In the US, the recent mid-term elections have brought some setbacks and disappointments, with extensive gains for Republicans and victories for some high profile social conservatives, and corresponding losses by some notable congressional allies. At the same time, the flipping of some state assemblies has dimmed the prospects for marriage equality in those states, and may have increased the prospects of new constitutional bans in others. Set against this, several observers have noted that there were also some counter-balancing gains. Prospects for full marriage have distinctly improved in Rhode Island and possibly Maryland, and for civil unions in Hawaii and possibly in Illinois. The election of a record number of openly LGBT people to state and local offices will also have an important beneficial effect on the legal environment at local level.
Elsewhere in the world, queer progress often goes relatively unnoticed in the blogosphere. This is unfortunate, as there is a great deal of progress in many countries, on many fronts: in parliaments, in the courts, in the arts and culture, and in society. To counter the American gloom, here is a run-down of some current news stories that have caught my eye:
Australia: Gay marriage
The leaders of the two major political parties are implacably opposed to gay marriage, but it is increasingly obvious that they are badly out of touch with their electorate. Most Australian voters favour marriage equality, and in at least three states, there are legislative initiatives to introduce same-sex marriage at state level, without waiting for the federal government. Meanwhile, at national level a growing group of MP’s are starting to show unhappiness with the official statement. They have forced an early vote, ,which could take place as early as tomorrow (Thursday), not on marriage itself, but calling on MP’s to “canvass” their constituents views. When they do, they will surely find that in many parts of the country, those voters are strongly in favour. There are also moves afoot to bring forward the date of the next party conference of the ruling Labour Party, to force a change in party policy in favour of marriage equality.
A vote on whether politicians should canvass their electorates on gay marriage is expected in the federal parliament on Thursday.
A motion from the Australian Greens, amended by Labor, and due to be voted on in federal parliament this week calls for all MPs to canvass the issue of gay marriage with their local voters.
It has reignited the debate on the issue, which is not supported under Labor’s national platform.
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Prime Minister Julia Gillard says she has no problem with the Greens’ motion passing in its amended form but the debate still has to be had at the Labor national conference before any policy change.
She said people were “getting way ahead of themselves” if they thought the issue could be resolved quickly, Ms Gillard said on Wednesday.
A number of Labor MPs have voiced their support for same sex marriage if a conscience vote were held on the issue but have said they would not cross the floor on the matter.
Australia will surely be joining other leading countries in providing legal recognition for same sex marriage. We just don’t yet know quite how soon.
UK: Gay marriage; Adoption, and religious opt-outs.
The principle of equality and non-discrimination before the law is well-established here. Civil partnerships are legally close to full marriage, but there is a growing recognition that “close” to full marriage is not good enough. There is mounting political pressure for change in all major political parties, by activists are not waiting.
There are court challenges under way to the current distinction between civil marriage for heterosexuals, and civil unions for homosexuals. In a coordinated campaign, eight couples (straight and gay, religious and otherwise, are making a series of applications for marriage or civil partnership licences which the law prohibits them. The departments involved necessarily must refuse marriage licences to the gay and lesbian couples, just as they must refuse civil partnership licences to the straight couples. These refusals will then be challenged through the courts. (It is worth noting that a cosponsor of the campaign is a religious group, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, LGCM).
A gay couple are starting a legal fight to marry after their application for a civil marriage licence at Northampton Register Officer was rejected.
Matthew Toresen and Scott Maloney, who are from the town, applied for the licence to challenge to the UK’s legal ban on same-sex marriage.
Gay couples can at present only apply for civil partnerships.
The couple are among eight taking their case to the courts, arguing UK law discriminates against gay people.
Their bid is part of the Equal Love campaign, which seeks to overturn the twin prohibitions on gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships.
Meanwhile, adoption agencies are prohibited by law from discriminating against same-sex couples. In spite of the clear legal requirements, there have been repeated attempts by individuals and religious organizations to secure exemptions from the non-discrimination laws, on the grounds of religious freedom. These applications have been repeatedly struck down by the courts. The latest example is of a couple wanting to adopt, but wanting to insist that their explicitly anti-gay religious views should not count against them in the approval process. That case is still before the courts. In another, the courts have ruled against the plaintiff. A pediatrician who works as an advisor on an adoption panel has refused to recommend same couples because she believes on religious grounds that they cannot be suitable, and has asked permission to simply abstain in such cases. The courts have dismissed her application, stating that this is not a case of religious discrimination.
