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Gillard on equal marriage rights

October 8th, 2011

In the event that Julia Gillard lasts as PM until December, she’ll presumably be faced with a resolution making equal marriage rights part of Labor policy. Gillard’s handling of this issue is emblematic of her disastrous leadership in general – simultaneously unprincipled, unconvincing and politically unsuccessful.

Unlike our PM, I’m just old enough to remember when the phrase “living in sin” could be used with a straight face to describe living arrangements like hers. So, I find it hard to believe that her stated opposition to equal marriage rights is sincere (unlike with Kevin Rudd). Rather it’s the result of the kind of political calculation standard on the right wing of the Labor Party (see also Kristina Kenneally), in which the ‘real’ Labor voter is typecast as an aspirational bogan[1] whose views on social issues are unchanged since the 1950s. The key text here is Michael Thompson’s Labor without Class. There’s no evidence for this – views on social issues in Australia are largely uncorrelated with social class.

Allowing that some Labor voters are socially conservative, Gillard’s strategy is still politically stupid. Given the desperate state of the polls, she can’t hope to win by caution on an issue like this. It’s probably too late now, but a strong stand in favor of equal marriage rights might have done something to stop the drift of Labor voters off to the Greens, independents or the kind of apathy that makes it easy to shift to the Liberals, given an attractive promise or two.

fn1. To be boringly clear, I don’t use or endorse the term “bogan” to describe anybody. But the stereotypical image of a bogan coincides perfectly with the Labor Right view of Labor voters.

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  1. October 8th, 2011 at 23:23 | #1

    The bulk of the ALP membership is far more socially conservative than that.

    Besides, if the Greens internal polling showed that 2/3 of their membership are not in favour of gay marriage, then one could be forgiven for concluding that the ALP membership is far less likely to embrace it.

    If the ALP wishes to retain government, they’d be better advised to drop issues like gay marriage (which comes in at about 1001 on a scale of the the 1000 most important issues facing Australia) & find something that is going to improve the lives of Australians.

  2. Sam
    October 8th, 2011 at 23:48 | #2

    @Steve at the Pub
    I’m pretty sure the conditional clause in your second sentence is false.

  3. October 9th, 2011 at 00:05 | #3

    Pr Q said:

    Gillard’s handling of this issue is emblematic of her disastrous leadership in general – simultaneously unprincipled, unconvincing and politically unsuccessful.

    Leave Julia alone!

    Her leadership has been quite the opposite of “disastrous” in policy terms, although the politics leaves much to be desired. She actually gets things done that should be done (carbon tax, mining tax, effective border protection, hundreds of pieces of worthy-but-dull legislation passed). And does not do things that should not be done (“Big Australia”). That makes a pleasant change from Kevin “all process, no progress” Rudd, whose main policy achievement (crisis managing the GFC) was done largely on the back of Costello’s fiscal stewardship, the RBA’s interest rate cuts and Treasury’s sound advice.

    As regards the merits of the gay marriage issue, I suppose there is no harm in it. FWIW I luke-warmedly support it on conservative grounds. If gays are married, mortgaged and “maternal” then they will be more likely to be god-fearing, tax-paying, hard-working members of society. Less likely to get up to self-harming mischief which can happen when single men kick over the traces.

    The gay marriage issue itself is vastly over-rated in importance by the liberal media-academia complex. As Birrell observes, the number of persons living in a same-relationship is “tiny” Only 0.47 per cent of the adult population currently satisfy the ABS’s expansive definition of such arrangements. ie less than one in 200. And it is reasonable to expect that not much more than half of this number would be willing to take up the offer of marriage, if the government would give them the option. Not many people care about it one way or another.

    But gay marriage is of overwhelming importance to cultural elites who must have some issue on which they can self-righteously grand-stand to their hearts content. With bonus brownie points for castigating bastions of reactionary sentiment such as the Catholic Church or outer-suburban red-necks.

    No doubt Gillard has more pressing policy concerns, such as saving the planet from global warming, without using up scarce political capital on such a marginal issue. She also has the political problem of avoiding the appearance of being beholden to the GREENs somewhat flaky social agenda. She already has enough of a legitimacy problem without raising the spectre of Bob Brown pulling the strings of cultural policy.

    My biggest worry is what post-modern liberal activists will get up to after gay marriage goes through the inevitable formality of being given legislative imprimatur. What will be the Next Big Thing in sub-cultural civil rights? Transexual marriage? Polygamy? [Fill in the blank]?

    Of course we all know that the history of post-modern liberal social reform is one of un-interrupted progress with no adverse side effects whatsoever. After all with cultural theorists calling the ideological shots, what could possibly go wrong?

  4. Freelander
    October 9th, 2011 at 00:21 | #4

    “My biggest worry is what post-modern liberal activists will get up to after gay marriage goes through the inevitable formality of being given legislative imprimatur. What will be the Next Big Thing in sub-cultural civil rights? Transexual marriage? Polygamy? [Fill in the blank]?”

    And what exactly would be wrong with that?

  5. John Quiggin
    October 9th, 2011 at 00:22 | #5

    I hadn’t checked until now, but for the record, Labor voters overwhelmingly support marriage equality, conservatives are marginally (49-43) opposed


  6. Sam
    October 9th, 2011 at 00:27 | #6

    @Jack Strocchi
    “My biggest worry is what post-modern liberal activists will get up to after gay marriage goes through the inevitable formality of being given legislative imprimatur”

    Well, let’s pass it and find out. You know what I’d like? I’d like to hear one actual reasoned argument against gay marriage from someone who opposes it. I don’t mean “gay marriage is personally unimportant to me so therefore it doesn’t matter,” I don’t mean “I was brought up to be against that sort of thing.” What I’d like to hear from just one person is a single actual sensible reason not to allow it.

    Until then, I’ll just believe anyone who’s against it is a homophobic bigot.

  7. NickR
    October 9th, 2011 at 00:46 | #7


    “I’d like to hear one actual reasoned argument against gay marriage”

    Playing the Devil’s Advocate, I think the slippery slope argument has a degree of validity here.

    I strongly support gay marriage on socially liberal grounds, but I would feel uncomfortable applying this principle to, say, polygamous marriage. As my position is not absolute I am effectively legitimizing a compromise, which makes it hard(er) for me to criticize the compromise positions of others.

  8. Freelander
    October 9th, 2011 at 01:21 | #8


    The slippery slope is a slippery argument indeed to link to this reform.

    Playing Devil’s Advocate, why would gay marriage lead to, say, polygamous marriage? I have heard of heterosexual polygamous marriages. Indeed, they have a long history, have been endorsed by some religions, and are still legal in many parts of the world. Homosexual polygamous marriages I haven’t heard of. That might suggest that heterosexual marriage should be your concern, if you are concerned about polygamy. I don’t know that I am. I haven’t given any though to it.

    Like Sam I have never heard a reasoned argument against gay marriage. I can imagine what it might be.

  9. October 9th, 2011 at 02:12 | #9

    Freelander @ #8 said:

    why would gay marriage lead to, say, polygamous marriage?…Homosexual polygamous marriages I haven’t heard of… I haven’t given any though to it.

    To paraphrase Trotsky, you may not think about polygamy, but polygamy is thinking about you.

    You are missing the ideological point. Gay marriage might lead to polygamous marriage through the “marriage equality” route. Why make an inequitable exception to the fellow who wants multiple wives?

    The issue is not with the “sexual valency” of the union, it is with the notion of conferring legitimacy on an institution by appeal to abstract right, generalisable to all forms of that relationship. Thus the issue with polygamy would be “marriage equality”, not whether the marriage was hetero- or homosexual.

    Lets for once and all drop this bleating about marriage “equality” as if all political action can only be justified by appeal to abstract egalitarian or libertarian “right”. This kind of rationalism in politics is nonsense on stilts, long ago refuted by Bentham and latterly Michael Oakshott. Political theorists tend to jump off and on to ethical bandwagons when it suits their political program. Liberals are particularly prone to this vice, never able to make up their minds whether they are utilitarian (when making the scholarly case) or contractarian (when going for the polemical jugular).

    If one is a consistent utilitarian then gay marriage is justifiable on grounds of social utility or not at all. Once activists start blathering about “equality”, particularly when making a major adjustment to an ancient and venerable institution, it greases the slippery slope making it easier for polygamists and the like to slide into place.

  10. Freelander
    October 9th, 2011 at 04:23 | #10

    Like Sam I have never heard a reasoned argument against gay marriage. Still can’t imagine what it might be.

    “To paraphrase Trotsky, you may not think about polygamy, but polygamy is thinking about you.”

    If polygamy is thinking about me, I’m flattered.

