Every now and then

I am reminded of how deeply conservative Australian culture is.

And I am disappointed. Not disappointed for myself, I am not directly affected. My life is both comfortable and safe. My relationship has long been deemed worthy by the state and is privileged by virtue of marriage and heteronormality. But what about the relationships of my youngest sibling, the one who had to flee our small town for the bright lights of the big city in order to survive? Why can’t the future partnership in that life be deemed worthy of recognition, privilege, protection?

I know that not all of those in homosexual relationships want marriage. I know in some circles its seen as irredeemably conservative, patriarchal and exploitative. But I also know that there are many couples who desire to have the love of their lives recognised as such. Who wish to celebrate their partnerships with a publicly recognised ceremony. Who wish to have their relationships validated as marriage. Who by virtue of the fact that the person that they share their life with is the same sex as them, their commitment to one another is not seen as being worthy of being ‘marriage’.

I believe that by recognising same-sex relationships in marriage, the relationship of same sex couples who choose not to marry are also validated, as the option would be there even if they chose not to take it up. They would be free to reject marriage, rather than be rejected by it. The privilege accorded to heterosexuality would be challenged.

Right now, the Rudd government is attempting to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to the vexed issue of same-sex marriage. On the one hand, the conservatives are being appeased. Marriage is deemed to be ‘sacred’ and ‘natural’ and is defined in law as being between a man and a woman (doubtless in that order). On the other hand, laws have been changed so that same sex relationships are recognised and a accorded a sort-of pseudo equality (with hetero relationships) before the law, that falls well short of being understood as marriage. (This situation is not without its critics). It seems pretty cowardly to me. For tax purposes, same-sex relationships count, so the State benefits.  In addition, to some extent, our human rights obligations are fulfilled as many forms of legal discrimination and inequality have been dismantled. But in regards to marriage, and the attendant status and privilege, the state will not extend these benefits to same-sex relationship. You know what, almost equality is not equality.

Here’s a list of how the Senators voted, so you know who to excoriate write to to express anger and disappointment.

Australia Day: Thank goodness that’s over for another year

Upon observing a spike in stats here on Australia Day, I note with some pleasure that my un-Australian musings from last year are being revisited. (My thoughts haven’t changed, create a new holiday, not on ‘Invasion Day’ and put it somewhere like July or August – a time of year when we could all do with a day off). This year I was again troubled by the thought that this year’s public holiday would be marred by the violence that soured last year’s events. (The signs were not good, not only the ‘cheap, cheap’ stores, but also Target and Big W, were stocking up on patriotic wear for the whole family and then there was the sudden appearance of a large Australian flag in my neighbour’s front window).  But things don’t seem to have been that bad this year. A quick (and I do emphasise quick, share in comments any stories that I’ve missed) peruse of the interwebs has not turned up the ‘Boozy Australia Day brawl deplorable’ type headlines of last year, but rather, I did find various commentators critiquing the seemingly ubiquitous ‘patriotic’ bad behaviour that emerges this time of year. See, for examples, Marieke Hardy on ABC’s the Drum, John Birmingham in the Brisbane Times, Shakira Hussein at the Stump, and tigtog at Hoyden About Town. Our Kev chooses not to indulge in rhetoric about keeping out the so-called undeserving to mark the holiday, he pontificates on other topics, (I wish the leader for the Opposition would show the same restraint).

(Prime example of patriotic bumper sticker)

Here we celebrated in a very low-key fashion, with a quiet BBQ with some friends that we have been meaning to catch up with since before Christmas. Unlike the rest of the street – the party only ended when our neighbour’s brawling united everyone in their desire to get them to calm down. After the police had been and gone and taken home a couple of young girls who didn’t feel safe in the street we could all get some sleep. This morning as I cleaned up the beer bottles from the front gutter I couldn’t help but wonder why a day putatively about celebrating the great things about  Australia so often brings out the worst in us.

Activism: Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009

Currently there is a senate inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009

From Australian Marriage Equality:

The Bill seeks to amend the federal Marriage Act so that same-sex partners are able to marry in Australia, and to recognise same-sex marriages legally entered into overseas.

The inquiry will be conducted by the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. No date has yet been set for a close of submissions, so we suggest you make your submission as soon as possible. The inquiry is due to report by 26 November 2009.

In 2004, an inquiry into the Howard Government’s ban on same-sex marriage received more submissions than any other Senate inquiry in history; 13,000 against same-sex marriage and 3000 in favour. Please join us in ensuring that the balance of submissions to the 2009 inquiry more accurately reflects majority community support for equality.

Anyone can make a submission, not just those in a same-sex relationship. It is also very important for our politicians to hear from family, friends, work colleagues and other supporters of our community.

Australian Marriage Equality have a niffy form set up so that you can send in a submission, and it is found here. I urge you to get political and support this important bill.  I wrote and sent in my submission before I had a poke around the the site which offers some great suggestions for what to submit. I had the following to say (my own words not bolded):

Dear Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee,

This is my submission to your inquiry into marriage equality. I fully endorse the submission made by Australian Marriage Equality in favour of the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009.

