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Opponents of gay marriage are fighting a rearguard action

By Kees Bakhuijzen - posted Friday, 16 March 2012

In this week's Q&A on Monday night, Bob Katter's ad attacking Campbell Newman for supporting gay marriage was the first topic of discussion. Even though it's good to see that this relic from a fifties mentality has met with widespread loathing and rejection, it is in itself shocking to see how a topic like gay marriage can still take centre stage in the Australian political landscape of 2012.

As a Dutchman who has been part of Australian life and society for more than nine years, I sometimes have to think hard about what makes Australians different from the Dutch – bar the stereotypes but let's not go there. When I came to Australia in 2002, I expected to start a new life in a nation that, being a modern Western society just like The Netherlands, was looking forward to embrace the twenty-first century wholeheartedly.

Bob Katter's ad, and in a broader sense the heated discussions that gay marriage still elicits in the Australia of 2012, proves that I have been wrong at some points. Of course my background explains a lot. But honestly, an action as taken by Bob Katter would have been absolutely unthinkable in Dutch society – by anyone, no matter how much they would have opposed gay marriage – at the turn of the century, the time when gay marriage had entered the political arena, just before it was legalised in 2001.


Last year former Dutch MP Boris Dittrich visited Sydney. Dittrich was the first openly gay MP in The Netherlands and he initiated the political debate on gay marriage. At the time the Dutch government was made up of a coalition of labour party the PvdA, plus the two liberal parties, D66 (Dittrich's party, slightly left of centre) and the VVD (in economic sense more like the Australian Liberals). Finally having a coalition without the Christian democrats of the CDA – which by the way is a most decent party that has very little in common with the pathetic rain chanting bunch of Fred Nile and his cronies – made new laws on issues like euthanasia and gay marriage a real option.

Dittrich told me about the long history before gay marriage became a reality in The Netherlands, how it was especially the PvdA, with a socially more conservative constituency than the other parties, that opposed the idea, and how he had to convince them that it was the right step to take.

Dittrich's words reminded me how the liberals of the VVD were on board before the Dutch labour party, and how much they had been advocates of gay rights since the 70s. Now that's what I really call 'liberal'. When I saw on Q&A that Malcolm Turnbull clearly would love to see the Liberal party accept the idea of a conscience vote on gay marriage, and when I read last year how Julie Bishop was ready to ask her constituency their opinion and act accordingly in case of a conscience vote, I only realised what an absolute shame it is that the Liberal party can't seem to bring itself to embrace the twenty-first century on this issue, no matter their own political, social or religious convictions.

Of course it is also very positive to see Queensland Liberal Campbell Newman giving his support to gay marriage.

Even though I don't think gay marriage is unimportant – as a defender of equality I embrace the idea wholeheartedly – I agree that the importance of the issue pales in comparison with what's really at stake in the current political landscape: the dire state of the world economy.

Australia may count its blessings by riding on an economic prosperity wave caused by the mining boom and our economic ties to growth economies like China and to a lesser extent India, recent developments and opinion by experts have clearly indicated that cracks may be appearing soon. The Chinese economy will not be able to sustain the growth levels we have seen over the past years and the mining boom can't continue on this scale forever. It is clear that the Gillard Government needs all its energy to focus on this issue by coming up with a clear vision for the future, and the same applies to the opposition.


So let's put gay marriage back to where it belongs: as a footnote – be it an important one – in politics.

In the end most Australians don't really care about this issue as it is too far removed from their lives. The average Australian cares specifically about one thing: Will I still have a job tomorrow and will I have enough super to sustain a comfortable retirement?

Over the past months I have read how some think the Greens take centre stage on gay marriage and how we are making something too important out of an issue that in the end is only of minor importance. Well, this may be true but this is only because of the constrained attitude of parts of Australian politics and society. Let's face it: gay marriage is taking Western nations one by one and it is only a matter of time before Australia will have embraced it as well. Those opposing it have locked themselves in a rearguard fight that doesn't fit a modern Western nation in the second decade of the 21st century. Gay marriage is about equality, no more, no less, and emotional discussions about tradition and religion should be left out of the discussion. The issue took up too much of the most recent ALP National Conference but the good thing is we got a conscience vote out of it. Come on Liberals, show us you really deserve your name and follow the ALP's example, so we can finally put this issue to rest once it is set in stone in the Australian constitution.

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About the Author

Kees Bakhuijzen is a Sydney-based freelance business and creative writer, translator, editor and proofreader. His articles have appeared in The Weekend Australian and several Dutch broadsheets. You can contact him by email:

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