ON THE morning of 13 June, 2006 the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, Phillip Ruddock, called on the Governor-General, Michael Jeffery, to present a formal instruction to effectively preclude gay marriages in the ACT.

The Governor-General of course had no option but to accept the instruction thus ruling out gay marriage “… once and for all” according to Mr. Ruddock. I doubt that it will be once and for all but, at least for the time being, gay marriage in the territory is not legally possible notwithstanding the reality that long-term gay relationships have been a fact of life in the territory for generations. One is reminded of Mr. Bumble’s observation in Oliver Twist that “… the law is a ass — a idiot.”

I am not gay but I do have friends who are gay and they will greet this latest anti-gay initiative with a mixture of irritation and resignation. As for Mr. Ruddock, I am sure that it will not come as any surprise to him that homosexuality has been a fact of life in this country not just for a year or so but most probably from the time of the first settlement and, in the nature of things, probably long before that. Today it is an overt, widely recognised dimension to human relationships in this country.

The gay community is an active, widely accepted, generally affluent and entirely respectable segment of our community.  True, there are a few who are not overly impressed with this situation and, at the extremist homophobic end of the scale, there is a handful who are virulently critical of all things homosexual. That minority aside, the gay community is an important and integral element in the Australian way of life and indeed as it is in other civilised democracies around the world. Gays may be found in all walks of Australian life — politics, the churches, businesses large and small, the public services, the armed services, sport, transport, primary industry, the arts and most other areas of activity.

So, why did the federal government move to disallow gay marriage in the ACT? It surely wasn’t because they think homosexuals are grubby types who do dirty things to each other. Of course not. Nor would it have been because they are spreading filthy diseases because that is not the case. Nor because they are corrupting the rest of the population, including young people, because that too is not so. No, these and other offensive behavioural activities were cornered by the heterosexual community aeons ago and I would think they would generally apply to the gay community in proportion to their share of the overall population, perhaps marginally less so.

Superior to the heterosexual community

From my observations over many decades the gays are on average superior to the heterosexual community in terms of education level, income, dependency on the public purse, contribution to the arts and to sundry other areas of human activity in this country. In short, I have no doubt that the government’s recent initiative in relation to marriage arrangements in the ATC was very much politically driven. It was driven by votes, not ideological or moral considerations. On a personal basis politicians wouldn’t give a tinker’s curse about gay marriage in the ATC or, for that matter, anywhere else.

One of the most significant changes in all the democracies over the past few decades has been the accelerating dependence of political parties — especially at federal level in Australia but also in the states — on polling. Millions of dollars are spent on polling every year, especially in the lead up to elections. Much of that polling is very detailed because the more the politicians know about their constituents and their aspirations, the better equipped the parties are to formulate policies that will secure the vote of those constituents. The longevity of the Howard government would be due in no small measure to the use of polling. And we are not talking here about the simplistic level of polling covering such areas as age, marital status, number and age of children, household income and the like. That basic stuff is mostly readily available from census and other routine polling.

No, what the political parties are after is the kind of qualitative information that is at once more detailed, more subtle and, for political purposes, more potent. The political parties want to find out what the punters out there think about the parties and the politicians and why; what current policies they like or don’t like and why and what policies they would prefer; why they vote a particular way; their aspirations for themselves and their families; and so on. The parties want to know about our aspirations, our attitudes, our optimism or pessimism, our work, our play, our concerns in such central areas as education, health, law and order and other matters so that they may secure our votes on polling day by framing policies in response to what the polling tells them. Obviously, too, they have regard to what the media is saying, to the representations they receive from constituents, from various interest groups and from sundry other quarters but increasingly from polling. I have no doubt that polling has informed the government’s position on a whole range of issues, including homosexuality and gay marriage.

Of course, this situation is shot through with countless inconsistencies of the kind that are characteristically a consequence of what I might describe as attitudinal ambivalence to be polite or moral bankruptcy to be brutal. For example, some of the same politicians who led the tango to constrain the ATC on gay marriage may well, in the next round, give the key ATC assembly figures who led the push on gay marriage a gong in the Queen’s Birthday honours. After all their efforts on sewerage in Red Hill and road works in the Woden Valley, or wherever, they deserve no less. Even the winners need to cover their rears.

As they say, that’s politics for you.

Nick Evers

So, why did the federal government move to disallow gay marriage in the ACT? It surely wasn’t because they think homosexuals are grubby types who do dirty things to each other. Of course not. Nor would it have been because they are spreading filthy diseases because that is not the case. Nor because they are corrupting the rest of the population, including young people, because that too is not so. No, these and other offensive behavioural activities were cornered by the heterosexual community aeons ago and I would think they would generally apply to the gay community in proportion to their share of the overall population, perhaps marginally less so.

From my observations over many decades the gays are on average superior to the heterosexual community in terms of education level, income, dependency on the public purse, contribution to the arts and to sundry other areas of human activity in this country. In short, I have no doubt that the government’s recent initiative in relation to marriage arrangements in the ATC was very much politically driven. It was driven by votes, not ideological or moral considerations. On a personal basis politicians wouldn’t give a tinker’s curse about gay marriage in the ATC or, for that matter, anywhere else.