Tag Archives: marriage equality

Labor gains as Australia contemplates possible hung parliament

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull may face a comeback bid from the rival he ousted last September, Tony Abbott (AAPIMAGE / Alan Porritt).
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull may face a comeback bid from the rival he ousted last September, Tony Abbott (AAPIMAGE / Alan Porritt).

Five days after its July 2 election, Australians woke up Thursday morning to find that they still don’t know who will lead the next government — and that Standard and Poor’s is moving its ‘AAA’ credit outlook from stable to negative as political uncertainty reigns. australia new

The only clear result of the first ‘double dissolution’ election since 1987 is that it might be days or weeks before Australians know who will hold a majority in either house of their parliament, with every possibility that both houses could wind up with no clear majority.

The other clear result is that the election is that, though his Liberal/National Coalition is growing closer to winning the narrowest of majorities, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is the clear loser of the election. Just nine months into his premiership after he convinced his party to oust its prior (more conservative) leader Tony Abbott, Turnbull has lost at least 16 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives to the center-left Australian Labor Party (ALP). The Coalition, as things currently stand, is now trailing in the so-called two-party preferred vote (under Australia’s single transferable vote system) by the narrowest of margins — 50.09% for Labor to 49.91% for the Coalition.

australia 2016 austrialia house

For someone whose leadership pitch came down to electability, it means his days as prime minister might be numbered — even if the Coalition emerges with a majority.

Politics isn’t always fair, but Turnbull’s problem has always been that he’s a moderate in a conservative party.

I have no doubt that Turnbull, who has always been far more socially progressive than many other Coalition MPs, would like to accomplish some heady goals as prime minister. He’s been an ambitious man his whole life, and there’s no reason to believe that, with the right kind of mandate, Turnbull would like to solve several conundrums that neither the Coalition nor the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have been able to solve.

He might *like* to find a way to end the detention centers in Nauru and Manus Island without encouraging thousands of poor Asians to risk their live by getting on rafts to Australia, especially after Papua New Guinea’s supreme court ruled the Manus Island detention center unconstitutional.

He might *like* to have Australia’s parliament vote to pass marriage equality for gay and lesbian Australians and be done with an issue that now separates Australia from much of the rest of the developed world — almost all of western Europe, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

He might *like* to redesign the failed carbon trading scheme that former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard enacted (and that Abbott, a few years later, abolished) as perhaps a business-friendlier carbon tax. After all, Turnbull lost his position as leader of the Liberal Party to Abbott in 2009 after he tried to compromise with the Labor government on climate change.

He might even *like* to take another run at an Australian republic after leading the pro-republic campaign in the failed 1993 referendum.

Of course, very few MPs and senators in the Liberal Party want any of those things, and their more conservative junior partners in the National Party would, if given the chance, turf out Turnbull tomorrow in favor of restoring Abbott (or, say, even Turnbull’s treasurer Scott Morrison). Continue reading Labor gains as Australia contemplates possible hung parliament

Slovenia’s same-sex marriage rejection shows the dark side of referenda

The pro-LGBT Čas je ZA group advocated a 'yes' vote in Sunday's referendum. (Facebook)

Over 60% of the Irish electorate endorsed same-sex marriage in Ireland six months ago, giving European LGBT activists a cause to celebrate. slovenia

A country with a conservative and highly Catholic pedigree showed that it could also be progressive, and the overwhelming victory was a triumph that gave the fight for marriage equality in the European Union a boost of momentum.

Back in June, however, despite the euphoria, I argued that it’s not necessarily a great precedent to put fundamental human and civil rights matters up to a vote, especially when it comes to matters where a majority of voters can ‘gang up’ against an unpopular minority. Instead, it’s far better to leave fundamental matters that deal with core rights to courts instead. Of course, it’s true that Ireland’s governing framework requires a popular referendum on all constitutional matters (which explains why Ireland essentially votes on every EU treaty change).

Still, every victory at the ballot box for marriage equality, and the embrace of the LGBT community of such popular victories, enhances the credibility of all such referenda, giving far more credibility to even those votes where same-sex marriage fails.

* * * * *

RELATED: After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

* * * * *

Invariably, in eastern Europe, where the outlook for LGBT rights remain far less sanguine, the Slovenian electorate has now delivered a strong verdict against marriage quality, overturning a legislative definition of marriage by a margin of 63.53% to 36.47%.

