Love and marriage in the time of uncertainty

October 24, 2013


Mark Kenny

Chief political correspondent


Two Lego men decorate the top of Paul McCarthy and Trent Kandler's wedding cake prior to the reception at Martin Bosley's on August 19, 2013 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Marriage equality has been caught in the gears of the political machine for years, as Australia lags behind supposedly more conservative jurisdictions. Photo: Getty Images

The low point in an adoring hour between Julia Gillard and her supporters last month came when a boy bluntly asked, ”How come you didn’t let gay people get married?”

Her subsequent dissembling distinguished itself that evening for its glaring lack of candour. At the very least, same-sex couples were owed a decent explanation as to why a socially progressive atheist prime minister living in a de facto situation had styled herself as the last line of defence for a narrow definition of marriage that was no longer reflective of the society in which it survived.

Using a child’s question to license a childishly illogical response, Gillard reached back to her nascent feminist objections to ”a white dress to symbolise virginity” and to fathers giving away daughters to other men to somehow explain why the institution was simultaneously anachronistic yet needed no reform. Come again?

There was no reference to the socially conservative right-wing unions at the heart of her power base in the ALP. No admission of a secret agreement – express or implied – with the reactionary Christian lobby to hold the line against the moral relativists and godless inner-city progressives. Just more unfathomable obfuscation.


Marriage equality has been caught in the gears of the political machine for years. The great social laboratory, as Australia was once regarded, now lags behind supposedly more conservative jurisdictions.

This week the boutique parliament that is the ACT Legislative Assembly resolved to allow same-sex marriages to take place in the capital.

The Liberals held out, choosing to ignore the will of the overwhelming majority of Australians, particularly the progressive leanings of ACT residents. There was no conscience vote granted them.

The bill passed nine to eight with the support of Labor and the sole Greens MLA, who also happened to cast the Speaker’s decisive vote.

The first weddings will happen in about six weeks.

It is a partial, but nonetheless symbolically important, development. The marriages will be distinct legal instruments from those sealed under the Commonwealth Marriage Act and will not be legally recognised beyond the territory’s jurisdiction.

The local tourism and hospitality sector is now gearing up for a business bonanza fuelled by the pink dollar. If it is anything like the existing wedding market, it will be lucrative indeed, with hetero couples now routinely spending tens of thousands of dollars on lavish ceremonies and all the accoutrements for their big day.

By some estimates, about 1000 couples have already expressed interest in travelling to the ACT to marry.

But the threshold question, before people are metaphorically carried over the threshold, is whether the laws will survive the High Court’s withering eye. And, subject to clearing that hurdle, whether the Abbott government will then seek to legislate the ACT’s laws out of existence.

Gillard had at least allowed her MPs a conscience vote when private member’s bills from the Greens’ Adam Bandt and Labor’s Stephen Jones came on. But even that came about as a face-saving exercise for the then prime minister after Labor’s national conference backed equality but agreed to make the policy non-binding on its MPs.

Once again it was a case of two steps forward and almost as far back again.

While many disparage the push for marriage equality as inherently non-mainstream, Gillard’s inability to convincingly explain her hardline stance did much to erode her credibility – perhaps even among her enemies.

It also offered cover for other union clients in the caucus and for Tony Abbott, to whom the mantle of chief resister has passed.

He has refused to give his MPs a conscience vote on previous occasions and says it will be a matter for the party room.

He hopes it won’t get that far, which is why Attorney-General George Brandis asked ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher to hold off enacting the laws pending the High Court’s deliberation. She refused, arguing that she had promised the reform in the last election and that couples getting married did so with their eyes open. But uncertainty clearly continues to surround marriage equality in Australia.

In what is perhaps a quintessential example of the awkward interface between entrenched institutional power and the personal sphere, Abbott’s own sister, Christine Forster, is among those most eager for reform.

While she hosed down talk of her brother softening his personal view, she said neither would he stand in the way of a change if his colleagues wanted it.

In the end it should be no surprise that couples are prepared to take the risk of the laws being struck out, for what is marriage if not an expression of optimism and, ultimately, of great hope?

Mark Kenny is The Age’s chief political correspondent.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Informations about same-sex marriage in Canberra

Lyn Griggs, Ainslie. 

ACT Legislative Assembly debates same sex marriage bill

Lyn Griggs, Ainslie. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Q: What’s the earliest date my same-sex partner and I could get married under the new law?

A: The law is expected to become operational within the next fortnight. Couples must give at a least one month’s notice of their intention to marry. The Government says that weddings could take place as early as December.

