An obligation of equality

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Amist all of the present hullabaloo concerning same-sex marriage, one might recall that Australia is signatory to international human rights agreements prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

2.1 Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. — 26. All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. — International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2.1 and 26.

Alastair Nicholson, recently retired as Chief Justice of Australia’s Family Law Court wrote in the The Age of 20 September 2004, describing that year’s Australian legislation to prevent same-sex marriage as “one of the most shameful pieces of legislation that has ever been passed by the Australian Parliament”.

It was clearly intended by the Howard Government to constitute a pitch to the religious right and mirrored a similar attempt in the United States introduced by President George Bush for the same purpose. Unfortunately, it was more successful here than there.

The reason for its success reflects no credit on the Latham Opposition, which abandoned principle for pragmatism rather than hand an election issue to the Government.

[…] What the Government, with the help of the Opposition, has succeeded in doing is to turn back the clock nearly 140 years. They have done so at the expense not only of the gay and lesbian community, but quite possibly the transsexual community as well. They have passed one of the most discriminatory laws that could be imagined. They have ridden roughshod over the legitimate rights and aspirations of these citizens.