As our parliamentary representatives you are entrusted by us to act on the will of the people.  In light of polling which shows that a majority of Australians are pro marriage for same-sex couples I feel that it is wrong to withhold the privilege of marriage from any section of the community.  Particularly as the government now recognises and taxes as a couple same-sex partnerships, it seems to me to be churlish and bigoted to deny same-sex couples the status that is accorded wedded heterosexual unions.

Historically marriage was extremely patriarchal and based on an economic agreement between a groom and the bride’s father, the bride being exchanged between them like chattel.  Long gone are the days when women were considered to be the property of men.  Marriage used to have little to do with love and was undertaken for pragmatic reasons such as economic survival.  Marriage in (post)modernity is considered to be a union based on love, and the ideology supporting marriage has evolved from those unenlightened times when women were only valued for their reproductive capacities.  With the development of contraceptives, and changes in our socio-economic system, the production of progeny is no longer a defining characteristic of marriage.

Previously only men were given legal rights within marriage  – he represented the family, her rights were subsumed by his under the process of coverture.  Feminist agitation has removed most traces of coverture from marriage and men and women are now equal within marriage.  Both parties to the marriage have the right to vote and to represent the family economically.  Thus, the patriarchal family model, with the male who headed the household and represented it economically and legally, no longer exists.  There is now no longer any reason why the parties to marriage now have to be of a different gender.

As a married heterosexual women I do not believe that my relationship should be accorded status and privilege that is denied to other loving relationships on the basis of long gone past held beliefs and rejected ideology.

Today’s Post: Feminism + Activism

The thirteenth Down Under Feminist Carnival is up and is this month being hosted by Demezla of SAHM Feminist.  Demezla moved house while organising this month’s carnival, so, wow!  I am impressed at that level of commitment and the effort involved.  So go read what feminists down under have been blogging about during the month of May  (and let me tell you, it wasn’t all rugby and rape).

One of the focuses of last month was a call to activism by Lauredhel of Hoyden About Town.  Lauredhel wishes to bring to everyone’s attention the detrimental changes that are being proposed for access parking, under a scheme to “harmonise” the rules nationally, rather than the state by state system that functions currently.

The proposed new regulations would create huge problems for many people with disabilities. Lauredhel has the details here,  and an open letter to disability organisations that you can sign-up to. She’s also got a post about what really pisses her off about abuse of access parking, and it’s not what you might think.  Details about the current state and territory criteria can be found here.   Lauredhel articulates why this is a feminist issue.

Beppie has created a form letter to be copied and sent far and wide so that the proposed changes can be averted.  This letter can be modified as you wish, to suit your own circumstances and to include any additional ideas that you might have:

[Date]

Dear [Name OR Sir/Madam],

I am writing to express my concern regarding the scheme proposed in the discussion paper, “Harmonisation of Disability Parking Permit Schemes in Australia*”. The proposed scheme excludes a large proportion of people with disabilities who are adversely affected by regular parking. It does not make sufficient provisions for individuals who require a walking stick, or who use shopping trolleys or prams as alternative assistive devices. It also excludes individuals with disabilities who, although they are able to walk short distances without assistance, are negatively impacted by the requirement that they use distant or inaccessible parking. Consequently, it significantly reduces the number of Australians with disabilities eligible for a Disability Parking Permit, including many of those for whom access to accessible parking is a necessity for living everyday life.

Under current schemes, persons capable of walking only short distances without pain or other incapacitation can use disability parking spaces to access workplaces, educational institutions, healthcare services, shopping centres, and public facilities such as libraries and parks independently. Under the new proposal, these individuals will lose their independence, and be forced to rely on the assistance of others, contributing to their social and political isolation. People likely to be adversely affected include (but are not limited to) those who suffer from illnesses such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, those in the early stages of degenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, those with severe mental illnesses, and those who experience high levels of pain from past injuries etc.

In addition to having a profound negative impact on the independence of many Australians living with disability, this scheme also reinforces the harmful and narrow notion that disability must be visible—via the use of various medical mobility aids—before it is considered legitimate. If implemented, this scheme will particularly adversely affect those Australians who live with ‘invisible’ disabilities, who already suffer significant discrimination within the community.

This level of discrimination against people with disabilities is unacceptable in a nation dedicated to giving all of its citizens a “fair go”. People with disabilities are important contributors to the nation, and thus it is imperative that you expand the eligibility criteria for Disability Parking Permits before this scheme is implemented, for the sake of all Australians—but especially those who live with invisible disabilities.

Yours Sincerely,

[Name]

Emails can be sent to:
accessparking@fahcsia.gov.au

OR snail-mail to:
Australian Disability Parking Scheme submissions (East Wing)
FaHCSIA
PO Box 7576
Canberra Business Centre ACT 2610

Deadline for submissions is 5pm AEST Friday 31 July 2009.

