Browned off by bigotry: a campaigner’s insight into the Queensland Civil Partnerships Bill

In late October 2011, Queensland Treasurer, Andrew Fraser announced his plan to introduce a Civil Partnerships Bill to the Queensland Parliament before Christmas.  Since then, my friend Phil Browne and his colleagues have been actively involved in lobbying in support of the bill, and monitoring reaction to it.  

It’s been an emotional experience for Phil and I hope you will be as moved (and incensed!) as I was by his very personal account from the ‘campaign trail’. What follows is  a longer version of an article that will appear in the December edition of Queensland Pride

If you are moved by the words of my guest blogger, please, take an extra moment to take some of the steps he suggests at the end of this post.  Marriage equality is fast gaining momentum – the only thing that stands in our way is apathy.

Browned off by bigotry: a campaigner’s insight into the Queensland Civil Partnerships Bill

by guest blogger, Phil Browne

Queensland’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual) community has been buzzing since Queensland MP, Andrew Fraser, surprised us all by announcing his intention to introduce a Civil Partnerships Bill to the Queensland Parliament. Like many other Queenslanders, both gay and straight, I don’t care about the timing of the Bill or even if it’s a political stunt. Improving our rights late, is better than not at all.

I was among the dozens of marriage equality supporters who packed into the public gallery of Parliament House on 25 October 2011 to hear Andrew Fraser explain his proposal. I was both moved and elated when his presentation drew a spontaneous burst of applause from the public gallery. My optimism grew as the Premier spoke very strongly in support of civil unions. It was exciting to be amongst such positive energy at Parliament House.

I  tweeted:

“Thank You @TheQldPremier @AndrewFraserMP for supporting#QldCivilUnions & @gracegracemp for calling “here here” in Parliament RT”

and:

Here’s the text of Queensland’s Civil Partnerships Bill 2011 introduced to Parliament 2 days ago http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/Bills/53PDF/2011/CivilPartB11_P.pdf #lgbt #gay

Next, the Bill was referred to a Parliamentary Committee for their scrutiny. As part of this process, submissions were called for and public hearings scheduled. The committee is due to return their recommendations to Parliament by 21 November. Full content should be made available on here.

A return trip to Parliament the following week provided a sad reality check. LNP and independent MPs attacked the Bill with relentless vigour. It was very obvious they wanted to kill this Bill and keep us as second class citizens. With the Opposition and independents yelling their arguments and snide put downs (presumably based on homophobia and/or ignorance) coming thick and fast it was impossible not to take their opposition as a personal attack. These MPs didn’t even know me, yet here they were yelling out reasons to deny me justice. I wanted to respond to their pathetic reasoning, but we’d been warned that any calling out or even touching the gallery handrail could see us ejected. As a homosexual, you half expect this sort of abuse in the streets, but not in the place where laws are made – supposedly to protect people.

As Andrew Fraser explained, civil unions are inferior to marriage but it’s the best a state government can do. Only the Federal Government has the power to legalise same-sex marriage. So what are some MPs opposed to? Why not allow Queensland to follow Tasmania, Victoria, NSW and the ACT who already have civil unions? It certainly looks to me like they want to prevent treating queers as equal and will do anything to achieve this.

I  tweeted:

@AndrewFraserMP Great responses to the LNP Kawana MP at Parl today “mate” Shameful LNP opposing equality. Thank you for doing right thing.” 

(My reference to “mate” related to Andrew Fraser addressing a fellow MP as “mate”, rather than “the honourable member”, to indicate that the MP was being totally unreasonable in his objections to the Bill. Well done Mr Deputy Premier!)

A particularly nasty insinuation was that the Civil Partnerships Bill should be dismissed because it did not enjoy wide community support. We knew this was untrue, but Independent MP Chris Foley gloated that, on the day submissions were to close, of more than 300 submissions received, only nine supported the Bill. My fellow advocates and I were totally stunned to hear this. The four of us had each lodged a submission; could there really only be five other people in the entire state who had bothered to put their support for the Bill in writing? This was hard to believe, but it sent us into immediate action mode. I sent out a bulk e-mail and urged my social networks to get writing.

On Facebook and Twitter I wrote:

ONLY 9 SUBMISSIONS FOR #QldCivilUnions 292 AGAINST Say you want Civil Unions BEFORE 5PM TODAY e-mail to lapcsesc@parliament.qld.gov.au RT”

“URGENT ACTION CALL: MAKE A SUBMISSION TO QLD LEGAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE BY 5PM TODAY http://fb.me/1jUUxu1tr “. 

It was incredibly frustrating. We knew most Queenslanders were behind us, we just had to motivate the masses to make their feelings known.