Q: My partner and I live interstate, can we still get married in the ACT?

A: Yes. But the marriage may not be recognised in your home state or territory.


Q: What’s the process for getting married?

A: The ACT Government has published a fact sheet on the Office of Regulatory Services website outlining the process, including fees and requirements.

Couples must lodge a “Notice of Intention to Marry” with an authorised celebrant no more than 18 months but at least one month before the planned ceremony.

Both people must provide proof of identity to the celebrant and will receive a notice about the nature and effect of marriage in the ACT.

Q: Who can officiate over a same-sex marriage?

A: Celebrants registered with the ACT Registrar-General. Several celebrants are expected to seek registration in the coming weeks.

Q: My partner and I would like to get married on the beach. Can we get married in Jervis Bay?

A: Maybe. Although Jervis Bay is part of the ACT, the Federal Government could decide not to make the same-sex marriage law operational in the ACT’s coastal enclave.

Q: What about the Federal Government’s plan to challenge the same-sex marriage law in the High Court?  

A: If you’re planning to get married soon, you should be aware that if a subsequent court challenge is successful, your marriage may no longer be legally valid.

Q: How much will it cost for same-sex couples of marry?

A: Fees outlined by the ACT government add up to more than $500, with a commemorative package, marriage certificate, applications and notice of intention to marry.

Q: What if a same-sex marriage breaks down?

A: The same mechanisms for existing marriages apply. Same-sex marriages will be terminated either by the death of either party or by a court order.

Q: Where can I find documents to register for a same-sex marriage?

A: The ACT government had published forms at


Canberra Times

Bishop calls for a moratorium

September 18, 2013

Hamish Boland-Rudder

Reporter at The Canberra Times


New Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse outside St Christopher's Cathedral in Manuka.

New Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse outside St Christopher’s Cathedral in Manuka. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Canberra and Goulburn’s incoming Catholic Archbishop wants a moratorium called to stop the passage of any new laws on same-sex marriage.

Christopher Prowse, currently Bishop of the Sale diocese in Victoria, will take up the role of Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn in late November, and said he thought debate around equal marriage legislation took a narrow view.

He had not seen the proposed ACT bill, due to be introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly on Thursday, but said generally speaking laws should not be rushed through.

“This debate is happening at a time when married life –


heterosexual married life – and family life are at a very fragile moment,” he said.

”I think we’ve got to look at this particular rising topic in a calm way which is not being pressurised for time or rushed into legislation before a good, philosophical and reasoned debate can be had. I have a feeling myself that Australian society needs a lot more time to consider implications of legislation in this regard.

”I would be calling for more of a moratorium to suspend pending legislation so that we, over the next period of time, can discuss this in a more reasoned way, where both subjective and objective arguments can be put forward and discussed in an atmosphere of calm and reason, particularly holding forward the importance of traditional marriage and its role in society.”

Bishop Prowse said he believed traditional, heterosexual marriage needed protection, and while he would hear people’s views, he would not be swayed by statistics showing high levels of support for same-sex marriage legislation in Canberra.

”I’m a person who is open to listening to people but I’ve also got plenty of opinions of my own and I think the Catholic Church’s opinion on such matters – we represent a reflection on humanity going over 2000 years … I think that gives us a certain confidence to have our opinions heard and, in a reasoned way, debate with people,” he said.

”The Catholic Church’s teaching on the matter is that homosexual acts are never approved of, but persons who are of homosexual orientation, that a great deal of compassion and understanding should be shown to them.”

The stance is in contrast to his predecessor in Canberra and Goulburn, former auxiliary bishop Pat Power, who, while opposed to same-sex marriage, was ambivalent towards homosexuality.

”I think it is really important to honour homosexual people and to understand that if that is their orientation, that is the way God has made them,” Bishop Power said at his retirement last year.

”If they are expressing their sexuality in a particular way, I don’t know I would want to be too judgmental about that. I think God is often kinder in any judgments that would be made than sometimes other Christians are.”

The Australian Christian Lobby said at the weekend the ACT’s proposed legislation on same-sex marriage was inappropriate and should be overridden by the federal government should it pass in the territory. But the group fell short of committing to a High Court challenge.

On a separate issue, Bishop Prowse had high praise for the work of the royal commission into institutional abuse, which began public hearings in Sydney this week. He hailed the bravery of victims who spoke out against abuse, and said the Church would support the commission and any victims in every way possible.

Bishop Prowse will be installed in a ceremony at St Christopher’s Cathedral on November 19. Before then he will be on Church business in Rome and India.
Canberra Times