Julia Gillard’s De-Evolution on Gay Rights

In October 2004, when asked for his opinon on same-sex marriage, Barack Obama replied, “What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman … we have a set of traditions in place that, I think, need to be preserved …I don’t think marriage is a civil right.”

By 2010, the President had softened his stance, saying, “My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.”

In October 2011, when asked if he would extend his support for civil unions to same-sex marriage, he replied, “I’m still working on it,”

And, this week, a fully ‘evolved’ Obama said:

“I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. At a certain point I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

This is a courageous move for Obama. He leads one of the most religious countries on earth. He is facing a difficult election against an openly religious opponent. He is not an atheist – he is a Christian – and his views will not be popular with many of his religious supporters. And yet, despite the possible political consequences, he has decided to speak out for what he has come to believe is right and just.

In contrast, our own atheist Prime Minister, Julia Gillard says she opposes same-sex marriage. She confirmed today that she will not change her mind on this issue, despite Obama’s change of heart. It appears that, like the religious zealots of the fundamentalist Australian Christian Lobby, Gillard’s mind and heart are shut firmly against reason and compassion.

Unlike Obama, Gillard refuses to ‘evolve’. In fact, it appears that she has ‘de-evolved’.

When she was at university, Gillard was a staunch supporter of gay rights, as this old news clipping shows.

“If elected,” said the young Julia Gillard, “I will encourage action on women’s rights, anti-nuclear policy and homosexual rights.”

What happened?

Gillard’s objection to same-sex marriage cannot be religious. She is an atheist.

It cannot be the result of homophobia. Gillard appointed Penny Wong, an openly gay woman in a stable same-sex partnership, to the very senior cabinet position of Minister for Finance and Deregulation.

It cannot be a commitment to the ideal of traditional marriage. Gillard, herself, lives in a de-facto relationship with partner, Tim Mathieson.

Gillard has hinted that her Baptist upbringing influences her worldview. But, it was obviously not influential enough to convince her that God exists, or that living ‘in sin’ is wrong. Further, some Baptist clergy have openly spoken out in support of same-sex marriage. Gillard’s opposition is in line only with hard-line Christian fundamentalists, not with the majority of Australian Christians, or even, necessarily, Baptists.

Nor can Gillard’s stance be based on populism. The majority of Australians clearly support same-sex marriage. The Senate Inquiry into Marriage Equality received an unprecedented number of submissions and, despite the best efforts of conservative Christian lobbyists, 44,000 of the 75,000 submissions support same-sex marriage. Even the Australian Christian Lobby was forced to admit to their members that they were ‘comprehensively losing‘ the debate in the court of public opinion.

Gillard’s position cannot be based on some conception that marriage and religion are inextricably linked. Indeed, the secular nature of marriage in this country is illustrated by the fact that the majority of Australians (67 per cent in 2009) are married by civil celebrants.

Nor is her intransigence based on ALP policy. She is at odds with the majority Labor view on same-sex marriage.

Gillard has even recently conceded that the legalisation of same-sex marriage is inevitable – and still she remains opposed.

As far as I am aware, Gillard has articulated no clear argument for her opposition apart from a slightly robotic:

“My position flows from my strong conviction that the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation and that should continue unchanged.”

So, one has to ask – why has Obama ‘evolved’ on this issue while Gillard seems to have ‘de-evolved’?

Political commentator Paul Barry suggests that Gillard’s opposition to same-sex marriage “is not mysterious at all to those who understand the power of conservative Catholic South Australian senator Don Farrell, widely known as ‘The Pope’.”

Farrell was one of the core group of ‘faceless’ men who conspired against Rudd to install Gillard as prime miniter back in 2010. According to former ALP deputy leader, Ralph Clarke, Farrell “controls the pre-selection directly or indirectly of every MP in South Australia. If you want to get on, you get on with Don.”