  11. alfred venison
    October 9th, 2011 at 05:00 | #11

    dear anyone
    i’m past this “marriage equality” stuff. really. i don’t see why anyone wants to “get married” at all. and where some see an ancient & venerable institution, i see a superficially barely reconstructed feudal institution, originally evolved/designed to keep women subordinate, and surrounded, nowadays, by commercially hyped-up air-headed sentimentality & buck chasing hucksters. its repellent. don’t half of marriages end up in divorce anyway? people should just co-habit & get on with it. if people want church or civil weddings, then let them find, or found & fund, a church, or suitable civil celebrant, that will marry them to their satisfaction. that’s it, as far as i’m concerned. i most emphatically dispute, further, that there is any justifiable need for the state to be registering or sanctioning interpersonal relationships in the first place. if it comes to “divorce” & there is property involved, then let them come to an amiable & equitable division, or fight it out in court – sign a contract (its done already) & keep receipts. caveat emptor. if there are children, there’s family court anyway. i’d just like it if me, and my state, could otherwise be left out of other people’s interpersonal relationships.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  12. hc
    October 9th, 2011 at 05:12 | #12

    John I think you exaggerate Gillard’s faults. Whatever the background deal she does have a carbon charge up, the gambling precommitment legislation, some kind of mining tax reform and the plain packaging laws on cigarettes among other things. I don’t think Kevvie will be an improvement although I agree we are likely to find out. He seemed to be a hyperactive, overly controlling twit whose words typically ran ahead of him.

    I think Australians would see gay marriage as a second-order issue. People these days cohabit as they like and noone worries – partners have full legal rights etc. The word marriage is used to describe heterosexual unions which provide children and the foundation stone for society.

  13. Alan
    October 9th, 2011 at 06:08 | #13

    All the meaty arguments of alfred lord venison may be true, but there is no obvious reason why the law should permit participation in this ‘feudal’ evil to heterosexuals and deny it to homosexuals. There is no self-evident validity to a legislative approach that consists only in discrimination. For the record marriage long predates feudalism, just as the one man, one woman rule long postdates marriage.

  14. Ikonoclast
    October 9th, 2011 at 07:10 | #14

    @Jack Strocchi

    Jack S. says, “She (Gillard) actually gets things done that should be done (carbon tax, mining tax, effective border protection,”

    I am having a hard time deciding whether Jack S. is being ironic or not. Has Julia “done” any of these things? Actually, the carbon tax is still not a done deal yet but hmmmm maybe that’s what Jack means. The Mining Tax was not done by Julia, in fact it was undone by Julia but maybe that’s what Jack means too. Border protection is not being done but rather overdone but maybe that’s what Jack means three! Then comes Jack’s out-of-left-field furphy about polygamy! Ah, Jack you trolling genius, you are having all of us on! LOL, ROFL and all those other acronymic contractions of hilarity.

    After the honeymoon period ends, most men (and probably most women too) are trying to figure out how to get out of the one marriage they have contracted. I think very few would be angling to contract more partners. And if they did, who cares? I say legalise/decriminalise gay marriage and polygamy.

    The typical extreme conservative (be this conservative a pillar of society or a bogan) basically says be like me or I’ll bash you (using state sanctioned violence or personal violence as the case may be).

  15. Moz
    October 9th, 2011 at 07:35 | #15

    Jack Strocchi :
    My biggest worry is what post-modern liberal activists will get up to after gay marriage goes through the inevitable formality of being given legislative imprimatur. What will be the Next Big Thing in sub-cultural civil rights? Transexual marriage? Polygamy? [Fill in the blank]?

    We already have transsexual marriage. Or do you mean allowing people to transition without first divorcing? I suspect that will come with same-sex marriage, as the reason for the insistence is primarily to avoid creating those marriages.

    We also have limited recognition of polyamory, in that you can immigrate as a member of a multiple marriage. It would require a certain amount of legislative tweaking, but fortunately Labor have already made a list of the affected legislation and have modified most of it once. So it wouldn’t be too hard.

  16. Dan
    October 9th, 2011 at 07:46 | #16

    A marriage between two people of whatever sex/sexual orientation stands a chance of being a decently equal power relationship. A polygamous marriage does not. Easy.

    Whew! Slippery slope avoided.

    Labor should just legalise already and stop creeping around scared of Western Sydney electorates that stopped voting for them in the 90s. The present state of play is, frankly, embarrassing.

  17. Dan
    October 9th, 2011 at 07:49 | #17

    (ps. Off-topic but I note Victorian Labor have rejected the policy of off-shore processing.)

  18. Alan
    October 9th, 2011 at 08:05 | #18

    When Wran decriminalised sodomy in NSW the usual suspects all moaned that Labor would never win another election in the state. They moaned again when the NSW age of consent was equalised for heterosexuals and homosexuals. Gillard no doubt imagines that her ridiculous opposition to marriage equality is smart politics, but really she is just moaning as stupidly and as inaccurately as those voices from 1989.

  19. Fran Barlow
    October 9th, 2011 at 08:23 | #19

    Meanwhile, David Cameron in the UK has declared that he supports gay marriage because he is a conservative.

    So here, supporting gay marriage puts you out on the far left, and in Britain, you can call yourself a conservative and support it. Hmmm

  20. Fran Barlow
    October 9th, 2011 at 08:46 | #20

    @Jack strocchi

    You are missing the ideological point. Gay marriage might lead to polygamous marriage through the “marriage equality” route. Why make an inequitable exception to the fellow who wants multiple wives?

    I’m not sure why this (and polyandry) would be a bad thing, providing there were informed consent. That said, I regard it as implausible, at least on the basis of marriage equality. Equality here refers to the rights of individual members of the group “gay”. All the members of any polygamous or polyandrous marriage already have the same marriage rights as all other folk, pt to the extent that they are gay

    Slippery slope is a poor method of argument. While it is easy to point to examples of the slippery slope in action — suffrage of white men in the US eventually led to suffrage of women and even African Americans, and from there the idea of more general civil rights came next — each person iterating a slippery slope argument needs to show that the underlying political context in which each new development arises creates a new positive feedback, underpinning a new change. Typically, this is not done, and ostensibly implausible but allegedly terrigying consequences are asserted as inevitable without foundation.

    The underlying right here attaches to individuals capable of giving informed consent, so unless new classes of person denied marriage rights arise, it can’t be the basis of any new rights in marriage.

  21. Fran Barlow
    October 9th, 2011 at 08:47 | #21

    {except} to the extent …

  22. Fran Barlow
    October 9th, 2011 at 08:51 | #22

    @Jack Strocchi

    No doubt Gillard has more pressing policy concerns, such as saving the planet from global warming, without using up scarce political capital …

    ugh … trite phrase … what is scarce is not capital but goodwill, and one of the reasons that it is scarce is that the regime has not given a sufficient number of its core supporters a reason to support it and distinguish it from the other tribe …

  23. alfred venison
    October 9th, 2011 at 08:52 | #23

    dear alan
    i agree that marriage in some form is older than homer but the form of the present circus is decidedly feudal.

    now let me be perfectly clear, whilst i hold the “institution” of marriage in utmost contempt as a circus of tasteless vulgarity serving no good purpose, i nevertheless believe that anyone, even homosexuals, should be free to make themselves miserable by association with it if that’s their inclination.

    this being so, i remain totally unpersuaded that such interpersonal arrangements, whatever the sexuality of the participants, should be any business of the state to register or authorise..

    so, my position is that, ideally, as far as i’m concerned, all the gays & heteros of the realm, should be free to marry away to their heart’s content in any church or civil registry that’ll have ’em. as early & as often as they want. just leave me & my state out of it. that’s all. ideally.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  24. Alan
    October 9th, 2011 at 09:11 | #24

    dear lord benison

    To say that marriage is feudal is frankly absurd. Parliaments evolved from feudal arrangements, but that does not mean we all bend the knee and tug our forelocks when an MP clanks by in shining armour. Or is it your argument that Julia the Unready is tilting at the equality windmill because she is desperate to ensure no base-born homosexual stains the marriage bed with their lust?

  25. October 9th, 2011 at 09:30 | #25

    Marriage: Making public what is a purely private intention.

  26. Sam
    October 9th, 2011 at 09:39 | #26

    Yes, like NickR I’m uncomfortable with polygamous marriage. Like Dan though, I think the problem there is the unequal power relationships they seem to be associated with. If any given triplet, quadruplet, or whatever could show that no one was being exploited, I’d be perfectly happy in principle to let them get married. It would be difficult to assess this on a case by case basis though, so in practice I’m against it. Thus the two scenarios are qualitatively different and the slippery slope is avoided.