Slovenia’s vote has its genesis in legislation passed by its national assembly in March, defining marriage as a union of two people, not specifically between a man and a woman. Opponents of the law forced a referendum, overriding an attempt by legislators to block a vote and prompting a ruling from Slovenia’s constitutional court that essentially stripped the national assembly of the power to declare a referendum unconstitutional.

Polls throughout the year showed a far closer margin between the two camps, with some polls actually giving supporters of the law a lead. Continue reading Slovenia’s same-sex marriage rejection shows the dark side of referenda

The French far-right’s star is a not-quite-openly gay man

phillipot
The Front national’s vice president, Florian Philippot, is a not-quite-openly gay man at the heart of a socially conservative, anti-immigrant far-right party that previously had little use for France’s LGBT community.

With both the mainstream left and right teaming up to defeat the far-right Front national‘s two most outspoken leaders in Sunday’s second (and final) round of regional elections, party president Marine Le Pen, in France’s far northern region, and her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, in France’s southeast, it was never likely that anyone from the Le Pen family tree would have won control of any of France’s regional councils. France Flag Icon

Indeed, after the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) universally withdrew from the two (of six) regions where the Front national (FN, National Front) led after the December 6 first-round results, it made a second-round victory of either Le Pen very unlikely.

Socialist unity fell short in three northeastern regions, where the Front national came far closer to winning:

  • In Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, the Socialists maintained their hold on the region, but only narrowly — with 34.7% to 32.9% for the center-right Républicains (Republicans) to 32.4% for the Front national. 
  • In Centre-Val de Loire, again, the Socialists won 35.4% to 34.6% for the Republicans and 30.0% for the Front national.

But it was Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine where the Front national‘s chances of picking up a region were deemed strongest. The new region cobbles together three very different smaller regions,  much to the disdain of the wealthier Alsatians, lumped into a ‘super region’ with the poorer, industrial Lorraine. (And indeed, the Front national did most poorly within the districts of the former region of Alsace, picking up larger margins in Lorraine).

Florian Philippot, one of the FN’s brightest rising stars, won the first round with 36.1% to the center-right’s 25.8%. In the second round, however, Philippot still won just 36.1% while the center-right consolidated its support (and a wide swath of the center-left and those in the electorate who didn’t bother to vote in the first round) to a whopping 48.4%, easily taking the region.

The surge in turnout among moderate voters in opposition to the Front national‘s first-round success stopped Philippot — as it did the party’s other candidates on Sunday. Still, without that shift, and a generous shift of left-wing voters to the Républicains, Philippot today might be the only Front national figure leading one of France’s 13 councils.

In contrast to the party’s self-cultivated status as an outside force with disdain for the French political elite, the 34-year-old Philippot is a graduate of the École nationale d’administration, as elite an institution as exists in France today. Since July 2012, he has been the Front national’s vice president, in charge of strategy and communication. But he’s really been the chief strategist to Marine Le Pen as she’s worked for the detoxification — or dédiabolisation — of her party, so much so that one of Le Pen’s former foreign policy advisers, Aymeric Chauprade, an MEP, left the party arguing that Philippot had created a ‘Stalinist’ environment among the party’s top guard.

There’s just one problem. For a party with a historical ambivalence to France’s gays and lesbians, Philippot is a not-quite-openly gay man.  Continue reading The French far-right’s star is a not-quite-openly gay man

Why the future of the LGBT rights fight is international — in 20 tweets

WhiteHouse627

Though I wasn’t able to join The Atlantic‘s conference this week on the future of the LGBT civil rights fight, I took to Twitter earlier today to make that case that the future of the LGBT rights fights is largely international in character.

Without prejudice to the ongoing fights, legal and political, across the United States, I would argue the LGBT outlook should be much more global in 2015 — and as we look to the future and the kind of world we want to see in 2025 for both LGBT rights and human rights more generally. Continue reading Why the future of the LGBT rights fight is international — in 20 tweets

Why the Supreme Court’s ruling is so important to marriage equality worldwide

joe2Photo credit to Joe Henchman.