In fact, according to Wikileaks, Senator Farrell had the ‘inside dope’ on Gillard’s leadership aspirations well before that fateful night in June 2010 when she rolled Rudd. A Wikileak cable suggests that Farrell told US embassy staff as early as June 2009 that Ms Gillard was gunning for Rudd’s job. That couldn’t have been ‘common knowledge’. Could it be that Farrell and Gillard were doing deals well in advance of the 2010 coup? And was a stance against gay marriage a part of that deal?

Farrell controlled the votes from South Australia and as a former leader of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) he had tremendous influence over the votes of the union’s parliamentary wing. Votes controlled by Farrell were critical for Gillard to win the prime ministership in the party room. It’s not inconceivable that his support came at a price.

Gillard was never a member of the extreme right faction of the Labor party. She began her political career as part of Labor’s Socialist Left faction and later migrated to the centre. Yet now there are many, including Australian Marriage Equality national convenor, Alex Greenwich, who say that Gillard “appears to be captive of the extreme right of the Labor Party led by SDA union boss Joe de Bruyn”.

De Bruyn opposed the Rudd spill in 2010. But, when Gillard’s leadership position was challenged earlier this year, he supported Gillard. Is it possible that a commitment not to support same-sex marriage was part of some quiet back-room deal forged between Gillard, de Bruyn and Farrell?

If this is the case – and I freely admit this is mere speculation – it is likely that the ‘deal’ was based on de Bruyns personal power given that even his own union, the SDA, don’t seem to support his stance on gay marriage. Just this month, SDA Members for Equality spokesman Duncan Hart said he believes that most SDA members don’t agree with de Bruyn’s position.

“This is especially the case amongst retail workers, who are predominantly young and urban,” said Hart.

“It is farcical that our union leadership is so out of touch with members’ attitudes.”

And in supporting de Bruyn’s and Farrell’s view, Gillard has put herself at odds with the powerful Australian Workers’ Union. Prior to this year’s ALP conference, AWU leader Paul Howes described Labor’s opposition to gay marriage as “indefensible”. Even in terms of ‘placating the unions’ Gillard’s position makes no sense.

At the ALP’s National Conference in December last year, de Bruyn was not even able to hold his own right wing faction together on the issue of same-sex marriage. De Bruyn was booed and jeered by other party members as he spoke out against same-sex marriage at the conference.

Gillard’s continued opposition to same-sex marriage is contrary to the views of the majority of Australians, her own party, the majority of Australian Christians, the president of the United States, the new French president, Francois Hollande and even conservative British prime minister David Cameron. Her intransigence makes no sense in terms of her religious beliefs, her lifestyle choice or her previous passionate support for gay rights. Neither does it make political sense, given the widespread public support for legislative change.

The only conclusion I can draw is that Gillard sold out Australia’s queer community as part of a back room deal for political power. The only thing that makes sense to me is that Gillard is personally in debt to Farrell and de Bruyn and relies on their continuing support to shore up her increasingly shaky hold on the prime ministership.

How secular is a nation in which the prime minister is held captive to fundamentalist Catholic dogma? How democratic is this country when two men appear to control the prime minister’s stance on an issue which is so central to notions of justice, equality and human rights?

What does it say about the strength of our prime minister’s personal ethics if, in exchange for political power, she agreed to act as a ventriloquist’s dummy for religious zealots whose views represent neither her own beliefs nor those of the majority of her party?

Perhaps Gillard should consider that evolution favours those who can best adapt to changing environments. She, herself, has conceded that the political environment has changed with respect to same-sex marriage. And yet, it seems, while nimbler politicians are evolving, she has chosen to throw her lot in with dinosaurs like de Bruyn and Farrell – and we know how evolution deals with dinosaurs.

Chrys Stevenson

To help put pressure on the PM to change her position on same-sex marriage, please consider signing this petition, asking her to show the same kind of courageous leadership as Barack Obama.

