Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unmarried Gillard wedded to a nation that upholds injustice

Unmarried Gillard wedded to a notion that upholds injustice


When Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, many of us were triumphant at this ultimate smashing of the glass ceiling in Australian politics. Some chose to see it as a progressive step forward for those of the marginalised red-haired population, who now had an Australian celebrity to celebrate with more serious credentials than Nicole Kidman or Cameron Ling from the Geelong Cats.

One person declared ''Gillard is doing it for all the unmarried, barren atheists'', and that she clearly understood ''the church and the state should butt out of people's private relationships''.

Amid this optimism that Gillard's difference to her prime ministerial predecessors apparently represented, Australian gays dared to hope the refreshing lack of religious affinity at the highest level would mark a new approach to gay marriage rights that differed to the social conservatism of the Howard and Rudd years. It was wrong.

Gillard took time out from her mining tax deal-brokering to declare it was still the government's view, as well as her personal one, that gay marriage should not be legalised in Australia. She told Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O on morning radio that: ''We believe the Marriage Act is appropriate in its current form, that is, recognising that marriage is between a man and a woman.''

Yet treating marriage as some grand prize of heterosexuality reinforces the ultimate dichotomy between a man and a woman. While extending the right to marry to gay couples would be a progressive step forward for the homosexual community, it would also smash another cultural norm - the gender inequality of marriage. Even in today's most liberated households, women predominantly take on the bulk of domestic and child-rearing duties, even if they work in some capacity outside the home.

Some may choose to do so. But while fighting over whose turn it is to clean the toilet after mutually busy days at the office may seem mundane compared to fighting (as our mothers did) for the right to work outside the home in the first place, for many married women choices remain dangerously limited.

Bettina Arndt recently chose to deride Gillard's de facto status, claiming as Australia's most significant female role model, Gillard was doing it all wrong. Apparently the idea of Julia and Tim ''playing house'' in The Lodge without a marriage certificate set a bad example for us women, as de facto relationships limit our choices whereas marriage strengthened them.

Yet under Gillard, same-sex relationships will remain de facto by default, and they, obviously, cannot be characterised by a lack of choice for one partner based on gender difference. There is more at play than the absence of wedding rings...........

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