Marriage equality in pollies' hands
With the recent High Court decision confirming marriage equality is the responsibility of federal parliament, Wyatt Roy and Amanda RIshworth assess the lay of the land.PT2M36S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2zbjl 620 349 December 13, 2013
The honeymoon is over, and some people couldn't be more delighted.
''Hallelujah!'' cried a woman in purple outside the High Court on Thursday.
A heavy-set man in sunglasses agreed. ''I feel sorry for the way they [same-sex couples] feel,'' he acknowledged. ''But there still is the way God feels.''
Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares
It's tempting to read the High Court's gay marriage decision as a judgment on the legitimacy of same-sex marriages, but it wouldn't be right.
The High Court doesn't make policy, but interprets the law, and it has ruled that only Federal Parliament has the power to make marriage laws. Thus, the court ruled, the ACT's laws cannot operate concurrently with the federal Marriage Act, which John Howard amended in 2004 to stipulate marriage must be between a man and a woman.
The court also maintained Federal Parliament is the only Australian jurisdiction with the power to legislate same-sex marriages, so we now know without a doubt that same-sex couples will not achieve marriage equality without Parliament's support, and for at least the next three years under Tony Abbott's government, we can rule that out.
The government, faced with the ACT's defiant introduction of same-sex laws in the face of stony opposition, raised the stakes.
It could simply have begun the straightforward process of striking down the ACT's laws under arcane rules, allowing it to override territory laws with the support of both houses of parliament, but this would have opened the door to other states trying to introduce same-sex marriage laws, and normalised same-sex marriages for at least six months. Instead, it turned to the High Court to do its work, correctly predicting that the court would rule the laws constitutionally invalid.
It was a canny political move. Nullifying same-sex marriages in the ACT and beyond will be a major legacy of the Abbott government, which on Monday will celebrate 100 days since the election.
It has been an interesting 100 days for the new government: a slightly confused narrative mix of libertarianism, conservatism and protectionism, particularly where the economy is concerned.
On social issues - if we ignore the acrobatics performed by Education Minister Christopher Pyne on schools policy - on asylum seeker issues, and the carbon tax, there has been no deviation from script.
Indeed, the ruthlessness with which the government has dismantled some of Labor's reforms, especially pay rises for low-paid childcare and aged-care workers, has surprised some. Despite its deliberate attempts to appear a slow and steady administration, this has been a government in a hurry.
In its first 100 days, the Coalition has introduced legislation to repeal the carbon and mining taxes, begun to expand offshore processing centres, tried to reintroduce temporary protection visas and, when the move was quashed by Labor and the Greens, suspended protection visa processing until July 1 next year, when it will no longer face a hostile Senate.
But its single-mindedness has not always extended to business. Despite the Coalition's warnings about spiralling debt, it sided with the Greens to remove the debt ceiling installed by Labor.
On claiming leadership, Abbott declared that Australia was, once more, ''open for business'', but on the GrainCorp issue, the government ignored the advice of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and blocked a takeover bid by Archer Daniels Midland Company.
Two weeks later, after the government repeatedly ignored calls for further industry help from Holden, General Motors announced it would leave, taking thousands of jobs with it.
On same-sex marriage at least, one thing no one can accuse the government of is inconsistency.