Jun 22, 2012

Fighting A War You've Already Won: Civil Unions, the LNP, and Asshats

I went to university with this gay bloke I hated.

Hate's perhaps a strong word. As a kid, my mother used to tell me there was no such thing as "hate". "You can't actually 'hate' anyone,"  Mum said. "You just dislike them." Sounds fair enough, I thought. So I didn't hate this bloke. But I did come to dislike him intensely.

I got really worried that I was homophobic, because I didn't like him. I did a lot of thinking about it. I thought about other gay people I knew, some through uni, some through the theatre scene that I'd been getting into. I liked them well enough, they were good people.

I thought about this bloke, and how he was different. It irked me that he repeatedly used his sexuality to avoid being expelled from uni for poor grades. I used to take notes for people with a disability at uni - after each lecture I'd photocopy my copious notes and leave them in a folder for the anonymous recipient. One day I mentioned I did this, and the bloke laughed and thanked me for doing it, because he was signed up for it, and meant he didn't have to take his own notes. When I looked shocked, he said he had ADD anyway, so it was OK.

I realised that I didn't like the bloke - not because he was gay - because he was an asshat.

Having the realisation that gay people were people too, hence some could and would be asshats, was incredibly freeing. I didn't have to over-compensate and say "I LOVE gay people!", as if I were competing in some sort of non-existent gay-friendly competition. I could just go about my business, encountering others as I went, and simply interact with them as human beings. I could apply general principles regarding the human race to all minorities within that race. Some people are always going to be asshats. But by and large, most human beings are good people. QED.

I've often thought perhaps it's embarrassing that I had to go through that period of application of logic and reason.

But given the events unfolding around the issue of civil unions in Queensland, I’m wondering if it’s not happening enough. If we apply some logic, maybe things might make a bit more sense.


Late last year, the Queensland parliament, dominated by Labor, passed a civil partnerships bill. It would allow any couple, regardless of gender, to enter a civil partnership (commonly referred to as civil unions), receive legal protection as next-of-kin, and to have a state-sanctioned ceremony if they chose.

I covered the parliamentary debate the night the private member’s bill went before the House. The Liberal National Party, then in opposition, put forward a block opposition, describing the legislation as a stunt.

Now there were certainly questions to be asked about the legislation. Why did it have to be a private member’s bill, not a government policy? Why was it left to the closing months of the government’s term, as they faced a likely defeat at the next state election?

But regardless, the then-government’s majority saw the bill passed, and what you might call the “heart” of the legislation won the day. Gay people could have their relationship legally recognized and celebrated. It wasn’t marriage, but it was something.

Jump to last week. After a landslide victory in the March state election, the LNP announced its plans to change the civil unions legislation.

Some thought they would completely repeal the laws; but instead, Premier Campbell Newman announced the unions would remain, but the provision for ceremonies would be removed. That was the part that had most upset Christian groups (predominantly the very public Australian Christian Lobby), because the ceremonies were seen to “mimic” marriage, which to them was only between a woman and a man.

At the start of this parliamentary week, the LNP indicated the civil union changes would not be introduced for debate. But then, late on Wednesday afternoon, the media gallery was informed they would be brought in that evening, and would then be prioritized for debate and voting a day later.

There were also more changes – the name “civil partnerships” would be dumped in favour of “registered relationships”, and any split would no longer have to go through the courts, as that “mimicked divorce”. Instead, couples could “de-register” through the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Debate began after dinner on Thursday evening. After five hours, around 12:30 this morning, the bill was passed.

But something else happened during the debate. Around 10:20pm, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie told the house the state government would in the near future introduce changes to current altruistic surrogacy laws, to remove access to it for gay couples, singles, and de facto partners of less than two years.

This was out of the blue. The LNP hadn’t liked the 2010 Surrogacy Act, but Campbell Newman had indicated before the election that no changes were planned. One could speculate that more conservative LNP members have put the pressure on to act.

It’s very easy to jump on this and decry bigotry, homophobia and other manifestations of the simple truth of fear.  I’m sure commentators better than me could do that more eloquently. But as my rather long-winded introduction hopefully illustrated, I once applied logic and reason to a situation, and it helped. So I’d like to try it again.


Let’s give LNP members, religious people and any other opponents the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume they want to retain a male/female marriage as a societal ideal, best placed for the rearing of children, simply because they truly think it’s the most advantageous.