    Transexual marriage on the other hand is of course completely fine. In fact, I just assume that any marriage *equality* law will tacitly allow it. The fact that Jack Strocchi even thought of using this as a reductio ad absurdum is itself absurd.

    As to charges of inconsistency among liberals about which political ideology to propound, my approach is as follows. If there are simply no utilitarian arguments against, and a strong libertarian argument for, we should always be for. Does anyone disagree with me here?

    Finally I’ve heard the objection that this civil right doesn’t affect most suburbanites and therefore isn’t something we should care about. Most people will never be arrested, why should we care about habeas corpus? The fact is, many rights will never be exercised by most people, they’re important nonetheless.

    As to “keeping the state out of it,” what do competitive marriage institutions really mean? You could already get some non-government group to bless or otherwise authorise your non-marriage union. It’s just that most people, given the free choice, seem to choose the state-administered contract. Do libertarians really want to take this choice away from them?

  27. Alan
    October 9th, 2011 at 09:47 | #27

    On this, as on other issues, libertarians have an habit of propounding rightwing claptrap dressed up to meet their peculiar ideology.

    Whether marriage is to be private or public is not a live issue in our politics, and in any case marriage is about more than the two adult parties. A privatised system of marriage would need to guard the welfare of children and its hard to imagine how that could be done by private contract, unless you went back to the feudal system of treating children as property.

    One of the dirtier secrets of the present system of unequal marriage is the legal disadvantages the state imposes on children who have gay parents.

  28. alfred venison
    October 9th, 2011 at 09:48 | #28

    dear Alan
    “that marriage is feudal is frankly absurd” my royal canadian arse. marriage at its base is a property arrangement, traditionally sanctified by church & state. like in the middle ages, like in the postmodern age. its an anachronism in which i find absolutely no redeeming qualities whatever “parliamentary evolution” is may or may not have undergone over the centuries. whatever stage of “parliamentary evolution” its got to, its still a load of hooey. but knock yourselves out.

    now don’t get me wrong on this again, please. my view is that gay people should have equal access to this deplorable anachronism & the state should butt out of regulating it altogether. ideally. but, given that it is presently made to be the state’s business, equal access to it should be legislated for forthwith. slippery slope or not.
    yurs sincerely
    alfred venison

  29. October 9th, 2011 at 10:00 | #29

    “Children who have gay parents” Now THAT would be the definition of “Success”.

  30. Alan
    October 9th, 2011 at 10:08 | #30

    dear lord benison

    Sorry, you can easily show that marriage law has its roots in the Western feudal period. What you need is some argument to show that because a thing has feudal origins that means it remains feudal.

    The current marriage act would be unrecognisable to a medieval lawyer. No dowry, no bride price, no merger of property, no lordship of the husband, no right to connubium, etc etc etc.

    Almost every aspect of the common law has feudal origins. Does that mean you would abolish contract, tort, offences like rape and murder, and the right to vote? Rape, for example, was once seen as detracting from the property rights of the father or husband of the victim. That has changed with time. But by your argument the offence of rape has feudal roots and must therefore be abolished.

    Your arse may well be Canadian and royal. That does not necessarily make it the seat of all wisdom.

  31. TerjeP
    October 9th, 2011 at 10:14 | #31

    Is Gillard from the right faction of the ALP? I always thought she was from the left faction but I can’t find a credible reference that says so. My general perception is that for the issues that the left is notionally correct on (same sex marriage, euthanasia, drug decriminalisation, opposition to censorship) they are completely piss weak on in practice. The few issues that I might like to vote left on the left seeming refuse to deliver on. The Greens used to be for relaxing drug laws but now they are campaigners against those drugs that are still legal. Basically when the left isn’t being inept they are being useless.

    In other news I’m pleased to see that the HEMP Party appear to have at long last worked their way past the ridiculous party registration barriers that John Howard introduced and should be in a position to contest the next federal election.


  32. Dan
    October 9th, 2011 at 11:28 | #32

    Gillard’s from the left, but the right put her in the driver’s seat. (No, I don’t have a reference).

  33. Ikonoclast
    October 9th, 2011 at 11:31 | #33

    I pretty much agree with Lord Alfred Venison, though I suspect the state would have to maintain a minimalist role in civil marriage for contract, financial and child responsibility purposes.

  34. Freelander
    October 9th, 2011 at 11:40 | #34

    Steve at the Pub :
    “Children who have gay parents” Now THAT would be the definition of “Success”.

    Of course, male and female homosexuals can be parents. Why the surprise?

  35. TerjeP
    October 9th, 2011 at 11:45 | #35


    Alfred did kind of nail it.

  36. October 9th, 2011 at 12:00 | #36

    Freelander *sigh*, for context please read the final paragraph of Alan @27.

  37. October 9th, 2011 at 12:03 | #37

    Back on topic:
    “…. her disastrous leadership in general – simultaneously unprincipled, unconvincing and politically unsuccessful.”

    This is an apt a summation of the of the Prime Minister as I’ve seen.

  38. Alan
    October 9th, 2011 at 12:10 | #38

    ‘left’ and ‘right’ are dynastic rather than political labels in the modern Labor party. For the record Gillard identified historically with the left but there is little sign of that in any of her policies.

  39. NickR
    October 9th, 2011 at 12:50 | #39


    Freelander, I was actually thinking about heterosexual polygamy of the sort typical of mormons in the U.S. My point was that liberals support gay marriage but would probably shy away from supporting polygamy even though the basic rationale is the same. BTW I too am not bothered by it on a personal level, but I think that recognizing it officially would be interpreted as a government endorsement of a whole lot of stuff that I am bothered by (weird religion, exploitation of women etc).


    Dan and Sam,
    I think the qualitative distinction you draw is not really qualitative and hence I don’t think the slippery slope is avoided. Like you, I don’t want to endorse polygamy as I think it is very likely exploitative and would result in highly unequal distributions of power between husbands and wives. However it is clearly possible to have equitable polygamous marriages (at least in theory) while many heterosexual relationships surely exist across big differences in money, assertiveness, physical strength etc.

    At best we can say that 1 to 1 relationships (straight, gay whatever) are likely on average to be less exploitative and draw the line there. But it is still a line in the sand. If it is the potential for exploitation and the asymmetry of power that we really care about, we should also apply this to heterosexual couples.

  40. NickR
    October 9th, 2011 at 13:01 | #40

    “If there are simply no utilitarian arguments against, and a strong libertarian argument for, we should always be for”

    I think that this is a brilliant rule of thumb and more-or-less summarizes my own views on a wide variety of issues.

  41. Chris Warren
    October 9th, 2011 at 13:24 | #41

    John Quiggin’s review of Michael Thompson and his Gillard-baiting, is a bit unfair.

    Thompson specifically says up front in his Preface that “economic rationalism” was not the problem. This should protect him from reviewers’ criticism that he:

    does not even mention employers, capital or wealth


    Thompson is criticising a different deformation that has damaged the ALP, and removed it from its real political duty. This duty cannot be conflated to tailing “aspirational bogans”.

    In general the rights to shares in Australia’s wealth by workers have come under sustained corrosion through policy drifts driven by economic rationalism, and fake promises made under the Accords and ‘Australia Reconstructed’.

    ALP “QANTAS club suits” such as Lionel Bowen promised unions that an ALP government would appoint labour attaches overseas – this never happened.

    The Accord was a Prices and Incomes Accord – but they delivered on Incomes (ie workers restraint for super contrib + social wages enhancements), but never pursued prices.

    Australia Reconstructed (AR) had fine words such as ‘import replacement’ in its recommendations [Recomm 3.13, AR p97] – did we ever see this.

    AR also said “Government must institute a comprehensive, visible, and effective policy of price restraint … to match the restraint being exercised by wages salary earners” [AR Recomm. 2.8 – 2.9, AR p56]. Still waiting.

    It is not Gillard, that is being politically stupid – it is the ALP as a whole – except for some brave sub-branches.

    Thompson’s complaint was a reaction to what he observed, and he should be protected from reviewer’s attacks that he left some elements (consultants, lawyers) of the middle class out of his conception. Thompson was only illustrating the issue.

    Thompson’s complaint “The gentrification of the ALP” is valid as far as it goes. Gillard’s strategy is more driven by public opinion polling, and is the strategy of ALP machinery in general and would be the same with Rudd as rudder.

    Thompson also contested a cartoon view of the ALP as male, blue collar, Anglo.

    However Thompson misses the point when he restricts his concerns to what he observes and misunderstands the relevance of economic rationalism (and underlying influences). This is typical of most of the ALP Right and some in the Left (particularly the young graduates who cannot tell the difference between Groucho Marx and Karl Marx, and think it is all a uni-bar joke). Thompson probably supports Keating’s and Peter Cook’s economics and is protecting them from critical analysis by waving “gentrification”. But this is a different issue.