Julia Gillard show leadership like Obama has – support #ISupportSameSexMarriage

Update 11 May 2012:  Crikey’s Jeremy Sear has now taken up this issue, asking the Canberra press gallery to start asking some of the questions raised in this post.

27 thoughts on “Julia Gillard’s De-Evolution on Gay Rights

  1. andy fitzharry says:

    Easy-peasy. The SDA may well be the ‘moral’ force behind Gillard’s apparent dishonesty but then again, she is so untrustworthy that it could just be she has long ago lost her ‘moral compass’ provided by her Baptist values and is now all at sea with nowhere to go but out the backdoor.

    Nevermind. I bet Tim could use her in his new snip salon when they move from The Lodge.

    Good riddance too.

    • Simon says:

      Because the cause will obviously advance further under Tony Abbott. If you want to criticise the status quo, it would be worthwhile keeping the alternative in mind.

  2. palmboy says:

    Love your work once again Chrys.
    I hope that one day in the future Julia will be racked with guilt for her disgusting behaviour.

    People can share their disgust by signing and sharing this petition http://www.change.org/petitions/julia-gillard-show-leadership-like-obama-has-support-isupportsamesexmarriage

  3. rainbowfamilies says:

    Wonderful Article Chrys. As Always.

    Julia maybe beholden to the catholic nutjobs in the party BUT as the most powerful person (and woman) in Australia, it is her call. She has decided to be a complete twat on this topic. History will judge her harshly on this (and rightly so) and any other achievements she may have will be overshadowed by this. History is written by the winners and we will win this eventually. I look forward to helping contribute to the history that names and shames Gillard as a homophobe.

  4. Gus Barnard says:

    Excellent piece once again Chrys. Really does make one wonder?!

  5. Jonathan Meddings says:

    She is insipid, spineless, underhanded and completely unprincipled. She sold out Rudd, the ALP and every member of the LGBT community. She is an utter disgrace and I have as little respect for her character as I do Tony Abbott.

  6. Nathan Thomas says:

    Awesome article.

    Gillard is a total shocker. No credibility left. She will lose the election regardless now but it would have been nice if she had one decent legacy to her name. She only has herself to blame

  7. Louella says:

    Great detective work. Entirely plausible speculation.

  8. Trissy MP says:

    You pose the answer “This is a courageous move for Obama” then ask the question “What does it say about the strength of our prime minister’s personal ethics if…”.

    Any first year management student will tell you that the worst type of leader is a leader who does not lead.

  9. largephallus says:

    As of the next election the gay rights movement will have no paddles left. Backwardser and backwardser.

  10. […] her sudden critical caucus support from far-right SDA leader Joe De Bruyn, blogger Chrys Stevenson asks: De Bruyn opposed the Rudd spill in 2010. But, when Gillard’s leadership position was challenged […]

  11. Miss J says:

    You know, I’ve always assumed that Ms Gillard is anti-marriage in general. Of course, you can’t come and say outright that you think the entire concept of marriage is outdated and completely meaningless without raising the ire of the bulk of the population who are married… She’s not married, she’s been in a long term defacto relationship (although personally, I much prefer the term “living in sin” – defacto sounds cheap and tacky), and is showing no signs of getting married. Not approving of marriage for anyone is a valid reason for not supporting marriage for ANYONE, straight, gay, whatever…

  12. Scott says:

    Many Christians are not homophobic in the slightest. There are always assumptions made on the basis that someone’s choice of socialising on Sunday (or that ‘other’ Sabbath day), will automatically determine their view on civil matters. It’s much like the often ignored fact that a huge proportion of union members vote Liberal.

  13. g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336a says:

    The catholic right has been a very strong force in Labor for decades, it stands to reason that they have collected ammunition and would not be afraid to use it in defence of their religious beliefs.

    Well said Chrys it brings yet another angle to this rather strange debate.

    Gillard is a strong and effective leader but like any leader she needs support, perhaps for now in a delicate minority government she feels this is just one step to far too soon.

    It is a great pity but that is how politics is played.

