Canadian Australian permanent-resident married to her Australian wife under Canadian law.
Lots of comments at the URL.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 29/06/2011 - Reporter: Heather Ewart (29 June 2011)
The Labor Party is under increasing pressure to support same-sex marriage at its upcoming national conference. However, many within the ALP still remain unconvinced - including the Prime Minister. 7.30's Heather Ewart investigates.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: If the Gillard Government were to embrace the cause of gay marriage, would it hurt them electorally? According to one prominent pollster, the answer's not at all.
Momentum's building among the grassroots of the Labor Party to allow same sex marriage, even though the Prime Minister Julia Gillard is personally opposed.
It looks like the powerful NSW branch will join other states in recommending gay marriage reform when it holds its conference on Saturday week.
But as national affairs correspondent Heather Ewart reports, federal Labor has to decide whether the push for gay marriage is something a majority of Australians support, not just progressives in its own ranks.
HEATHER EWART, REPORTER: These butchers at Hoppers Crossing in Melbourne's west are lovers and business partners. They're in Julia Gillard's electorate and they all barrack for the same footy team. But that's where any similarity ends. John Dini and Steve Russell have been together for more than eight years and want to take their relationship one step further.
Why do you two want to get married?
JOHN DINI, BUTCHER: Well, firstly because we love each other. Um, that's the main reason. And, I mean, we've been together for so long. And, mostly because, like any other couple, we want to be able to make that commitment in front of our friends and our family.
JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: It's my view that the Marriage Act should stay in its current form and my view is unchanged.
JOHN DINI: We own this butcher shop together, we own our house together and my name's not on any paper.
STEVE RUSSELL, BUTCHER: Legally, once you're married, everything automatically goes to the spouse. But in our situation, I could write a will and it could be challenged by anybody and he could be left with nothing. And I wanna know that if something happens to me, then he's well looked after.
JULIA GILLARD: Now of course there's community debate about the Marriage Act. I expect that that community debate is going to continue. I've made my view clear and my view is unchanged.
HEATHER EWART: These street scenes in New York at the weekend, after it was announced that same sex marriage would be legalised there, have inspired supporters of reform in Australia.
JOHN ROBERTSON, NSW LABOR LEADER: There is a sense, I think, for some people that this issue's time has come, and certainly I think it is appropriate that we debate these issues within the Labor Party.
HEATHER EWART: So the real debate is not so much here in the community, as Julia Gillard says, but within Labor ranks. One after another, State Labor branches are urging the party's next national conference in December to endorse same sex marriage. And some party heavyweights are already geared for battle.
JOE DE BRUYN, SHOP, DISTRIBUTIVE & ALLIED EMPLOYEES ASSN: A policy of homosexual marriage will lose seats for Labor, particularly in Queensland where it needs to pick up seats, and so I think that the wiser heads will prevail in December at the conference.
MARK TEXTOR, POLITICAL POLLSTER: This is the problem with the Labor Party at the moment: it's all about them and their political survival. They first should be asking themselves: what is the right thing to do?
JOE DE BRUYN: This potentially would affect 10 or 15 seats around the nation that Labor would lose and so it would mean that it has no chance whatsoever of winning the next election.
JOHN ROBERTSON: I know Joe feels very strongly about this issue and he's entitled to express that opinion. I don't think this is an issue that's going to see us lose seats or lose an election. And on the same count, I don't think it's an issue that's going to see us win seats or win elections either.
MARK TEXTOR: If you are a progressive party and you have at least two years until an election is held, the first question you should ask yourself is again: what is the right thing to do?
HEATHER EWART: Mark Textor was the opinion pollster for the Coalition at the last federal election and is mystified as to why anyone would think same sex marriage is a pressing issue out in the electorate.
MARK TEXTOR: I think Australians mightn't actively support gay marriage, but I think they would accept gay marriage going through. Ronald Reagan's pollster once said to me that there is no such thing as family values, there are only those things that are important to families - love, a sense of belonging, a sense of personal security. And if marriage consolidates the family unit, so be it.
HEATHER EWART: Back at the butcher's shop at Hoppers Crossing, anecdotal evidence would appear to back this up.
STEVE RUSSELL: We've had a lot of good positive response. Some people from quarters that I was quite surprised about, actually. I thought, "Oh, OK, I wasn't expecting that from you.
JOE DE BRUYN: Clearly there are some people who think this is not significant, but there are many people out there who do believe it's a big issue.
MARK TEXTOR: I think instead of jumping at issue shadows, they should get on and do it.
HEATHER EWART: For years, the national conference has patched together quick backroom fixes on this issue, never really resolving it. But the momentum for action is building, with the NSW State Labor conference on Saturday week expected to add its voice to the calls for reform.
JOHN ROBERTSON: This is a personal issue for me, not a political one; one of my kids is gay and I'd like them to have the same opportunity as the other siblings. It's an issue that's not one I've arrived at based on polls or a focus group, but a personal one as a parent.
HEATHER EWART: John Robertson is of course aware of Julia Gillard's opposition.
JOHN ROBERTSON: I don't think it creates any difficulties for this matter to be debated in that fashion simply because Julia has made her views known.
JOE DE BRUYN: Julia went to the last election with an undertaking that she would not change the law on marriage and therefore she has made an electoral commitment to the people of Australia and I believe that she will stick with that right through.
HEATHER EWART: But would a primeministerial change of heart really matter on a reform that seems to be generally regarded in political circles as Labor territory and true to its principles?
MARK TEXTOR: If you are unable to stand on those principles, unable to stand on those principles that people think you believe in, then they start questioning both your leadership credentials and indeed whether you believe in anything at all.
HEATHER EWART: Julia Gillard might be put to the test before the December conference, when the butchers from Hoppers Crossing and two other gay couples meet her for dinner at The Lodge at a yet-to-be-specified date. All part of a recent press gallery charity fundraiser, with advocacy group GetUp! winning the bid and nominating the guest list this week.
Will you be trying to convince Julia Gillard?
STEVE RUSSELL: Oh, absolutely.
JOHN DINI: Of course. That's the whole point of going there.
STEVE RUSSELL: She better have a good argument. 'Cause at the moment I don't think she's got a leg to stand on.
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