    Thompson does not realise that university graduates, and middle strata consultants and lawyers, have given an incredible boost to unions – John Sutton (CFMEU), Julius Roe (AMWU), Louise Tarrant (LHMU-UnitedVoice), a swathe of labor-lawyers and probably others.

    John really needs to let whatever bee he has in his bonnet over Gillard, out. A Rudd switch will not address the loss of ALP political relevance,

    Remember it was Whitlam who announced that “Wages and conditions are no longer the chief determinants of living standards” Since then health, housing, and education have been the watch words – and wages and conditions have been savaged, the health system is a mess, housing is unaffordable and priced in a bubble, and education now comes with so many fees and bastardised curricula, that who knows whether there has been any real improvement over the NSW Wyndham scheme (allowing for independent improvements due to technology). I would say that anyone going through a school system today, using just the education available before Whitlam (1972) would still be adequately prepared to enter any Australian university or TAFE system, or the workforce. It is this trend – superadded by the economic rationalisation of Hawke and Keating particularly that has driven a wedge between the ALP and society.

    I for one will not get over excited about Gillard’s difference with Rudd over any particular policy. This seems to be part of the Rudd campaign which captivates people who really think that Leaders run (or should run) the ALP. Rudd thought he should run the ALP and setup a kitchen cabinet and in effect, played the factions against each other, with help from the media.

    Any way, I would have thought that State/Territory jurisdictions have powers that can coexist with the Commonwealth Marriage power, so presumably some of those not happy with Gillard can pursue their agenda elsewhere?

    Is John Quiggin’s concern over equal marriage rights sincere or is it just another convenient broadside in the Gillard-Rudd leadership war?

  42. TerjeP
    October 9th, 2011 at 13:26 | #42


    Left and right in Australian politics in general often does seem to mean much. Witness the policy responses to climate change.

  43. TerjeP
    October 9th, 2011 at 13:26 | #43

    should say “doesn’t”

  44. Ikonoclast
    October 9th, 2011 at 13:47 | #44


    “Left and right in Australian politics in general often does seem to mean much.” – TerjeP.

    I agree, if you are talking about Labor and Liberal. As I say (ad nauseam), Australia, with respect to the major parties is a one-party, one-ideology state.

  45. TerjeP
    October 9th, 2011 at 13:51 | #45


    It isn’t quite a one party state. We do get to choose our conservative socialist overlord every few years.

  46. alfred venison
    October 9th, 2011 at 17:24 | #46

    dear Alan
    of course i don’t favor repealing protections of common law – even the magna carta has its use in the absence of a bill of rights. but i’ll stick with marriage & to me, any arrangement that involves the state, in collusion with churches, synagogues, mosques, &c. in approving & regulating citizens’ interpersonal relationships is feudal, whatever historical trappings its lost along the way. it is a vestigial institution that some citizens like to indulge themselves in. bully for them. but this personal indulgence should be no affair of the state except that places of celebration should meet with the fire marshal’s approval.

    and marriage does not necessarily protect children from dysfunctional families. departments of social services work to protect children in dysfunctional families whether the parents are married or not. the state can commence the necessary monitoring of children’s welfare from the time it issues its birth certificate. the state’s “approval” of the form of the parent’s interpersonal relationship is irrelevant to it discharging its responsibilities to the children. if there is property involved & it matters that much then take out a contract, a “pre-nup”. if old time religion matters then seek out a religious celebrant who’ll oblige, there’s plenty to choose from. if a secular ceremony is wanted then maybe the president of the humanist society could hang out his shingle. there is no need for the state to run a ceremony & declare anyone married, except perhaps in far flung or isolated communities, where i’d nominate the postmaster or postmistress for the gig.

    i see in this to-ing & fro-ing by parliaments, parties & gillinger a response to unwholesome interference/lobbying by meddlesome priests & archbishops in what should be straight forward policy making – an elected government making public policy the public largely supports. instead we get pusillanimous or devious politicians morally & logically contorting themselves in responding to fear mongering by superstitious reactionaries. so, since churches won’t get out of lobbying for their peculiar moral codes, i say let the state get out of the business of sanctioning interpersonal relationships. the state should register births & deaths and let the word “marriage” sort out as it may.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  47. Alan
    October 9th, 2011 at 18:25 | #47

    dear lord venison

    Entail flourished by contract and was abolished by legislation. Would you allow that? The religious right in the US advocates for legally indissoluble ‘covenant marriage’? Would you allow that? If your answer is no in either case then you recognise a role for the state in marriage and we are just arguing over the details.

    As to children, i was not thinking of child protection where you are correct. I was thinking of situations where for instance, the biological parent dies and the state, as now, does not recognise a legal relationship between the child and the non-biological parent. You’re 7. One parent dies. Suddenly your future is in the hands of biological relatives whom you may never even have met and who may for religious or other reasons not want you to see the surviving parent ever again.

    Contrary to popular belief there is no civil union legislation in Australia. Partners do not have equal rights. Several states do not even recognise same-sex couples as de factos. Most states do not allow homosexuals to adopt even the biological child of their partner. Australia mostly followed the US in allocating powers between the federation and the states. They deliberately departed from the US model by making marriage a federal power. The reason for that was they did not want the legal chaos in the US where marriages and divorces are recognised in one state but not in another. Abandon marriage and divorce legislation and everything goes back to individual states and your legal status, and worse your children’s legal status, changes when you drive over the bridge between Coolangatta and Tweed Heads.

    You can achieve some marriage-like arrangements by contract, although at considerable expense (and it is by no means obvious to me why people need to hire lawyers to do what the Commonwealth now does at fairly modest cost). It is easy to determine if someone is married because there is a public register. It is less easy to determine if they have entered into a private contract that may or not be a matter of public record. You cannot however regulate relationships with third parties whether they are children, hospitals, relatives or whatever. Contracts only ever bind those who consent to them.

    And lastly, you have yet to tell us why feudal origins make marriage bad and parliaments and rape laws good.

  48. Freelander
    October 9th, 2011 at 19:44 | #48


    There are good reasons for the state to be involved in marriage and civil unions. Marriages involve (typically) involve strong emotions between the parties involved. If and when, and by the time a union dissolves those strong emotions can often be strongly negative. Frequently, these strong emotions can give rise to undesirable behaviour with impacts on third parties, including children, if any. In some cases, violence and murder, even multiple murders, can result.

    In these circumstances leaving the dissolution of a union to free arranging by the parties involved or simply to the ordinary law of contract is less than optimal and is socially undesirable. Strong emotions involved in the creating and disolution of a union are not really consistent with the relatively dispassionate way in which a contract is agreed to, as is assumed by contract law. These are all good reasons why the state ought to continue to have an interest in marriage, civil and defacto unions. But there is another. Those who wish to marry, often wish to make a public commitment to each other. This public commitment is something often valued by those involved, and that value, to them, can be enhanced by the formal recognition of the state (and religion, if they are so silly to have those sorts of beliefs).

  49. Alan
    October 9th, 2011 at 19:52 | #49


    I could not agree more. I am unsure why a discussion of marriage equality has devolved into this fantasy about privatising marriage. Until 1753 marriage in England was privatised in almost exactly the way His Lordship of Venison and others argue. The result was constant dispute and legal uncertainty over relationships, children and property.

  50. Freelander
    October 9th, 2011 at 20:07 | #50


    Interestingly, the development of much law in the United Kingdom was the result of wrongs people did to each other spilling over and creating a threat to civil order. If two individuals had a dispute, pretty soon the friends of each would join in and all sorts of mayhem could occur. Private provision of law can be a problem. The King and the nobility saw this sort of carry on as a disruption which could make it difficult to raise an army, when necessary, as ill feeling between neighbours does not make an effective fighting force. That is way, for example, you would hear people being charged with “disturbing the King’s peace”. Interesting that the law wasn’t really provided for the benefit of the King’s subjects, but came about to benefit the King.

  51. Alan
    October 9th, 2011 at 20:21 | #51

    A lot of the pleas about the King’s peace were a way of getting things out of local courts and into the royal courts. If you alleged something was done against the King’s peace you could go to a royal court instead of a local court controlled by some lord. So you get slightly weird claims like the 1348 Humber Ferry case where it was said that a ferrymaster losing the plaintiff’s horse overboard was done ‘by force of arms and against the peace of Our Lord the King’. It was as much plaintiffs trying to get into royal courts as the elite trying to pre-empt local actions.

