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Friday, 21 September 2012

Bernardi's sacking means homophobia is not OK

A disgraced Bernardi sneeking into London.
It was a swift and ignominous exit that saw Cory Bernardi dropped from his role on the Opposition front bench, board a plane and arrive in the UK where he was booked to speak to a gathering of young conservatives. He was out and good riddance. Even UK conservatives condemned his views. For Opposition leader Tony Abbott, Bernardi's sin might have been to stray from the Party line on same-sex marrige when he warned that allowing the proposed change to the Marriage Act in favour of same-sex couples might lead in future to official sanction for those who want to practice bestiality also. Yeah, sure, Cory. The speech, delivered in measured tones within the Senate chamber, predictably caused outrage within the wider community. Although he retains his Senate seat, Bernardi's axing as parliamentary secretary was the result but the man's form on many contentious issues set him up to fail.

There have been two votes in as many days on same-sex marriage in the Parliament, and both failed to bring about change. They did so because Julia Gillard declined to make support for same-sex marriage Labor Party policy, allowing instead a conscience vote for Labor parliamentarians. The Opposition leader decided that his party's policy would be to oppose the proposed changes. The sole Greens MP voted for the changes and the independents in the Lower House were split on the issue. The Senate followed suit, so same-sex couples will have to wait - again - for this long-delayed change in Australian law to rectify a glaring breach of the human rights of a significant component of the population.

But homosexuality has been normalised for most Autralians for some time. It came up again last night during the screening of an episode of the ABC's TV drama Lowdown, written by the talented Adam Zwar. Here's the synopsis:
When high profile footballer Kade Thompson (Brett Tucker) decides to announce his homosexuality in the Sunday Sun, his only request is that a gay writer does the interview. With no gay writers at the Sunday Sun, the editor calls upon Alex to write the story, telling Kade – and Alex – that Alex is gay. But will the editor’s ruse affect Alex’s chances with the hot new sandwich girl, Jane (Jess Harris)? And will Kade really be the first AFL player to go through with outing himself?
Kade's proposal to out himself in the media is certainly fraught but among those involved, in the newsroom, there is little sign of dismay at the footballer's way of life. The program uses humour to defuse any lingering doubts about how 'right' it feels to contemplate a public figure who is also a practising homosexual. It's clearly regrettable how much anguish accompanies Kade's decision to come out about his sexuality, and the burden falls back on those who express dislike of gays. In one scene set in the back seat of a taxi, Kade decides to grill Alex to find out if he's really gay. Alex's way to deflect attention from his own duplicity is to ask the driver to turn on the radio, which reveals a footballer speaking against homosexuality in the game, something that actually happened in Australia not so long ago. But Alex, a journalist who has seen a lot of things and so is quite blase about most human foibles, asks the driver to turn the offensive broadcast off.

Public outrage against Bernardi's Senate speech led to Tony Abbott turning the volume down on the senator, and that's a welcome sign of how things really stand within the broader community. There are now moves to change the law in the state of New South Wales. What needs to be done to accomplish the goal of legislative change at the federal level is for all Australians to seek to change things where they live and work so that homosexuals can feel welcome and relaxed. There is another thing that Australians can do to promote legislative change, and that is to vote Green. The Australian Greens are the only party that carry support for same-sex marrige on their policy platform, so support for them is support for something that has waited long enough now for ratification in the statutes. The need is pressing, as Kade noted while talking to Alex about his reasons for coming out: young gay people feel discriminated against and it is young people, especially males, who are dying by their own hands in Australia at an unacceptable rate.

Support for same-sex marriage means that you want to normalise homosexuality, and this is without question a human rights issue. You have one vote to make a change on this pressing issue, so vote Green in 2013.

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