  14. g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336a says:

    Note : While I disagree I can see reasons for her decision.

    If Labor and Gillard lose power then Australia enters an Abbott led era of repression.

  15. Joseph says:

    Personally I believe that GIllard’s stance on the matter is a ploy to gain the votes of the LGBT community.
    Considering the opposition’s (Tony Abbott’s) stance on the matter, Gillard could draw on the issue during her election campaign and indicate that she may change her mind on the matter at a later stage (i.e. if re-elected) and this would potentially gain votes from the LGBT community at a time when the votes will count most.
    It could also be used as a distraction should some other scandal occur and this issue could be thrust into the media to take the spotlight off something else.

  16. Dave P says:

    Gillard has done very well leading the labour party in a minority government. As Chrys has eloquently pointed out, she is not a homophobe – her strange (and now unpopular) position is likely the result of back room power broker decision making.
    You think she is untrustworthy? You reckon she’s gutless? Fact: She has passed a number of very difficult reforms during a very difficult time for the labour party that can’t seem to find its @rse from its elbow. This two party preferred system is a crock of the proverbial and yet somehow SHE is making it work – albeit poorly at times. Would you rather Abbott maybe? Well that will be who we WILL get as our country’s leader should you not get behind the first female Australian Prime Minister.
    Wake the hell up Australia. Yes things could be a lot better – but under Abbott they will be a lot worse. Great article. Upsetting though that people find it justifiable to overlook all positivities of Ms. Gillard. Go join the Liberal party and bask in your stance of negative nothingness…

    • rainbowfamilies says:

      Dave P. Yes Abbott will be worse than Gillard. No doubt. But Labor is toast, they can not win the next election. I would be a miracle if they even got close.

      But you said “Gillard has done very well leading the labour (sic) party in a minority government”. I find that the most telling comment.

      Gillard would have done better had she “Lead” Australia and its people rather than the Labor party.

      It is that very thing, the pandering to the homophobic conservatives in her party, that has been her problem. She may be a leader of a fractious Labor party but she has comprehensively failed to lead the country. Yes, the minority government has achieved some significant reforms in a difficult situation. But Gillard position on marriage equality is (unfortunately) going to be one of the nasty legacies that will define her reign in the top job. She will have her self to blame for that. Not Abbott or the public.

      I have no respect for her at all. She has to earn it. Every time she speaks on marriage equality she says to me that my family, my children are not equal to her. I find that inexcusable. Whilst I will not celebrate Abbott and the Coalition coming to power, I dread it – I will celebrate her demise.

      And I don’t subscribe to the absolute that the ALP is so much better than the Coalition on other policy either (think refugee policy!!!!). They are so similar, it is disturbing. Both the ALP and Coalition are right leaning parties, with only one slightly worse than the other.

      Why on earth would someone get behind a leader of a party who says you are NOT deserving of equality (that applies to Gillard and Abbott).

      • Dave P says:

        Thank you Mr. Rainbowfamilies for your articulate and well-presented response.
        I completely identify with your frustration over such an important issue that really does get to the heart of Australian equality/prejudice. I find it abhorrent Prime Minister Gillard’s stance on same-sex marriage. I am not gay or married or have a family, and I can only imagine how intensely irritating and utterly ridiculous this situation must be, given my own strong feelings.
        However I feel that as we are a part of a two-party preferred system, with The Greens as the only real left leaning party, we need to accept that certain reforms will occur at particular times under different party governments. Meaning, as reprehensible as it is not to legislate for same-sex marriage, this is a “contemporary” reform, and some people/parties/governments/countries around the world, are slower to get their heads around it than others. Prime Minister Gillard thought she would do well in the top job, and to get there she (very plausibly) made a shonky deal with some conservative muppet(s). Is this not how the major parties politics works? Sell your soul for the good of the party and you might achieve some reforms? Versus remaining true to your ideologies and not get very far? I think both models are contain very defensible ethical arguments. Not everyone can be a Bob Brown (if only).
        In a nutshell I think that I agree entirely with your sentiments, but not with your logic. I think that I see a greater divide between the Labour and the Coalition than do you (very importantly in environmental reforms e.g. Mining and Carbon taxes). I am also surprised you don’t reference the Coalition’s overall stance on gay rights, refugees, immigration etc. and yet only attack Prime Minister Gillard’s – the leader of the much more moderate party in this case. If you believe that there will be no difference between the two parties in the time it takes to legitimise gay marriage, and that’s all you care about, then sure, I can see where you’re coming from. But I don’t believe that. I believe it’ll take WAAAAY longer under anyone leading the Coalition, and that you’re kidding yourself if you don’t.
        So to answer your final question: “Why on earth would someone get behind a leader of a party who says you are NOT deserving of equality?” Because they’ll say that you ARE, sooner. And besides, I wouldn’t get directly behind her. I’d vote Green and get indirectly behind her.