  52. John Quiggin
    October 9th, 2011 at 20:53 | #52

    @Chris Warren: Thompson doesn’t say that economic rationalism wasn’t a problem, he says it was a good thing, and that Labor needs to combine economic rationalism with the social conservatism he imputes to the working class. That’s exactly the package now being espoused by Keneally, and in Gillard’s Chifley lecture. As I said at the time, if that’s what you want, John Howard offers a much better version of the product.

  53. rog
    October 9th, 2011 at 20:57 | #53

    My understanding is that the anti gay marriage policy is less about gays and more to do with discrimination – which ties in with current fears of muslims and asylum seekers and the govt’s ability to hook into these fears and show that they are up to defending the country, or giving an impression of.

  54. paul walter
    October 9th, 2011 at 21:03 | #54

    I overlooked this thread whilst concentrating on the Wegman thread, a true”bad” I’ve just rectified.
    All I can say is that the thread starter expresses ideas and feelings very, very close to my own heart also.

  55. TerjeP
    October 9th, 2011 at 22:14 | #55


    I suspect it’s due to polling. JQ offered crude poll figures earlier but what these don’t reveal is whether it is a vote switching issue for those in the polls. As an example I support same sex marriage but it isn’t top of my list in terms of who I will vote for. However one of my neighbour does not support same sex marriage and his comments suggest it is top of his list. I’d say Labor is being poll driven on this issue.

  56. alfred venison
    October 9th, 2011 at 23:04 | #56

    dear Alan
    i single out the feudal institution of marriage for disapprobation because it enters the present era fatefully burdened with the baggage of organised religion’s baleful influence. that’s all. while i have no great problem with civil unions, or people calling them marriages, i do have serious problems with superstitious reactionaries who strive, not only to uphold their stone age morality for themselves & their flocks, but seek also to impose it on other citizens through the tool of state recognition of marriage.

    so, if the state’s going to be involved in defining marriage, i’d like for it to boldly get on with legislating the terms of it (like same sex recognition) on its terms & without fear of or deference to the sensibilities of clergy & their blowhards. if churches don’t like that then tough, roll them & get on with it!

    but, if the state won’t stand up to organised religion on issues like same sex recognition, then maybe it should get out of the business of defining marriage & simply register what it wants to for the purposes it requires. register the marriages performed by churches according to the exclusive reactionary rites & beliefs they hold; register the marriages performed by non-church organisations according to the rites & beliefs they hold; and register the relationships of those who commit to each other with no rites at all & beliefs idiosyncratic to them. issue certificates of recognition to all who apply, who will call them marriages, or not, as they please, anyway.

    in any case, the state should not tolerate churches dictating the terms according to which it relates to citizens regarding their interpersonal relationships. the continuing postponement of this sensible development is due more to the fear politicians have of organised religion’s reaction that any thing else. the community at large seems more ready & willing to move with it. the state doesn’t dictate to churches how to define the marriages they perform, that’s church business & churches shouldn’t dictate to the state what it ought to recognise as marriage, that’s state business. this isn’t happening and that’s the nub of my gripe & the stimulus of my hyperbolic essays.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  57. Chris Warren
    October 9th, 2011 at 23:11 | #57

    @John Quiggin

    Thompson specifically said that it was not economic rationalism that drove the working class from ALP branches. He definitely seems to support economic rationalism, but this is not the main theme of his essay. Instead he wants to ensure the ALP represents policies derived from working class concerns and protect this policy basis from those like Lindsay Tanner. But this cannot be labelled “social conservativism” (or rednecks in some other peoples views). The same concerns emanate from Left unions.

    Many people have regularly noted that ALP policy is (supposedly) the same as Liberal policy. This is the old story of tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum, and Howard and Abbott often pose as friends of the workers. But this is not Thompson’s project.

    It is a misunderstanding of Thompson (and Gillard) to suggest that their agendas are better versioned by John Howard.

    Thompson and others (Andrew Scott) have pointed to the real problem for labor but in different ways – gentrification, modernisation, Blairite Third Way, Whitlam and etc. They imply that the ALP needs to re-orient itself to working class concerns.

    This is not a rightwing agenda – it was the Left national secretary of the CFMEU, who expressed the problems with the ALP performance most clearly;

    – worker’s wage restraint
    – tariff reductions
    – deregulation
    – privatisation
    – labour market reforms.

    He suggested that the ALP politicians were completely out of touch with working people and their families.

    Except for economic rationalism, it appears that both Left and Right unions are saying the same thing. The takeover by other (advantaged) social strata is destroying the ALP project.

    This is a more sophisticated position than making some “political calculation”;

    in which the ‘real’ Labor voter is typecast as an aspirational bogan [however defined]

    This is not occurring. It may be possible for unions such as the CFMEU to endorse equal marriage rights, but would they bother? Wouldn’t they feel that there were more important issues to get fixed first and that there has been a lot of failure in the past, false promises, well before equal marriage rights came on the agenda?

  58. Ernestine Gross
    October 9th, 2011 at 23:18 | #58

    Every child has 2 biological parents, a male and a female.

    How many ‘parents’ does a gay marriage child have? Is it really necessary to confuse children from day one?

    If the legal minds are so removed from the biological realities that a ‘gay marriage’ is desirable on equity grounds in law, then I suggest a new vocabulary should be developed to allow children to understand from day one the difference between biology and legal matters.

    For example
    Current New
    Parents Procreators
    Marriage Legal union (of which marriage between a man and a woman is one of several special cases)

    It seems to me, our PM has a clear mind on this topic because she does not confuse changes in moral norms over time with legal nomenclature that affects third parties for which the State has some responsibilities, namely children.

  59. CJ
    October 9th, 2011 at 23:31 | #59

    Ernestine, a child with gay parents still has two biological parents, as does incidentally, a child with a single parent, a child with no parents, a child with divorced parents, a child with parents and step-parents… In the end, your reference to biology is insufficient grounds on which to oppose gay marriage.

    As to the slippery slope leading to polygamy, why not accept that as well? Any agreement between any number of consenting adults, with full mental capacity, regardless of gender, should be accepted. I think that most people who are worried about polygamy are worried about gender inequality and issues of consent, but if these are eliminated, then there is not necessarily a problem.

  60. October 9th, 2011 at 23:34 | #60

    “… legal minds are so removed from … realities…”

    There, fixed! (Just couldn’t resist playing with that quote!)

  61. Alan
    October 10th, 2011 at 00:01 | #61

    Children may not be living with both biological parents for a variety of reasons. It is really quite difficult to see how it benefits any child not to have their parents’ relationship recognised by the law.

  62. John Quiggin
    October 10th, 2011 at 01:47 | #62

    @Chris Warren

    Thompson explicitly endorses the policies you identify as the problem. His analysis is exactly the opposite of Andrew Scott’s.

    “Except for economic rationalism, it appears that both Left and Right unions are saying the same thing. ”

    So, they agree on economic policy, except as regards economic policy. I guess that’s about right.

  63. paul walter
    October 10th, 2011 at 02:24 | #63

    Does the obvious have to be stated?
    The problem is semantic. The term economic rationalism is”over determined”, that is it means diffferent things to different people and has taken on a life of its own in a field of its own, subject to it.
    Everyone doffs their lid to its (ideological, in many people’s view) sanctity as a reference point as determined by discourse and events. In short it’s a sacred cow, like Anzac Day once was.
    Some here will rejoice at the aspects inherent in an interpretation of “economic rationalism” that is a rational distribution of material thru economic goods and bads within a field also subject to chance and ethics, or are ethics and economics irreconcilable?
    What’s problematic about economic rationalism is its cooption, a term, for different reasons by different speople or sets of people.
    A dry would sneer at “special pleading” in cases when someone working near a problematic coalface like refugees, indigenes, Horn of Africa etc, would see it as an exculpatory device to wealthy segments of the world from our level up, for not being rapind enough in responding to situation involving gross threat to human life and much consequent suffering (and wonder from there wha thas caused a purported blindsiding (perception, mental incapacity and so on).

  64. Chris Warren
    October 10th, 2011 at 08:40 | #64

    @John Quiggin

    Scott and Thompson are not opposites when it comes to opposing the takeover of the ALP.

    Scott and Thompson are different when it come to economic rationalism, and the Left opposes the things I mentioned while the Right supports them. This is where they can be termed opposites.

    Where do you see any basis for:

    … they agree on economic policy …..

    Huh??? I never said this.

    A fair reading of my post above would only allow this agreement to extend to:

    The takeover by other (advantaged) social strata is destroying the ALP project.

    and clearly not to the economic and industrial policies criticised by the CFMEU (and the AMWU long-run criticism of tariff/free trade).