As with the recent Rip & Roll debacle where the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) orchestrated a campaign to remove tasteful and discrete safe sex posters from bus shelters, our social media networks were invaluable for spreading the word and getting people to take action. We imagined how the ACL would now be lobbying their members and church groups to make submissions opposing civil unions. But each time they oppose us, we become better organized and our networks grow.  Now, instead of contacting the company Adshel, we were rallying the troops to make last minute submissions. Interesting how the Australian Christian Lobby group has been involved in both these cases.

Our next task was to challenge LNP Leader Campbell Newman. Despite previously stating his support for same-sex marriage, Newman announced that, not only would he continue the LNP’s long-standing opposition to marriage equality, he would deny LNP MPs a conscience vote.

I tweeted:

Attending Campbell Newman “Listening post” TODAY 12:00-12:45 Seils Park Toomba Ave Ashgrove to ask why not allow Civil Union conscience vote”

and

“If you can get to Ashgrove at midday TODAY to challenge Newman, then join us – Map:     http://www.whereis.com/qld/ashgrove/toomba-av?id=11EABE92390B32

Numerous equality advocates questioned Mr Newman in his Ashgrove electorate, but he was adamant his decision would stand. At least I heard it direct from his own mouth.  When I vote I will remember how Newman set aside his personal convictions on justice and equality for no better reason than to score political points. It was a truly appalling display of political amorality.

The following week brought another return visit to Parliament House for a full day of public hearings by the Parliamentary Committee. Twenty-one different groups were invited to share their views about the Bill directly with the committee comprising six MPs (ALP, Independent and LNP).

I tweeted:

Program & witness list for public hearing day 10 Nov for #QldCivilUnions Bill http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/LAPCSESC/                                        2011/CivilPartnerships/hp-10Nov11.pdf  

Will speakers speak of LOVE or HATE??”

The eleven groups invited to speak against civil unions were all church or “family” organisations. I’m a strong person, but I was fearful of what toxic hateful comments I might hear coming from these groups, and how I might react to them. Walking to Parliament House I saw a lesbian couple walking hand in hand, and I took this to be an omen that all would be okay. If there was any justice in the world, love would prevail.

Waiting for entry to the Parliamentary Annexe a crowd was gathering for the day’s proceedings. It was very haunting looking around the crowd at people you did not know. Were they friend or foe? It was hard to tell which side people were on. Who would soon stand up and spew filthy hate from their mouth, and who would speak of love and acceptance? All this was unknown. I acknowledged an elderly woman – could she be a grandparent here to support her gay grandchild, or someone with a narrow closed mind convinced that gays were inferior? I soon learnt she was the latter.

Upon entering the large room where the public hearing was being held, I saw rows of chairs with an aisle down the middle. For the first time it struck me, “Where does everyone sit?” Is there one side for supporters and one for opponents? It was hauntingly like attending a wedding and determining which side to sit on depending if you knew the bride or groom. I almost laughed out loud with the irony of the situation. Here I was fighting for the right of same sex couples (in addition to opposite sex couples) to have legal and social recognition of their love. I was here because I wanted, one day, to see rows of seats for bride and bride and groom and groom, and here I was deciding whether to sit on the bride’s side or the groom’s! To this day I find this rather hilarious. As people who live our whole lives with discrimination, we learn to make light of things that may otherwise upset us, though yes – it still hurts.

The public hearing began with those arguing against civil unions and Wendy Francis from the Australian Christian Lobby was first to speak. Speaker after speaker spoke of the “harm” granting civil unions would do, especially to the “children” and the “family”. It was getting very monotonous and I was wondering when they were going to say it would fade the curtains too! One “family” organisation representative compared us to nuts and bolts, saying a nut and a bolt “marry”, but two nuts or two bolts “are not biologically complementary”.

Another presented each committee member with a photo of a 2.25 metre high basalt sculpture from the 19th century BC – the Amorite dynasty. It contained the Code of Hammurabi which was 282 ancient “laws” written in cuneiform, the script of the Babylonians. Apart from thinking can someone tell this man it’s 2011 not the 19th Century BC, the statue was extremely phallic looking. Like many others, including the committee I suspect, I was left scratching my head and thinking, “When are you going to present your “real” argument?” If it wasn’t November, you could have thought it was April Fools’ Day.

Some speakers seemed not to comprehend the Bill would also allow heterosexual couples to enter civil unions.  Instead they spoke only of the harm that would ensue if homosexual couples are granted this right.  Even when MPs responded that civil unions will provide immediate legal protection to the children of heterosexual parents (who, otherwise, may have to wait for up to two years for recognition of their defacto status), the speakers remained opposed.