If this were the case, logic would dictate that society would naturally funnel its way towards that “ideal”.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve looked at your Facebook page recently, but mine is dominated by straight couples getting married/having children. Occasionally some split up, because these things happen. Now and then there’s a gay friend, carrying out life generally as a regular human being, just dating/partnering with someone of the same sex.

That’s anecdotal, of course, but 2011 census data released yesterday shows that the majority of Australians aged 15 and over are married.

Family composition figures have remained steady as well, with 45 per cent of Australians describing themselves as a couple with kids. One could draw from this conclusion that marriage to beget children is still going strong.

Anti-gay marriage, anti-civil unions, anti-gay surrogacy proponents can take heart - you’re fighting a war you’ve already won.

Gay people are people too. People who want to get married – like you.

Congratulations! I’m a straight woman with fine examples of heterosexual marriage all around me, and my partner of 12 years and I have not made that step. How are we more in tune with the social ideal than a gay couple who want to make that pledge?

If marriage is too huge a step, at least initially, what is wrong with a ceremony that “mimics” marriage? Don’t they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

And surrogacy.  I could not find any statistical information about the number of Queenslanders who’ve used altruistic surrogacy since it was legalized in 2010. But I would wager it’s a relatively small number. Even if all of them were gay, I don’t think the state is facing massed armies of surrogate mothers waiting to birth a new homosexual agenda.

Gay people are people too. People who want to have children – like you.

I’ve yet to make the choice to have a child – and I apparently could, reasonably easily, barring unforeseen fertility issues.  Many heterosexual couples/singles get surprisingly knocked up every day. Unplanned, perhaps unwanted, pregnancies.  How are we more valuable than a gay couple and a female friend who go to all that trouble for a kid? Do we value biology more than wisdom?

I had the “cherished” family unit of a mother and a father. In my case, it was functional and supportive. But is that because my parents were one man and one woman? Or because they were good people, who committed to doing the best they could for their (often ungrateful) children – and weren’t asshats?

If the logic allowed a refocusing from sexuality and gender to “good person versus asshat”, the perhaps some of these opponents would see is that what gay people really want – is to be like them.

And it's true. Some gay relationships are not going to make it. Some gay people are going to be lousy parents. But again, that's like you too.

As a journalist, I’m supposed to simply report facts. What I’ve tried to do here is remove excessive emotion. I refuse to get angry and attack the state and its leaders as backwards or bigoted. It’s ultimately futile.

I believe Queensland is a good state, where the good people outnumber the asshats.  And I think if more people sat back, realized what they didn’t like was asshats, not gay people, but that asshats remain thankfully a minority, then we might all start to get along.


  1. Well reasoned argument.

    If instead the government could pass a law denying access to surrogacy services by asshats then that I could get behind.

  2. Nowhere in the Bible does God disfavour asshats. Asshats flourish and prosper throughout the Old and New Testaments. Yet Leviticus unambiguously mandates that male homosexuals are to be put to death summarily (Leviticus doesn't mention lesbians, which, theologically speaking, implies approval, i.e., God likes girl-on-girl action).

    I have no point beyond these observations.

  3. This is one of the most interesting and helpful perspectives I've read around an issue I'm struggling to have a clear cut idea of for myself. Thank you.

  4. My marriage mimicks a Christian marriage. Hel, it was presided over by an Anglican minister. My marriage is also, by long degrees, not a Christian marriage. The simplest difference being that I and my wife are atheists. That's just the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure a lot of Christians could point to the sin in my life and my marriage. All things I consider to be fine.

    And yet my marriage has not taken a thing away from any Christian marriage. Clearly if it had there would be a similar public outcry.

  5. I find it entirely bizarre that the Christian lobby are upset about the mimicry of divorce. Like that's such an important part of marriage.

    "Don't take our divorce from us. That's a sacred covenant."

  6. Side note: Please, not "handicapped" but "with a disability".

  7. Hi Kate - my apologies. I've changed that now.

  8. Don't ever apologize for who you are, Natalie. Don't ever.

  9. I'm particularly frustrated because I voted for the LNP at the last election. I voted based on Labor's poor management record and the asset sales. I made the presumption that Newman would maintain his very left leaning social agenda in state government.
    Now I find out that I'm one of the bad guys who is responsible for repressing people based on their sexuality. I will never, ever make this mistake again.

    1. I do kinda have to say, if you didn't see this coming when you voted, you didn't do much research into your choice. It was a big part of my decision.

    2. I do kinda have to say, if you didn't see this coming when you voted, you didn't do much research into your choice. It was a big part of my decision.