    As to “agreeing on economic policy, except as regards to economic policy”, this is completely wrong. Thompson supports economic rationalism, Scott takes an opposite view seeing it as leading to supporter alienation. Phil Cleary’s win in Wills by-election as an example of traditional labor fighting-off modernised, gentrified, “Blairite New” labor.

    The drift to these new modernised, gentrified policies was inveterate. In the 1990’s the ALP national office even arranged to have the name “New Labor” registered in Australia as an alternative electoral name for the ALP.

    So in terms of the ALP’s relationship to its traditional base [“aspirational bogans” by the Right, “workers and their families” by the Left], Scott and Thompson are clearly not saying opposite things. Cleary identified precisely the same drift of ALP away from traditional labor supporters in the Wills by-election. The Cleary victory shows that the Scott-Thompson common stance is based on hard reality.

    Presumably all of Scott, Thompson, CFMEU, AMWU, Tanner and Latham, would agree that even ALP voting bogans do not have views on social issues are:

    unchanged from the 1950’s

    NB – This does not mean:

    … they agree on economic policy, except as regards economic policy.

    Thompson is certainly willing to go along with some of Scott’s criticisms, for example at page 69 of Labor without class.

  65. John Quiggin
    October 10th, 2011 at 08:59 | #65

    “As to “agreeing on economic policy, except as regards to economic policy”, this is completely wrong. Thompson supports economic rationalism, Scott takes an opposite view seeing it as leading to supporter alienation … Scott and Thompson are clearly not saying opposite things.”

    Way to contradict yourself in three sentences!

  66. Alan
    October 10th, 2011 at 09:16 | #66

    What does polygamy have to do with marriage equality? How would same sex marriage steepen the slippery slope in a way that opposite sex marriage does not?

  67. Ernestine Gross
    October 10th, 2011 at 09:40 | #67

    JC, it seems to me you have missed my point. Apologies if I have not been clear. I am asking for a nomenclature which allows the distinction between biological and social relationships such that equality in law (social rights) for various accepted social relationships are possible.

    Alan, it seems to me you are against ‘gay marriage’ because you write: “Children may not be living with both biological parents for a variety of reasons. It is really quite difficult to see how it benefits any child not to have their parents’ relationship recognised by the law. In the alternative, I say language may be able to affect social relationships but not biological relationships. To confuse the two cannot benefit children’s mental development.

  68. Chris Warren
    October 10th, 2011 at 09:54 | #68

    John Quiggin :
    “As to “agreeing on economic policy, except as regards to economic policy”, this is completely wrong. Thompson supports economic rationalism, Scott takes an opposite view seeing it as leading to supporter alienation … Scott and Thompson are clearly not saying opposite things.”
    Way to contradict yourself in three sentences!

    The contradiction was only introduced by the deletion of the following sentence:

    So in terms of the ALP’s relationship to its traditional base [“aspirational bogans” by the Right, “workers and their families” by the Left],

    Once this is reinstated, the “contradiction” disappears.

    Scott and Thompson pursue different lines w.r.t. economic policy, BUT NOT in terms of the ALP’s relationship to its traditional base.

    Once the deleted words are reinstated – it all becomes clear.

  69. Chris Warren
    October 10th, 2011 at 09:58 | #69

    @Ernestine Gross

    I would hope that the relationship Julia Gillard has, would also have equality in law (it may have already).

    This is consistent with your point – isn’t it?

  70. Paul Norton
    October 10th, 2011 at 10:18 | #70

    I completely agree with John’s opening post. Julia Gillard has never outlined any philosophical or ethical basis for her opposition to same-sex marriage, and it is difficult to imagine how, as an atheist, she could have any for the position that she asserts (but does not explain or argue for) on this issue. Apart from anything else, this stance feeds into voter perceptions of the current Prime Minister and the contemporary ALP as a conviction-free zone.

  71. Paul Norton
    October 10th, 2011 at 10:19 | #71

    FWIW I also think John has the better of the argument with Chris Warren about the respective views of Andrew Scott and Michael Thompson.

  72. Ernestine Gross
    October 10th, 2011 at 10:22 | #72

    Yes, Chris Warren. it is consistent with my point.

  73. Ernestine Gross
    October 10th, 2011 at 10:38 | #73

    Paul Norton, in the alternative, Julia Gillard assumes the public is as clear thinking as she on this matter. I have no evidence to the contrary.

    Julia Gillard lives an honest life in public without imposing anything on other people. The same is true for P. Wong. Both do not ask for the majority of people to participate in a ‘communications-postmodernist-politiclly-correct’ verbal obfuscation exercise. They have my full respect on this matter – as all other same-sex couples who, in one way or another, live an honest life.


  74. Chris Warren
    October 10th, 2011 at 10:42 | #74

    @Paul Norton

    So I assume you have not read (for example) page 69 of Thompson? This does not mean they agree on the cause (they and Cleary all notice) or the solution. I doubt whether either understand the real causes or the real solutions.

    Anyway – presumably you would support moving the Left generally away from its traditional base to some new – fangled, modernist, post-industrial, stream of graduate consciousness, where there are many “sites of struggle” and no policy primacy for working people and their families?.

    But isn’t this welfare state illusion really funded by OECD exploitation of the rest of the world, by population increase, by passing-off environment catastrophe to future generations, and by mounting per capita debt (internal and external)? In other words, supported by contradictions that are not sustainable?

  75. Jill Rush
    October 10th, 2011 at 10:52 | #75

    The argument about gay marriage being a slippery slope to path to other forms of marriage would carry more weight if it were taken to its logical conclusion. Polygamy is not the only other form of marriage. Less well known is polyandry. Perhaps these forms also deserve discussion if only to end the rorting of the system now where those in multiple partner marriages are able to claim family support payments for the second, third, fourth etc partner as single parents. The state subsidises those relationships and those making the decision to enter into these illegal arrangements are not forced to face the economic reality
    of providing for their families.

    I don’t see why gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry if that is what they want. Personally I can’t understand why they would want to but have no objection if it is seen as confirming the relationship. I wonder why Julia Gillard would take the same viewpoint as it could confirm in people’s minds that she really isn’t to be trusted. Also as it is currently not a point of difference with the Liberal Party why would she create one.She has enough bad press as it is.

  76. Moz
    October 10th, 2011 at 11:56 | #76

    Jill Rush :
    Polygamy is not the only other form of marriage. Less well known is polyandry. Perhaps these forms also deserve discussion

    There’s nothing inherent about a multi-partner marriage that requires that there be only one of a particular gender. A marriage of three women; or one of two women and two men; are both possible, but neither would conventionally be described as either “polygamy” or “polyandry”. I think it’s more useful to talk of polyamorous marriage or group marriage.

    Reacting to Heinlein, it might be worth considering the consequences of a marriage that never ends via the ongoing addition of new partners as old ones die. I think it would be unreasonable to require that a multiple marriage take place at one instant, as that would require dissolution and re-marriage every time the makeup of the marriage changed. The financial consequences would likely be more problematic than the legal ones.

    IME children deal quite well with living in a household containing multiple adults. Even when those adults are in intimate relationships. This might even be the historical norm.

  77. Alan
    October 10th, 2011 at 11:57 | #77

    Ernestine, I do not understand you at #17. Lots of children live apart from both biological parents. I doubt they call the parents they live with Non-Bio-Mum or Non-Bio-Dad. You may (I am honestly unsure) be trying to construct some inherently and aprioristically beneficial relationship between biological parent and child, but the law does not recognise that in cases of adoption or abuse. I repeat, what is the benefit to the child of gay parents for the law to deny recognition to their parents’ relationship?

  78. John Quiggin
    October 10th, 2011 at 12:15 | #78

    @Chris Warren
    As I’m sure you’re aware, Thompson acknowledge his debt to PP McGuinness who took the identical line about the chattering classes and so on. You can find exactly the same stuff from Imre Saluszinsky, Keith Windschuttle and son

    If you think that McGuinness was the last true representative of working class Labor, I guess I’m not going to be able to dissuade you.

  79. may
    October 10th, 2011 at 12:16 | #79


    all the to and fro about god and procreation and sexual mores to one side.

    marraige is a contract recognising property and kinship status.


    when maiden auntie and unmarried uncle (so to speak)turn up their toes,their property is inherited by their family or according to their will.

    if they are married their spouse is their inheritor.

    the rellies don’t get a look in.
    (unless they have been extemely nice)

  80. Chris Warren
    October 10th, 2011 at 12:33 | #80

    @John Quiggin

    Yes – the Rightwing and even One Nation, appear to agree with the Left on this issue, plus even the Catholic and DLP.

    But, that does not make them the last true representative of the working class.

    I would grab this little bit of unity, foster it and go with it. But not expect broader agreement or policy convergence.