      • rainbowfamilies says:

        Dave, I don’t dismiss your point. The ALP is more moderate than the Coalition in many policy areas, however the current “moderate” position of the ALP is still slight to the right of Fraser’s government in many respects. We are stuck with a 2PP system. Would I prefer ALP rather than Coalition in government. Absolutely. But what I prefer wont make a difference when the election is called. The ALP is gone. No one seriously believes they will survive. Least of all the ALP!!! So it makes the decisions of the leadership (Gillard et al) even more frustrating. They could go all out to leave a legacy of a truly progressive government or they can ape the coalition with their policies (as they are currently doing in so many areas…..need I mention refugees???). Gillard is a spineless political hack and has blown her opportunity to be seen as a reformer for justice (in regards to ME and Refugees etc). She deserves everything she gets. She is an adult and she has made these decisions herself. No one held a gun to her head.

        I haven’t voted ALP since Keating. I will unlikely ever vote them again. I have never voted LIB/NAT and will never vote for them. I vote Green or Independent (but I guess that was obvious).

        But the reality is the ALP is gone big time next election. Oblivion for 2 to 3 terms. It wont matter what any of us left leaning progressives think or how we vote. They are gone. They will have blown their chance to be reformers. They will deserve their fate.

        We will have to suffer under a coalition government but hopefully with the way political cycles are these days they will have their margins cut back quicker.

        I should add I do not believe we will get marriage equality in Australia for at least 10 years if it isnt achieved this year.

        Gillard is the problem, the ALP is the condition. It all looks terminal to me. Such a waste. Sigh.
        :) rodney

      • Dave P says:

        Re. polls: Howard was in a comparable position prior to the Tampa crisis. His handouts to families also helped buy votes back too. Polls close massively close to an election. The carbon tax is yet to come into play. The game’s far from over which is why they won’t go out in the style that you desire. I think you’re (rightfully) upset, but I do not feel you are justified in making such vitriolic over-simplifications with Gillard. Great banter though – definitely enjoyed it. Fingers crossed less than ten years mate. Much love to you and your famdamily.

  17. rigbyte says:

    Excellent article, Chrys. Makes very good sense and is, as always, very well written and researched. Thanks. Although it makes me sad to think someone like that is the leader of our country.

  18. hui 567 says:

    My best friends sister is Greek orthodox and was married by a marriage celebrant fifteen years ago!!!

    Many Hellenic Australians are seperate from the orthodox church and have moved on leaving its values behind that are outdated

    Australias polity is ahead of its politial class who havent moved on

    Sad

  19. […] am no fan of Julia Gillard’s. In fact, I have publicly criticized her online, in the national press and on air. But, in this scenario, Gillard is not a politician; she is a […]

  20. […] may we ask which members of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) have been busy pulling Ms Gillard’s strings! Mr Farrell? Mr de Bruyn? What exactly do you owe […]

  21. […] believable, was the hypothesis that her Prime Ministership had been secured at the cost of a deal with fundamentalist Christians […]

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