  10. Danika Armstrong5:53 PM, June 22, 2012

    The LNP are asshats! Sorry to get emotional about the issue but I'm not a journalists and the was the best friggin law passed in QLD since I've lived here.

    Glad I didn't vote for them.

  11. I haven't posted on this before now even though I opened the page when you posted last night or this morning because my ranty pants were pulled up over my waist and making me really cranky. I still am.

    I don't accept that it is legitimate behaviour by the government to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

    I don't accept that either the state or federal government should choose to penalise or profit people living together on the basis of their sexuality.

    Apply the 2 year limit any couple receiving family tax benefits that splits up after less than 2 years has to pay them back.

    If the state government changed the marriage act to say that only marriages between a man and a woman "for the purpose of raising children" are legitimate, then my wife would be arbitrarily divorced by government fiat.

    Fuck 'em. Fuck 'em with a baseball bat around the head or elsewhere.

    So what else wasn't a priority is now going to be urgent? What else do they have in store?

  12. I think I read there have been 6 altruistic surfaces surrogacies since the legislation came in. 1 involving gay people. So you're right, not exactly a flood.

    I also find Christian groups who decry gay marriage as ridiculous. You have a lot of churches in Europe, especially the nordic states, gladly marrying gay couples. The Uniting Church in Australia has gay ministers. You have a growing number of clergy saying they're for gay marriage. Yet it seems arsehats run and dominate the debate and the churches. Insanity!

  13. A well told story GC.


  14. Clear and logical Natalie. Damn shame our politicians can't emulate such thinking. Being, y'know, old, I was raised with a fair few discriminatory attitudes. Never marry a Catholic, you can't trust [insert minority group here] and "queers" were just something nobody talked about, except in derogatory whispers or bad jokes. One of the things that makes me proud of my late parents is that they never stopped learning, changing their opinions and casting off those rotten old prejudices. As have we.

  15. Lovely piece of writing Natalie I quite enjoyed it. However I tend to think logic will not work. The decisions being made here are not being routed through a logical framework.

    Indeed the latest research suggests that people have a set of 5 core values. These are harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity. Those who identify as liberals (not LNP) are strongly linked to the first two, whereas conservatives identify fairly equally to all.

    Why does this matter? Well same sex marriages to a liberal are a simple matter of fairness and care ie that it disadvantages homosexuals. This easily overrides any other moral value. But for conservatives these aren't as strong and can be trumped by purity (religious), respect for authority (leaders say its wrong) and ingroup (hetero not homosexual).

    To convince this group logic will not work. You can explain to them until you haemorrhage out your face holes and no one will care.

    Your arguement needs to be reframed as drawing on the first two codes as well as minimising the others as much as possible. We are the story we tell ourselves, change that and you change the person.

    By the way I am heartened to read polls which show 60% of australians are for same sex couples

  16. I'll share my personal woe at the bottom of this fantastic post.

    I fell in love with a girl. I fell in love with a girl who also was born with a genetic disease that spends its entire time trying to take her life. If it wasn't for the AMAZING miracle working surgeons I never would have known of her existence let alone met, and fell in love.

    I would give my left nut to marry her when the time is right but really, I can't even talk about linking our relationship to her disease without fear of risking her life, or our relationship. Because of that disease she needed a double lung transplant. Because of that transplant she needs drugs that only a government can afford and thank the LORD ABOVE they pay for them. Thing is, if they find out we're in a relationship while living together she will lose her access to the government subsidy that pays for her life. We can never marry, less on her death bed. What a bitter sweet pile of shit that will be but do you not do it KNOWING she will die practically straight after?

    The best I can offer her is engagement but if she ever has to visit the government over her disease she HAS to remember to take that ring off or it will kill her ... literally.

    We can't have kids ever either. An over-zealous surgeon saw to that. Our chances at surrogacy took a battering along with the gays as well. Will they give someone with a terminal illness a chance? They won't with adoption. They'll let a junkie destroy their off-spring before giving us a chance at loving that kid and giving it a decent life.

    I'm pissed off beyond all measure of being pissed off about this, but what do you do? I don't have any answers other than there are people from ALL parts of society copping a shafting from the government as well. Not. Just. Gays.

  17. Good point, Steave, and well worth repeating. Ultimately, voters get the kind of government they deserve either directly or by virtue of negligence.

  18. Abbott next...

    Watch them whinge then, Paul. The rest of Australia haven't learnt like the people of Queensland are. Julius Newman said he was going to do everything he's done. But still, they voted for him ... in a landslide. Turns out, that landslide was a slippery slide into a bucket of shit.