  81. Alan
    October 10th, 2011 at 12:34 | #81


    What you put forward is a common misconception but it simply ain’t true.

    In some states the rellies can and do contest the will on the grounds that unmarried auntie’s 30 year relationship had no legal effect. Equally it can be the case that the rellies seize control not only of any property but even of the funeral itself. It is not completely unknown for the hospital or nursing home to take directions from the said rellies and exclude the surviving nonspouse. The experience with civil unions in other countries has not been happy and the civilly united are often treated as though the statutory provisions for their rights did not exist.

    ‘We’re married’ is easier for an institution to understand than ‘We’re civilly united’. Luckily there is not a third option of ‘We’re contractually united according to the privatised feudal marriage practices that existed before the Marriage Act 1753’.

    That dangerous radical David Cameron recognised these problems with civil unions (which for greater clarity, I repeat do not exist in Australia) in his speech announcing his government will bring in a marriage equality bill. Oddly enough in France where the pacte de solidarité civile has given rise to an actual verb ‘se pacser’ the disparity between marriage and civil union is said to be much less.

  82. Paul Norton
    October 10th, 2011 at 12:38 | #82

    Further to John Q @28, Scott and Thompson themselves are in no doubt about the extent of their disagreement with one another. Each is scathing and dismissive of the other’s work. I have also had a personal communication with Andrew Scott in which he explained the nature and extent of his disagreement with the Thompson/New City/Brompton Report perspective.

    It is true that Scott and Thompson agree that the working class (called by whatever title) is a political subject and constituency that should be central to the Labor project – but the Communists (at least until the 1970s) and the Groupers also agreed on that point. The stubborn fact is that Scott and Thompson hold diametrically opposed views about what the interests and values of that class are, and about what policy directions Labor should pursue to retain/regain its support.

  83. Paul Norton
    October 10th, 2011 at 12:39 | #83

    My last comment crossed with Chris Warren @30.

  84. Chris Warren
    October 10th, 2011 at 13:50 | #84

    @Paul Norton

    Yes – Scott and Thompson agree on the capture of the ALP argument but disagree on other issues. As I said earlier, Thompson misunderstands the relevance of economic rationalism (and underlying influences) as does most of the Right.

    The communists and Groupers agreed on the point of recognising the primacy of labour politics. But for Communists it led to policy based on class struggle leading to socialism – for Groupers it led to policy based on class collaboration leading to welfare state capitalism.

    Naturally capitalism was very grateful for the latter. The communists will probably be proved right – depending on whether the 100 trillion of dollars being invented today, plus an emergency Tobin-like tax, stabilises the global economy (I think not).

    Thompson’s views should be criticised – but carefully. They cannot be associated with Gillard.

  85. Ernestine Gross
    October 10th, 2011 at 15:06 | #85

    Alan, I don’t know how to respond to your post @27. I assume at least part of the difficulty is due to different approaches to try to make sense out of the ‘gay marriage’ debate.

    For example, you say that children, who in law are children to non-biological parents (due to adoption), may not call their parents Non-bio-Dad and Non-bio-Mum. Based on my observations, I’d concur. But, I have also observed that children of biological parents who are married don’t call their parents ‘Dad’ and ‘Mum’ but call them by their first names. There are limits to the usefulness of trying to infer a concept, useful for any branch or organised knowledge in society, from the spoken word. The spoken word tends to be contextual.

    You write: “I repeat, what is the benefit to the child of gay parents for the law to deny recognition to their parents’ relationship?” I don’t understand your sentence. But then I don’t believe in miraculous conception either.

  86. Alan
    October 10th, 2011 at 15:20 | #86

    Ernestine, you are not failing to understand. You are choosing an indirect rhetoric for denying the validity either of all parenting except by the biological parents or of all parenting by gay parents. Talk of miraculous conception is cute, but intellectually evasive.

  87. Ernestine Gross
    October 10th, 2011 at 17:06 | #87

    Alan, good luck in your type of ‘intellectual’ life.

  88. October 10th, 2011 at 17:14 | #88

    Fran Barlow @ #20 said:

    I’m not sure why this (and polyandry) would be a bad thing, providing there were informed consent…The underlying right here attaches to individuals capable of giving informed consent, so unless new classes of person denied marriage rights arise, it can’t be the basis of any new rights in marriage.

    Slippery slope is a poor method of argument…That said, I regard it as implausible, at least on the basis of marriage equality. Equality here refers to the rights of individual members of the group “gay”. All the members of any polygamous or polyandrous marriage already have the same marriage rights as all other folk, pt to the extent that they are gay.

    Again, you are missing my point or don’t really care about points as such, just chanting ideological slogans. I am not against gay marriage, quite the opposite. The more likely gay men are to enter into legitimate marriage the less likely they will be to engage in promiscuous sodomy. It is society’s role to protect people from their more reckless impulses. I speak with feeling, having spent the better part of my life living off the Upper Esplanade, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst Rd and Campbell Parade .

    What I object to is the ideological justification of gay marriage on egalitarian, rather than utilitarian, grounds. Gay marriage will avoid self- and social harm and perhaps glean of some benefits (tasteful gentrification, the patter of tiny IVF feet, the maintenance of long-term primary carer relationships etc).

    More generally, this kind of ideological argument is an instance of “rationalism in politics”, pushing for political change using sloganeering based on abstract ideological principle, rather than rectifying an anomaly and/or patching up an institution fallen into disrepair or just plain old cost/benefit. And applying ideological principles to hard cases or far-out examples (such as gay marriage) is rationalism squared.

    Slippery slopes do exist. We just spent the past generation sliding down one, with results that speak for themselves in certain unmentionable departments of culture. (Hint: Lady Chatterley’s Lover) Obviously the more arguments for a specific social policy change are based on grand ideological principle, the more likely that other less savoury social policy changes are to hitch their wagon to the purported juggernaut of History. ie slide down the slippery slope carved out by the ideologues.

    Polygamy is a case in point. It is an evolutionary adaptation to extreme sexual dimorphism and/or grotesque sex ratio imbalances, favoured by reactionary Alpha-males. Polygamy is to sexual reproduction as plutocracy is to social production.

    We already have de facto forms of polygamy where immigration scammers force foreign prostitutes in sex-slave trafficking. The de jure form will not be much better.

    It is the product of an alien culture and should properly be the object of xenophobic scorn.

    Fortunately the Catholic Church fought against both forms of Alpha-male uber-domination for more than a millennia. The anthropological equity of the monogamous family is the basis of an egalitarian society, not fatuous ideological sloganeering.

    Thus it is not surprising that post-modern liberals are prepared to give polygamy a fair hearing or at least consider it. As usual their moral compass points them in exactly the wrong direction, “the great reversal” as Stove calls it.

  89. October 10th, 2011 at 19:11 | #89

    Pr Q said:

    the ‘real’ Labor voter is typecast as an aspirational bogan[1] whose views on social issues are unchanged since the 1950s. The key text here is Michael Thompson’s Labor without Class. There’s no evidence for this – views on social issues in Australia are largely uncorrelated with social class.

    Pr Q has empirically false views about the inverted politics of the Culture War. The reference to “aspirational bogan” social views “unchanged since the 1950s” is a straw-man version of a straw man.

    Views on social issues are “positively” correlated with age: the older one is, generally speaking, the wiser. There are anomalies in this general rule. Some baby boomers have never grown up. And adolescents are surprisingly conservative on some social issues, perhaps because they have seen at first hand the result of parental indulgence with rampant liberalism. They also like the Queen who is obviously represents a kind of meta-Nanna harkening to a period when moral codes were more firmly enforced. The Ice Storm is the definitive text.

    The psephological data verifies the reality of working class conservative populism. Invariably working class, less formally educated and poorer voters tend to have more conservative (less liberal) social views than owning class, higher-educated and richer voters. This goes for both aspects of the Culture War: multi-cultural diversity and sub-cultural perversity. I invite Pr Q to test this hypothesis by visiting any building site in Australia and airing his extreme cultural liberalism in the crib room, if he dares.

    Thats why the political stereotypes of Doctor’s Wives (liberal upper class) and Working Class Battlers (conservative lower class) have more than a grain of truth. And of course liberals ad nauseum admonitions to stop “playing politics” with cultural issues, that is keep the working class from having its populist views represented by its democratic representatives, is a back-handed acknowledgement of this.

    We saw a massive example of this in the Republican referendum, where the No vote was consistently stronger in the poorer electorates. But this same working class populism crops up in other Culture War issues, most obviously people-smuggling. Katharine Betts work, based on the Australian Electoral Study, investigating the Great Divide between the New Class cosmopolitan liberals and Old Class nativist conservatives, is pretty conclusive.