I urge you to act on this issue.  Email or write to the above address and your state and federal members.  Click on the above links to gain a deeper understanding of an issue which I have only superficially addressed here.  Join the facebook group! If these proposed changes go ahead it is going to make life a lot more difficult for thousands of people, people for whom life can be a daily battle and who often have the least (physical/emotional) resources to fight this.

Acknowledgments to Lauredhel, Beppie and Demezla.

Hope amidst the darkness

Photo by Andrew Caird

Photo by Andrew Caird

I don’t have words to describe the horror of the weekend fires that have ravaged Victoria and taken so many lives, homes and land. My heart is heavy and goes out to the affected families. But one thing I have seen is that in the face of such tragedy Australians have reached out to help those in need. The government has pledged to pay whatever it takes to rebuild the decimated communities (contrast that to the underwhelming reaction of the US government in the face of Hurricane Katrina). But more heartening than that is the massive out pouring of charitable giving in the face of this disaster.

Public donations to Victoria bushfire disaster tops $30 million

Bushfires spur record blood donations

Fodder donations pour in for fire-hit farmers

Socceroos donate match fees from World Cup qualifier to bushfire appeal

Cricket proceeds to go to Vic bushfire victims

Cohen and Kelly pledge $200,000 for bushfire victims

This is not a comprehensive list. There are many other examples of people helping out, from finding ways to respond  locally – such as Clem Bastrow of the Dawn Chorus’ drive for toiletries, to internationally, this guy from Toronto, Canada who is auctioning his guitar to raise money for the victims of the fires and floods.

This outpouring of giving warms my heart and makes the tragedy a little easier to bear. The knowledge that many many people are responding to this by finding ways to do what they can for those that have lost so much. In this I find an Australia that I can be proud to be a part of, a humanity that I don’t despair about.

Unfortunately disaster not only brings out the best in most of us, it brings out the worst in some. This ghoul is claiming that the fires are God’s punishment upon Vic for decriminalising abortion. (This man is a Minister for Catch the Fire Ministries, he calls himself a Christian but is using human misery to peddle his beliefs). It saddens me that people are using this tragedy to point fingers, score political points and scam people.

View of Melbourne from scorched fields of Kinglake West Picture by David Geraghty via news.com.au

View of Melbourne from scorched fields of Kinglake West Picture by David Geraghty via news.com.au

If you do wish to do anything (donate money, clothes, shelter, look after animals, etc) this website is a good starting point – The Victorian Bushfires: Other ways to give

And the award for political scandal of the week goes to…

Well I’m not actually sure at this point who is going to win the award. I would have liked to conduct a poll but as I have neither the technical know-how nor the traffic to make it a practical reality, I will ask you to let me know your opinion in the comments sections. So here we have it, the nominees for the award for the ‘Political Scandal of the Week’ (ending June 15 2008 ) are…

  1. The human traffic accident that is the governmental power couple John Della Bosca (NSW MP) and Belinda Neal (Federal MP). John lost his license for speeding a few weeks ago was photographed on his bicycle telling a journalist to F*%K off. His wife was allegedly banned from her soccer team for kicking an opponent while down. But now they are in big trouble due to a ruckus at the NSW Central Coast nightspot ‘Iguana Joes’. ‘Iguanagate’ (I mean really can’t we come up with our own names for political scandals, do we have to put ‘gate’ on the end of every story involving a silly pollie?) has cost Mr Della Bosca his ministerial position and Ms Neal has been rebuked by her party and told that she must do a ‘Anger Management’ course. (Debate about whether or not the response to this story has been sexist or not can be found here). Our second nomination goes too…
  2. The Sex, Death and Rose scandal currently haunting the QLD state government. Now the story goes something like this (and it runs like the plot of a bad novel), apparently State MP Merrie Rose had an affair with the Premier Peter Beattie and was sentenced to 18 months gaol for attempting to blackmail him. Letters by a now deceased aid of hers, Ms Barbara Darrow allege that Ms Rose was having Ms Darrow involve herself in corrupt and illegal activites, covering up and destroying evidence of the affair. While it does not implicate Peter Beattie in illegal activities it may explain why Beattie gave up the Premiership last year. Details of the story can be found at Crikey. And our third and final (and my personal favourite) nomination goes to…
  3. The British public servants who keep leaving top secret documents on trains. Maybe I like this one because its just so British, or because it comes with the best quotes, but here’s the story from the BBC. In the same week that a senior official left intelligence about Terrorism on a train, details of a secret meeting of financial crime experts was found on the London bound Waterloo train. There is tension and confusion in London and files on train thing is turning their security into a joke

Our enemies don’t even need to hack into our computers, they apparently just need to travel on public transport

Keith Vaz, Home Affairs Select Committee chairman
So there we have it, nominations are now closed. Please give me your feedback as to whom the award should go to.