But there were some light moments. When the opponents were making their case, the committee’s raised eyebrows and shaking heads (and even laughter once when threesomes and foursomes were suggested) spoke volumes. It did occur to me (and perhaps to the committee) that these conservative Christians seem to have kinkier sex fantasies than us!

Attending the parliamentary hearing had an added bonus; by the end of the session I had composed a list of churches never to send a gay person to, for fear of them being cajoled into an ex-gay program!

Something that shocked me was that some of these opponents with such distorted views were younger people. Curiously, I was also surprised that some were so good looking – Wendy Francis, for example, is a surprisingly attractive woman, and a couple of the nice reverends would certainly turn heads in a gay bar. I guess I had this perception they would all be old and ugly, like their out-dated and ugly prejudices. Perhaps I was expecting a room full of Fred Niles and Jim Wallaces.

I was also shocked to hear representatives of so many supposedly “loving” churches make the wildly outrageous (and completely unsubstantiated) claim that civil unions will cause “social breakdown”, “family breakdown” and “breakdown the social fabric”. Silly me!  I thought religion was about love, acceptance, and not judging others. It sure seems like a truck-load of judging going on here.

The tragic thing is that ignorant people with attitudes like this, many of whom are pastors and ministers, are spreading hate and using religion as an excuse. These attitudes inevitably contribute to LGBT youth suicide as people are told they are inferior and evil, and won’t get to heaven, leading many to feel they have no place in society. Sadly, they are also contributing to full waiting rooms at psychologists across the world. The human toll is immeasurable.

I was pleased to see MPs interject numerous times to correct speakers or challenge outlandish claims unsupported by evidence:

  • Numerous times MPs commented that speakers were arguing against same sex marriage, yet the Bill is not about marriage, and marriage is different to civil unions.
  • When a reverend raised threesomes and foursomes, ALP MP Grace Grace responded “Are you advocating that way?”
  • In response to a speaker saying that, granting civil unions was like changing the rules of a sport “for the sake of some who did not want to play the game in the particular way it was designed”, ALP MP Carolyn Male pointed out that the game of cricket and various football games have all undergone rule changes.
  • John-Paul Langbroek MP said, “Reverend Twinn, you say in your submission, ‘Other nations that have deviated from this bedrock definition have paid a heavy cost.’ Could you outline for the committee what cost they have paid?” “Do you have any empirical evidence?” It was great to see this being challenged, but my elation was quickly deflated by the realisation that, being from the LNP, Langbroek is bound to vote against this Bill – even if the reasons for doing so make no sense.

Everything said on the day can be read on the Hansard transcript here.
Some organisations seem to think that adding the word “family” to their name, gives them the authority to hate and judge others. As the opponents to the Bill concluded their arguments, I was left with the impression that the word ‘family’ had been hijacked. To these critics, a ‘family’ is an exclusive club owned by heterosexuals. As the self-appointed moral guardians of this club, they claim their right to determine who can join and what filthy riff-raff has to be kept out.  We homosexuals, it seems, are the filthy riff-raff – and that’s on a good day!

I  tweeted:

#QldCivilUnions Public Hearing: Christian haters shoot self in foot. MP’s raise eyebrows & shake heads in response to outrageous statements.”

Finally, we heard from the ten groups supporting the Bill. These included numerous church groups, PFLAG, Australian Marriage Equality, Healthy Communities, the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, the Anti-Discrimination Commission and  the Queensland Law Society.

I noticed that when real stories were told the committee concentrated and listened intently. As speaker after speaker stated the case for passing the Bill, I saw no negative facial expressions at all from the committee members. It was a refreshing change to finally hear the word ‘family’ connected with  “love” – something curiously absent from the presentations of those who claimed to speak in support of traditional ‘Christian’ values. The word love was mentioned repeatedly in the afternoon session and I was revelling in it. Finally this is what it’s all about … LOVE. Why can’t everyone see that? It’s so logical.

Stories were told of awful discrimination against same sex couples without legal recognition and protection offered by civil unions. With my health care background I, too, had seen cases where a family who rejected a child decades ago for being being gay, suddenly appear at their child’s death bed, claiming next of kin rights, and legally ordering that the same sex partner of 30 years be excluded from seeing their partner in love and life. One such tragic story told to the committee gave me goosebumps. This evil discrimination must stop now.

By the end of the day I felt confident the committee could see through the false and unjustified arguments against civil unions and would recommend to Parliament that the Bill should proceed.

It’s been a roller-coaster ride and it’s impossible to remain emotionally detached.  It’s demeaning to have perfect strangers brawling over whether you should have the same rights as other Australians. Seeing this in Parliament is challenging because you are not allowed to respond.