    More generally, the relationship between social class and partisan alignment is a lot more complex than crude Marxists would have us think. For sure the upper-status tend to vote Right-wing and lower-status vote Left-wing. But there results are inverted when their is a disparity between education and remuneration. Upper-status education/lower-status remuneration generates far Left-liberal views ie indie luvvies. Whilst lower-status education/higher-status remuneration generates far-Right-conservative views ie cashed-up “bogans”.

    Successful actor liberals (lower status education combined with upper status remuneration are a bizarre exception.

  90. Ikonoclast
    October 10th, 2011 at 19:23 | #90

    I don’t understand the irrational fear some people seem to have about polygamous marriage. Let’s look at the issues logically.

    1. It’s a vanishingly small phenomenon even on a world wide basis.
    2. Full emancipation and economic equality for women would make it even rarer.
    3. “De-mythification” of the religions that support it would again make it even rarer.
    4. More equity in economic outcomes would do the same thing.
    5. Studies I have read would indicate it is scarcely workable and precious little fun for anyone unless there is considerable wealth invololved.

    Jack S. says, “It is an evolutionary adaptation to extreme sexual dimorphism and/or grotesque sex ratio imbalances, favoured by reactionary Alpha-males. Polygamy is to sexual reproduction as plutocracy is to social production.” This sort of reasoning is barking up the wrong tree. Conflating biology and political economy sheds no light on the issue.

    “According to Daly and Wilson, “The sexes differ more in human beings than in monogamous mammals, but much less than in extremely polygamous mammals.”[35] One proposed explanation is that human sexuality has developed more in common with its close relative the bonobo, who have similar sexual dimorphism and which are polygynandrous and use recreational sex to reinforce social bonds and reduce aggression.[36]” – Wikipedia.

    Thus the biological data would suggest that the expression in human society (much monogamy, some polygamy, some polyandry and some polygynandrous behaviour) is in the range of what is to be expected when we take both biology and variance in enculturation into account.

    The thing to remember is that humans are animals (and more particularly mammals) and there is nothing special about humans that sets them apart from all other animals in a general sense. In the particular sense, human intelligence and enculturation levels are remarkable but that’s about it.

  91. Sam
    October 10th, 2011 at 19:30 | #91


    I learnt a new word today.

  92. Ikonoclast
    October 10th, 2011 at 19:41 | #92

    Jack S says;

    “Views on social issues are “positively” correlated with age: the older one is, generally speaking, the wiser. There are anomalies in this general rule. Some baby boomers have never grown up.”

    I suspect what Jack means is that other old conservatives generally agree with him so they are wiser just as he believes he is wiser. I can think of no other constuction for this assertion. So far as I know, it is true that people become more politically conservative as they grow older. Whether this equates to wisdom is debateable. It might also equate to ossification of views, entrenchment of prejudice and inability to perceive and learn new things. It certianly equates to self-interest as the successful or relatively susccesful seek to preserve the status quo favourable to them.

    For my own part, I have no time for the Wayne Goss types who say “if you aren’t left when you are young you don’t have a heart and if you aren’t conservative when you are old you don’t have a brain.” Rather, I respect those thinkers who became more and more left as they grew older; thinkers like Milton and Tolstoy to name a couple. People whose intelligence and humanity is great enough to resist the all-too-common drift to conservative self-interest and heartless selfishness with age and to actively move the other way.

  93. Xevram
    October 10th, 2011 at 22:22 | #93


    I learnt a new word today.

    It seems pretty simple to me, if 2 people love each other and committ to respecting and honouring each other, if they agree and want to………get married, or live in sin, together as a couple, with all the full legal protections that legalised marriage brings.

    PM Gillard in my mind at least, acts largely as Pr Q has described. How can she personally not realise that anybody with half a brain can simply see that legalising same sex marrige is just the right thing to do. She should care less if they are left, right, middle or armchaired and residing in Wanguri; just get on and take a clear principled stand on doing the right thing.

  94. Tim Macknay
    October 11th, 2011 at 01:21 | #94


    I learnt a new word today.

    Does it mean the same thing as “promiscuous”?

  95. Ikonoclast
    October 11th, 2011 at 06:21 | #95

    The Wikipedia entry on polygynandry has “multiple issues” so it is probably not a good guide.

    “Polygynandry occurs when two or more males have an exclusive relationship with two or more females. The numbers of males and females need not be equal, and in vertebrate species studied so far, the number of males is usually lower.” – Wikipedia.

    Then the example on Bonobos would seem to contradict this definition.

    “In bonobos society polygynandry is commonplace. Every female may be approached by and copulate with any male with the exception of her adult sons.”

    BBC Nature online says,

    “Polygynandrous describes a multi-male, multi-female polygamous mating system, such as that seen in lions and bonobos. Females are usually more numerous than the males and mating occurs only within the group. The advantage of this form of polygamy is greater genetic diversity, less need for males to compete with each other and greater protection for the young.”

    This is a multi-mating system which is confined to the “pride”, “troop” or group and which has an evolutionary, survival, adaptationary “logic” to it. Thus it would not (in my opinion) equate to “promiscuous”. “Promiscuous” as a word for a mating sytem may be used with some precision or it may simply be used in common parlance as a moralistic statement.


    When it comes to sexual behaviour (including homosexuality) it is best to be realistic rather than moralistic.

    “Homosexual behavior in animals refers to the documented evidence of homosexual and bisexual behavior in non-human species. Such behaviors include sex, courtship, affection, pair bonding, and parenting among same sex animals. A 1999 review by researcher Bruce Bagemihl shows that homosexual behavior has been observed in close to 1,500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, and is well documented for 500 of them.[1][2] Animal sexual behavior takes many different forms, even within the same species. The motivations for and implications of these behaviors have yet to be fully understood, since most species have yet to be fully studied.[3] According to Bagemihl, “the animal kingdom [does] it with much greater sexual diversity — including homosexual, bisexual and nonreproductive sex — than the scientific community and society at large have previously been willing to accept.”[4] “- Wikipedia.

    Once again, there is nothing special about humans. Their range of behaviours simply mirrors much of the rest of the animal kingdom. Viewed in this light, these things are neither right nor wrong, they are simply empirical facts.

    As (by my definition above) any animal behaviour is “simply a fact”, this raises issues for the development of a moral philosophy. After all, in this sense killing and violence are also just simply “facts”. Without getting too wordy, I think the moral line is that if (any) human behaviour is consenual and non-harming then it is morally acceptable. Of course, it would take a book length treatise to tease out this topic properly and a blog aint a book.

  96. may
    October 11th, 2011 at 11:47 | #96

    Sam :“polygynandrous”
    I learnt a new word today.

    polyandry……one wife has multiple husbands.

    polygamy……one husband has multiple wives.

    monogamy….one wife has one husband who has one wife.

    the last (imo) is the easiest on the nerves as far as family negotiations and inheritance issues are concerned.

    it’s hard enough already with children who are adept at playing one parent off against the other,without introducing multiple mums or dads into the equation.

    ant that doesn’t even include the in-laws.


  97. Ikonoclast
    October 11th, 2011 at 13:01 | #97


    You left out one option;

    “Never marry my friend…”, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky to his friend Pierre Bezukhov.

    The full quote (though I am not sure without checking if this quote is from the novel War and Peace or a somewhat amended speech from the BBC series);

    “Never, never marry, my friend. That’s my advice: never marry till you can say to yourself that you have done all you are capable of, and until you have ceased to love the woman of your choice and have seen her plainly as she is, or else you will make a cruel and irrevocable mistake. Marry when you are old and good for nothing—or all that is good and noble in you will be lost. It will all be wasted on trifles. Yes! Yes! Yes! Don’t look at me with such surprise. If you marry expecting anything from yourself in the future, you will feel at every step that for you all is ended, all is closed except the drawing room, where you will be ranged side by side with a court lackey and an idiot…”

  98. Alan
    October 11th, 2011 at 13:23 | #98


    Admirable as Prince Andrei’s sentiments may or not be, neither Tolstoy nor his character advocate blanket legislation, as opposed to personal choice. In any case, Prince Andrei later grows up and marries, as does Pierre.

  99. October 11th, 2011 at 14:20 | #99

    The interesting question, accepting the analysis, is: Who is there to replace Julia Gillard?

    In the spirit of the times, I would like to take the opportunity to make the off Broadway comment, in relation to Ikonoclast’s observation that Milton and Tolstoy are a couple. I have no objection to their marriage. As it is in Heaven, right!

  100. Freelander
    October 11th, 2011 at 14:37 | #100

    Does this thread intend to get any sillier?

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