A Christian adoption adviser dismissed for refusing to recommend same-sex couples as suitable parents has lost her claim for religious discrimination.
Dr Sheila Matthews, 50, from Kettering in Northamptonshire, lost her job with the county council when she asked to abstain from voting in same-sex cases.
She told her employers Northamptonshire County Council she felt children “did best” with heterosexual parents.
The employment tribunal, sitting in Leicester, dismissed the claim.
Concluding a two-day hearing, regional employment judge John MacMillan said she had no case against the council.
He said: “The complaints of religious discrimination fail and are dismissed
France already has a substitute for civil marriage which is available to gay and lesbian couples equally. (Several heterosexual couples have indeed been opting for this, the PACS, in preference to the more usual civil marriage). There is now a well-advanced bid through the courts to extend this equality to grant same sex couples a corresponding access to full marriage. The country’s highest court has asked the constitutional court to rule on the continued legality of the present ban on same sex marriage.
France’s highest court of appeal on Tuesday asked the Constitutional Council to rule on whether gay marriage should remain illegal after individuals asked a court to examine the legality of the articles in French law that ban same-sex marriage.
The Court of Cassation says gay marriage is “the subject of a broad debate within society, notably because of the evolution of morals and the recognition of same-sex marriages by the laws of several foreign countries”.
The unnamed individuals in August said the law was unconstitutional because it limits the personal freedom of a French citizen.
Germany: Social Acceptance
At Bilgrimage, Bill Lindsey has drawn my attention to an important development in the Bavarian Lutheran Church: gay and lesbian clergy will now be permitted to live with same sex partners, provided they first enter into a formal civil union – the closest equivalent to marriage currently available to same sex couples under German law. I will have some reflection on the religious significance of this later. For this post, his personal observations based on direct experience is relevant:
Some of my partner Steve’s roots lie in Bavaria, in the same staunchly Catholic region of the Oberpfalz from which the current pope comes. We’ve visited his cousins there, and they’ve visited us and his family in Minnesota……..
And though they live in a small village in a deeply (and exclusively) Catholic area of Germany, they don’t have a homophobic bone in their bodies, and casually invite Steve and me to share a bedroom and bed when we visit. It’s not even a question.
This complete and unequivocal social acceptance of same sex relationships is increasingly taken for granted right across Western Europe, to the extent that where overt discrimination is encountered, it comes as a complete surprise and shock to the system.
China: Social Acceptance
Although classical Chinese culture had a well established tradition of accepting homoerotic relationships (as long as they did not interfere with the obligation to create and raise children), homosexuality was clamped down on by the twentieth century Chinese communists as an “imperialist” import. That attitude is now changing rapidly, especially with the help and support of some parents of gays, such as the influential magazine editor, Mama Wu:
Chinese society has been making steady progress toward greater acceptance of LGBTs. Now a former magazine editor has a message for the nation’s parents of gay children: it’s okay.
Wu Youjian, 63, learned over a decade ago that her son was gay. In a nation where children are under enormous pressure to marry and have their own offspring, parents hearing such news often take it badly; sometimes parents break off relations with gay children. Other times, they experience a deep sense of shame and contemplate suicide. The woman who has become known as “Mama Wu” instantly arrived at a different response: acceptance. “I told him, there’s nothing wrong with liking boys and it’s no big deal,” Wu told CNN in a Nov. 16 article.
Five years after he came out to her in 1999, Mama Wu’s son, 30-year-old Zheng Yuantao, made a television appearance to talk publicly about being gay–and Mama Wu was there with him to offer her support.
Malaysia: Out in Film
In addition to support from friends and family, another path to social acceptance is through the popular media. In Muslim Malaysia, preview audiences have seen advance screenings of the country’s first gay-themed movie.
Muslim-majority Malaysia’s first gay romance movie opens with playful scenes of a bare-chested male couple massaging each other on a beach at night – but their euphoria soon evaporates in a story that seeks to placate both conservative government censors and contemporary audiences hungry for edgy material.
“Dalam Botol,” or “In A Bottle,” is a Malay-language film about a man who gets a sex change operation because he thought it would satisfy his male lover, but ends up regretting it. The film earned applause from movie bloggers invited to its first public screening Wednesday, three months before its scheduled nationwide release.
“Even five years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to make it,” Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman, the film’s producer and writer, said after the screening. “I’m glad that at this time, at this moment, we can show it.”
- Labor stoush may not be end of gay debate (news.theage.com.au)
- Gay Marriage, UK: The Legal Challenge Begins (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)