The battle will not be won until MPs debate and then vote on the Bill. This is likely to take place between 29 November and 1 December (with a high probability it will be the evening of Wed 30 Nov) and we have lots of work to do before then. Campaigners against the Bill, who sadly are much more militant lobbyists than us, are flooding MPs  with demands they vote against it. It’s essential that our supporters – both gay and straight – make the effort to tell their MPs to vote for the Bill.

If this historic Bill is to pass, we really need to engage our real-life and online networks and encourage as many Queenslanders as possible to contact their local State MP in support of Andrew Fraser’s Civil Partnerships Bill. Please do this before 29 November. 

We know some LNP MPs would like to vote for the Bill, but their Leader Campbell Newman will not allow them to vote for what is right and just – despite Mr Newman saying he supports same sex marriage – go figure! With enough pressure, some of these supportive LNP MPs may be “sick” on the day of the vote. This would mean they are not present and cannot vote against the Bill.  Similarly some ALP MPs have said they will vote against the Bill, and with enough pressure, some of them may be persuaded, instead, to support the Bill.

So YES, your say can make a difference.

I’m so disappointed that I will be in Sydney when the bill is likely to be debated and voted on. For those of you present in the public gallery when it passes – PLEASE STAND UP AND SCREAM YOUR TITS OFF FOR ME. Scream for me, scream for you, scream for justice, scream for all Queenslanders who will benefit from this Bill.

Phil Browne

Take Action Now!

To Support Civil Partnerships in Queensland

All Queenslanders, please contact your  local MP.

How do you do this?

STEP 1Click here.
Type in your address.
This will tell you the name of your electorate.

STEP 2 –  Click here.
On the right, half way down, you will see “FIND A MEMBER”
Beneath that go to “Electorate name” and click the drop down menu.
When you see your electorate name, click it to see your MP’s contact details.

To support the legalisation of Same Sex Marriage by the Federal government:

All Australians, please take action here.

Get Informed – Stay Informed 

Why is Fraser only asking for civil partnerships, not same-sex marriage?

Marriage equality advocates are generally opposed to the FEDERAL government
granting civil unions, as the FEDERAL government has the power to grant us full
marriage and anything less is second rate.

However, the STATE governments don’t have the power to introduce marriage at
STATE level, so this is the best the STATES can do – plus it puts more pressure on
the Federal government to act. Tasmania, Victoria, the ACT and NSW already have
civil unions.

The differences between marriage and civil unions are explained here.

Queensland Civil Partnership Bill:

Listen to Podcast – Great explanation by @GaySavvy & @GraceGraceMP listen from the 37:00 mark.

Australian Marriage Equality

You can  remain informed by following the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group. Join their e-mail list here , friend them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @AMEQUALITY

Queensland Pride

Queensland Pride will be keeping a close eye on the passage of this Bill.  You can sign up for updates from Queensland Pride on their website.  Phil’s article, above, is a longer version of an article to be published in Queensland Pride’s December edition.

More

This article also appears on the excellent blog, Putting her Oar In.

Anyone who supports marriage equality and gay rights (gay or straight)  might also consider joining the Facebook group, Straights with Mates. “Nearly everyone knows and loves someone who is gay. This group has no religious or preferential axe to grind. It is simply about loving and accepting our gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer and intersex friends, family and associates … and all those different to ourselves. And acknowledging that because we care, their fight for equality is our fight too. LGBTQI friends are very welcome here, too, of course🙂 “

4 thoughts on “Browned off by bigotry: a campaigner’s insight into the Queensland Civil Partnerships Bill

  1. Phil Browne

    As I expected – GREAT news on #QldCivilUnions – 21/11/11

    “Recommendation 1.
    The committee recommends that the Civil Partnerships Bill 2011 be passed”

    2737 submissions received by closing date – 2195 FOR, 573 AGAINST
    http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/LAPCSESC/2011/CivilPartnerships/rpt-007-21Nov11.pdf
    Still for Vote yet by ALL Qld MP’s. Tell your MP to vote YES

    Thanks to Chrys and Jane for allowing me to post on your blogs XXX

    Reply
  2. Yolande Stiffel

    I am not surprised by the various religions and their attitudes as I was deeply involved with the
    Catholic church; I was an APRE with Cath.Ed. and Eucharistic Minister alongside my gay son but when it was revealed that my son was gay, we were told our participation at Mass was not required because my son accepted his homosexuality and I supported him. Even some of our so called friends still make homophobic jibes even though they are aware of how I feel so what can we expect from so many of our bigoted MPs. They are all hypocrites!

    Reply
  3. Phil Browne

    Rally for Civil Unions outside Qld Parliament House Wed 30/11 5.30pm. Andrew Fraser addressing rally. Civil Partnerships Bill to be Debated & Voted on that night. In one week Qld will know the outcome.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Forty-third Down Under Feminists Carnival « A Bee of a Certain Age

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