Australia may have been dragging the chain on same sex marriage in the last year, but the rest of the world has not.
On the 5th of February this year, David Cameron’s Conservative Party’s legislation on same sex marriage passed the House of Common, virtually guaranteeing it will be made law. This seems to represent a radical change for the Tories. The history of the conservative party however has been besmirched by some of most egregious examples of homophobia in the western world in the post war period. In 1999 the then Conservative opposition leader William Hague (now the Foreign Secretary) dismissed a cabinet colleague Shaun Woodward, who opposed his contemporary Conservative Party’s policy of opposing the repeal of a measure that forbid the promotion of homosexuality in British schools.
Even in the United States, often considered the bastion of right wing homophobia, some progress has been made. Ten of Fifty states have now accepted same sex marriage. In March a series of gay rights cases will go before the United States Supreme Court, perhaps the most important of which, Perry v Hollingsworth, may decide that the XIVth amendment to the United States Constitution prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation with respect to the right to marry. A decision in favour of the appellants would solidify the right to gay marriage as a constitutional norm on the same level as Roe v Wade and Brown v Board of Education.
On the 13th of February Lower House of the French parliament approved a bill to legalise same sex marriage which, if passed by the upper house, will fulfil a campaign promise of the recently elected French President Francois Hollande. The conservative New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has also recently come out in favour of same sex marriage.
Amidst this progress Australia seems to be stuck in a time warp. After a brief and abortive debate last year, gay marriage has been left on the Australian too hard basket like other issues such as serious tax reform. For a country that has, as described by Wayne Swan, one of the strongest economies in the world (September 15 2012), Australia seems to have in many ways to have eschewed its fortunate position for years of stagnation and indecision in terms of social policy. The position in favour of same sex marriage has increasingly become the norm in developed western countries, regardless of the financial the situation, but in Australia the “debate” over same sex marriage is rapidly moving from a talking point to an embarrassment.