With today’s breathtaking victory for marriage equality in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. supreme court, the United States of America joins the ranks of less than two dozen countries across five continents that recognize full equality as between opposite-sex and same-sex marriages.USflag

Generally speaking, there are three ways that countries have gone about enacting same-sex marriage. The first and, by far, the most popular route is through direct legislation, as the United Kingdom, France and many other countries have done. The second is through popular referendum — Maryland and Washington took this path within the United States in 2012 and Ireland, most recently, did so in a near-landslide victory on May 22. The third route is when constitutional courts find that the refusal to provide state-sponsored marriage benefits to a same-sex couple violates a country’s fundamental governing charter.

In that regard, the US path to universal marriage equality is unique. South Africa’s constitutional court in 2005 essentially forced the country’s parliament to enact legislation in 2006, and Brazil’s constitutional court ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2013.

* * * * *

RELATED: After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

* * * * *

The problem with the legislative path — and especially with the referendum path — is that they both set the precedent in world politics that it’s perfectly fine to leave the rights of a minority group up to the whims of everyday politics. Marriage equality supporters may love that Irish voters delivered such a strong verdict for same-sex marriage, but it subtly validates votes in places like Croatia in 2013, where voters rejected marriage equality by vote. If, in 2019, Poland decides to hold a referendum and Polish voters reject same-sex marriage, the 2015 Irish referendum will nevertheless validate the direct democracy approach — namely, that a popular vote should be able to establish or deny fundamental rights.

Instead, here’s a sampling of what Anthony Kennedy wrote in his ruling today:

Laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter….

These considerations lead to the conclusion that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.

Not only does the ruling mean that the United States is now more progressive on LGBT rights than much of Europe and the rest of the Western world, it also sets a precedent with which constitutional courts worldwide will now have to grapple.

The decision stands for the idea, long applied to protection on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender, that there are certain principles in a liberal democracy that are ‘above’ petty political fights. Legal scholars will recognize this idea as a principle that flows back to famous footnote in a 1938 ruling, United States v. Carolene Products Company:

There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten amendments, which are deemed equally specific when held to be embraced within the Fourteenth. . . . whether prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry…

The bottom line is that constitutional courts — for example, those in Australia and Israel, Germany and Italy, or even the European Court of Human Rights, will feel significantly greater pressure as a result of today’s holding in Washington, D.C. Germany’s constitutional court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, for example, has been nudging the country ever so closely to marriage equality in a series of rulings that have almost eliminated the difference between ‘life partnerships’ and marriage.

After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

adamsLGBT

There’s no doubt that the landmark vote in Ireland on May 22, the first such referendum where a popular majority enacted same-sex marriage, has been received as a huge step forward for marriage equality and LGBT rights in Europe.Ireland IconEuropean_Union

While the United States supreme court is set to rule later in June on marriage equality as a legal and constitutional matter within all 50 states, it may feel like a watershed moment in Europe as well, where French president François Hollande and the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) and British prime minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party both swung behind legislative efforts to enact same-sex marriage, in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel officially married his own partner in May, but it was only six years ago that Iceland’s Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir became the world’s first openly LGBT head of government, followed shortly by Belgian prime minister Elio Di Rupo.

Yet the lopsided Irish referendum victory — it passed with 62.07% of the vote and the ‘Yes’ camp won all but one constituency (Roscommon-South Leitrim) — obscures the fact that additional marriage equality gains across the European Union will be slow to materialize. Leave aside the notion, now reinforced by Ireland, that the human rights of a minority can be legitimately subjected to referendum — a precedent that Europeans may come to regret. Amid the recent burst of marriage equality in Europe, the immediate future seems grim.

Nowhere is that more true than just next door in Northern Ireland, which is the only part of the United Kingdom that doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. With the Protestant, federalist electorate dominated by the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), one of western Europe’s most harshly anti-LGBT political parties, there’s little hope that Northern Ireland will follow in the footsteps of England, Scotland and Wales. At the end of April, Northern Irish health minister Jim Wells was forced to resign after suggesting same-sex couples were inferior parents. It’s home to the late Ian Paisley’s ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign in the late 1970s, and it’s where sexual relations between two consenting same-sex partners were illegal until 1981, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Northern Irish law violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

But Northern Ireland is not alone in its reticence — marriage equality faces long hurdles in some of the European Union’s most important countries, including Germany, Italy and Poland.

