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28.4.07

Marriage Down Under

Australia's Labor Party has endorsed registered partnerships. The proposal is both less and more progressive than the civil union proposals here in the US (such as New Hampshire's recently passed bill). It's less progressive because the set of rights that they would grant is more modest, and supporters went out of their way to reassure the party's recalcitrant right wing that civil unions are not equivalent to marriage. But it's more progressive because, as John Quiggin notes, the partnerships would be available to people in non-romantic relationships, such as a carer and their dependent, which is a step in the direction of the "Beyond Marriage" principle of providing recognition, protection, and support to any long-term relationship of interdependence and care.

People on the anti-marriage side often get worked up over the term "homophobia," since taken literally it implies that opposition to equal treatment for homosexuality is rooted in visceral revulsion, rather than a principled stance. But looking at the arguments from Labor's right wingers, it's clear that in this case "homophobia" is a quite apt term. They are against registered partnerships because they would "demean" and "attack" opposite-sex marriage and "robs marriage of its unique and privileged status." The only way that expanding access to a right or status can "demean" the people who already had it is if those people think "eww, I don't want to be in the same category as those people."

On the other hand, another argument made by Labor's right would be better described as "homo-callous," though it rests on the electorate's homophobia. I mean here the US-Democrat-style argument that rights for same-sex couples have to be sacrificed to the all-important goal of getting elected.

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