Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New Zealand leaves Oz standing alone at the altar

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BRISBANE -- Australia was left looking slow out of the blocks this week when New Zealand became the first Asia-Pacific country to legalize gay marriage.

Most Australians were not even aware the debate was on when the Kiwi parliament voted on Wednesday, making New Zealand the 13th country to accept gay unions.

It all happened under the watch of Conservative Prime Minister John Keys, who voted in the affirmative.

When the law was passed everyone in the Parliament burst into song, warbling the old Maroi love anthem Pokarekare Ana.

That our morality is not so much about laws cast in stone as it is about the shifting sands of mere fashion is not disputed by those who remember the curious moral crusades against inter-racial, and even inter-religious, marriage.

As if to highlight the times-are-a-changin', just as the Kiwi MPs were casting their vote, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was being laid to rest thousands of kilometres away.

Thatcher led a government that in the late 1980s passed a law demanding local authorities "not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality."

A decade before that, laws threatening homosexuals with imprisonment were still on Australian statute books, yet this week the inevitable social tide that will bring legalized gay marriage to this nation nudged a little closer.

While Australia and New Zealand have separate and distinct identities, there's an element of the twin-siblings dynamic in a relationship that, while competitive in sporting, cultural and financial arenas, has always been close.

It took retired Australian Greens leader Bob Brown to point out the bleeding obvious -- the Kiwis just made Australia look like a backwater.

"It shows (Prime Minister) Julia Gillard and (Opposition Leader) Tony Abbott are putting Australia right behind other countries like Canada, New Zealand and South Africa," Brown said. "Their thinking is last century, and they're making Australia last century."

The 20th century may linger longer in Australia than the Bob Browns of the world would like.

With the September federal election looming, the Australian electorate has little a chance of electing a prime minister who will support gay marriage unless there is a tectonic shift to the Greens, which is hardly likely.

Gillard, who heads a centre-left government, remains curiously steadfast in her opposition to the proposal -- a stance that doesn't fit easily with her otherwise liberal social views.

Abbott, on track to win the election in a landslide, is unyielding in his opposition to gay marriage. He remained unmoved Thursday by the neighbours' change in mood.

"My own position on that particular question is pretty well-known," he told reporters.

It took New Zealand MP Maurice Williamson to remind those who oppose gay marriage that Wednesday's vote was a relatively mild act of law making when we consider the powers our democratically elected representatives are handed.

"We are not declaring nuclear war on a foreign state, we are not bringing a virus in that could wipe out our agricultural sector forever," Williamson said.

"The sun will still rise tomorrow, your teenage daughter will still argue back to you as if she knows everything, your mortgage will not grow, you will not have skin diseases or rashes, or toads in your bed.

"The world will just carry on."


Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2013 A11

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