The irony is that despite Europe’s leading role two decades ago on LGBT marriage rights, the United States could eclipse Europe with the supreme court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, as the European Union struggles for years to enact consistent marriage equality legislation. Continue reading After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

What Republicans could learn from Cameron’s Conservatives

cameronwins

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders proudly claimed that American economic policy should look more like Scandinavia’s.United Kingdom Flag Icon

But for Republican presidential hopefuls, it might be more fruitful to turn their gaze slightly to the south of Scandinavia — to the United Kingdom, where Conservative prime minister David Cameron won an unexpectedly robust victory in last Thursday’s general election. Not only did Cameron stave off predictions of defeat by the center-left Labour Party, his Tories won an absolute (if small) majority in the House of Commons, increasing his caucus by 24 MPs. This, in turn, will allow Cameron to govern for the next five years without a coalition partner. That’s all well and good considering that the Liberal Democrats lost 48 of their 56 seats in Parliament.

It’s rare, in a parliamentary system, for a government to win reelection with even greater support, let alone after five years of budget cuts and economic contraction that transformed into GDP growth only in the last two years. Margaret Thatcher was the last prime minister to do so in 1983, and that followed her stupendous victory against Argentina in the Falklands War of 1982.

For U.S. conservatives, Cameron’s victory in winning the first Tory majority since 1992 should provide a road map for the kinds of policies that can pave the way to a GOP victory in 2016. Republicans know that they’ve won a popular vote majority just once since 1988, and demographic changes are making the Republican presidential coalition more elderly, white and rural in an increasingly young, multiracial and urban society.

Cameron benefitted from smart political strategy that painted Labour, fairly or unfairly, as untrustworthy stewards of the British economy. He also appealed to the fears of English voters in warning that a Labour government, propped up by votes from the pro-independence Scottish National Party, would amount to a “coalition of chaos” in Westminster. Cameron also benefitted from doubts among British voters about Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, who pulled Labour to the left of Tony Blair’s third-way “New Labour”centrism and who never seemed to fit the role of potential prime minister.

Nevertheless, there are at least three areas where Republicans could replicate Cameron’s agenda and, potentially, turn the tables on Democrats in 2016. Continue reading What Republicans could learn from Cameron’s Conservatives

The case for O’Malley in the 2016 presidential election

o'malley

The most damning thing that you can say about former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley isn’t that he was underwhelming, either as governor or as Baltimore mayor.marylandUSflag

It’s that we were merely whelmed by him.

Even today, as O’Malley prepares to become the most serious challenger to former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, there’s not a whole lot you can pin on O’Malley, for good or for ill. He lacks the psychopolitical baggage of a Clinton candidacy, but he also doesn’t own any single issue or represent any broader movement. He’s a set of technocratic biceps with a penchant for data-driven policy and Celtic rock.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, though. Formidable as Clinton is, O’Malley has all the tools to wage a compelling campaign for the US presidency.
Continue reading The case for O’Malley in the 2016 presidential election

Video of the day: Brazil needs a ‘Straight Pride’?

It was something of an odd remark by the new president of Brazil’s Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies), Eduardo Cunha, whose elevation to the top post in the lower house of the Brazilian congress came just three weeks ago.brazil

Typically described as either a tough insider in the vein of Frank Underwood, the protagonist of House of Cards, or an independent-minded speaker sure to challenge beleaguered Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Cunha’s off-hand comments that December 3 should be celebrated as ‘straight pride’ day have backfired, causing one response (embedded above) to go viral, first in Brazil and now globally.

Though same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013, when the country’s top court issued a ruling to that effect, Brazil remains a country where homophobia remains a problem, especially in its more rural and conservative enclaves. Former presidential candidate Marina Silva, who surged in the polls late last summer, started to tumble after backtracking on her support for gay marriage. In 2010, Rousseff stumbled when her opponent, José Serra, suggested she was too pro-abortion. With a growing number of evangelicals (including both Cunha and Silva) and a strong base of Catholics, Brazil is still a deeply religion country. Rousseff, for the record, still opposes full marriage equality as well, though she supports civil unions, and she pledged her support for an anti-homophobia bill — an initiative that seems unlikely now that Cunha controls Brazil’s lower house.

cunha

Cunha (pictured above) is a member of the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), a big-party tent that played a role in promoting democracy during military rule in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Today, though, it’s something of an ally of convenience — the PMDB boosts Rousseff’s government in power just as it did for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva before her and for the more conservative Fernando Henrique Cardoso. It’s generally viewed on the more corrupt side of the political spectrum, and it includes all sorts of ideologies (like most of Brazil’s political parties, large and small).

So officials like Cunha, ostensibly allies, are far more conservative than Rousseff or the political mainstream on social issues, even though he’s likely to block her administration’s moves to cut spending to reduce the country’s budget deficit in her second term. Realistically, though the PMDB is Rousseff’s ally, Cunha personally opposes much of Rousseff’s agenda, and his elevation as Chamber president essentially means that Rousseff will face an unfriendly legislative branch in her second term — at least as long as her political popularity continues to sink.

That Cunha was elected in the first place came as a shock within Rousseff’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party). Though Rousseff recently won reelection last October, a corruption scandal at the state oil company, Petrobras, and a deepening recession (exacerbating by falling global oil prices) have hurt Rousseff politically, even while Lula da Silva contemplates a comeback to the Brazilian presidency in 2018.

Cunha’s remarks should come as no surprise, though. It’s not even the first time he has pontificated aloud over a ‘Straight Pride’ day. He’s also staunchly anti-abortion, and he said shortly after his election as Chamber president that a law to liberalize Brazil’s tight abortion restrictions would pass only ‘over his dead body.’

Scotland passes same-sex marriage, joining England and Wales

scotiapride

Though the UK parliament in Westminster enacted same-sex marriage in July 2013 to great fanfare, the nature of devolution in the United Kingdom meant that Scotland’s parliament in Holyrood would have to pass its own version.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

The devolution process that began in 1997 under Labour prime minister Tony Blair created parliaments for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  But regional devolution ran deepest in Scotland — Wales opted for fewer regional powers than Scotland, and Northern Ireland’s parliament, created as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, spent much of the 2000s suspended.  Ironically, that meant that for a brief period, same-sex marriage would be the law of the land in England in Wales, but not in the more socially liberal Scotland.

That changed today, when the Scottish parliament voted 105 to 18 in favor of enacting same-sex marriage.  First minister Alex Salmond, who leads a pro-independence government of the Scottish National Party (SNP) fast-tracked the bill to keep pace with Westminster.  Though the bill wasn’t without controversy, especially from within the Church of Scotland and other religious groups, support within the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats meant that the bill was always likely to sail through Holyrood.

ruth

Though the major opposition to same-sex marriage in England and Wales came from within the Conservative Party of prime minister David Cameron (who himself supported marriage equality), the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Ruth Davidson (pictured above), is herself gay and strongly supported the marriage equality effort in Scotland. Though the Tories hold just 15 seats in the 129-member Scottish parliament (compared to 65 seats for the SNP and 37 for Labour), Davidson and Cameron have shown that conservatism and marriage equality aren’t necessarily incompatible.

The lengthier Scottish consultation process on the same-sex marriage bill included outreach to hear the views of religious groups, and churches will have the right (though not the obligation) to ‘opt in’ to same-sex marriage in Scotland when the law takes effect later this year.  That makes the Scottish same-sex marriage act somewhat stronger than the English version, which provides a blanket ban on same-sex ceremonies within the Church of England.

The first same-sex marriages in England and Wales will take place in March, and the first marriages in Scotland will take place later in autumn 2014.

It also leaves Northern Ireland as the only part of the United Kingdom without same-sex marriage — and as I wrote last summer, don’t expect the Northern Irish assembly at Stormont to take up the cause of LGBT equality anytime soon:  Continue reading Scotland passes same-sex marriage, joining England and Wales

Was it a mistake for the European Union to admit Croatia earlier this year?

CROATIA-GAY-RIGHTS-RELIGION-REFERENDUM

It hasn’t been an incredibly distinguished first six months for the European Union’s 28th member.croatia

Croatia, which entered the European Union on July 1, is only the second state to do so from the former Yugoslav union, but it’s already proving to be somewhat of a problem child — as some Europeans feared openly before its accession.

Most of those fears relate to economics and, given the eurozone’s economic crisis over the past four years, you might have thought that Croatia’s growing pains would be economic in nature, but that’s not the case.

Instead, Croatia’s difficulties have more to do with social issues and historical legacies — in its first six months of EU membership, Croatia caused a showdown almost immediately with EU leaders over the potential extradition of Josip Perković, the former Yugoslav-era director of Croatia’s secret police, and it signaled to the world its relative intolerance for LGBT freedom by conducting a referendum that resulted in a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage at a time when much of Europe is embracing equal marriage rights for LGBT individuals.

Those experiences could shape future EU appetite for further expansion in the Balkans, at a time when the European Union has deftly dangled the carrot of EU membership in exchange for a more permanent peace between Serbia and Kosovo, and at a time when EU membership might be the only thing that can save the triple-fractured union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while also integrating smaller countries like Macedonia and Montenegro into the global economy.

The most serious rupture began three days before Croatia even joined the European Union when it passed the ‘Perković law,’ which purported to prevent the extradition of anyone for crimes committed before August 2002.  That caused an almost immediate backlash against Croatia from EU leaders and the other 27 EU member-states, and by September — less than 90 days after Croatia had joined the European Union — EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, was threatening economic sanctions.  Germany, in particular, is interesting in extraditing Perković in relation to his role in the assassination of Croatian defector Stjepan Đureković, who was killed in 1983 in what was then West Germany.

Ironically, it’s the center-left government of Zoran Milanović, who leads the four-party Kukuriku coalition and its largest member, the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP, Socijaldemokratska partija Hrvatske), that dug in its heels over the Perković law, not the more conservative, nationalist opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, Hrvatska demokratska zajednica), which governed Croatia through much of the EU harmonization period, from 2003 through the December 2011 election.  The HDZ, as well as several top government officials opposed the law from the beginning, including Croatia’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister Vesna Pusić, the leader of the second-largest party in the Kukuriku coalition, the Croatian People’s Party/Liberal Democrats (HNS, Hrvatska narodna stranka/liberalni demokrati).

Milanović and the Croatian government eventually backed down in late September by amending the law in a way that complied with EU requirements, but only after Reding instituted formal EU proceedings, needlessly undermining Croatian credibility almost immediately after its EU accession.

Yet almost as soon as the extradition crisis ended, Croatia found itself embroiled in another difficult debate in holding the December 1 constitutional referendum on same-sex marriage.   Continue reading Was it a mistake for the European Union to admit Croatia earlier this year?

What should Australia expect from prime minister Tony Abbott?

abbott

Before the Kevin and Julia show, there was the Tony and Malcolm show.Australia Flag Icon

The rivalry between the dueling camps of Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd and former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard is now legendary — Rudd came to power in November 2007 after waging a near-perfect campaign (‘Kevin 07’) that brought the Australian Labor Party back to power after over a decade in opposition.  But his deputy prime minister Julia Gillard became prime minister in June 2010 after Rudd’s parliamentary colleagues wearied of his leadership style.  Gillard led Labor to the narrowest of reelections in August 2010 in what remains a hung parliament.  Rudd, who returned to government as Gillard’s foreign minister shortly after the election, challenged Gillard for the Labor leadership in February 2012 — and lost.  But as Gillard’s poll standing deteriorated throughout 2013, Rudd’s supporters engineered another vote in June 2013, and so Rudd (not Gillard) is leading Labor into Australia’s election on Saturday.

What’s less well-known is that opposition leader Tony Abbott (pictured above) emerged as the leader of the Liberal Party (and the center-right Liberal/National Coalition) after engineering a leadership spill of his own in December 2009.  After former prime minister John Howard lost his seat in the 2007 election, the Liberals turned initially to Brendan Nelson, but finally to Malcolm Turnbull as its leader in 2008.  But when Turnbull pushed his party to support the Labor government’s carbon reduction scheme, Abbott challenged Turnbull and improbably won a 42-41 victory on the second ballot, giving the Liberals their fourth leader in three years.

It’s an understatement to say that Abbott has proven a hard sell to the Australian public — in some ways, Abbott is akin to the Barry Goldwater or even the Ronald Reagan of Australian governance, a conviction politician and a conservative’s conservative who will undoubtedly pull Australia to the right.

A staunch Catholic who once studied in seminary for a career in the church (nicknamed early in his career by the press as the ‘Mad Monk’), a boxer with plenty of appetite for aggression in Australia’s House of Representatives, and a conservative who once studied at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, Abbott is multifaceted and talented.  But there’s no doubt that he’s socially and economically more conservative than Turnbull, Howard or Malcolm Fraser (prime minister from 1975 to 1983).  Abbott also had more ties to the recently rejected Howard government than Turnbull, having served as employment minister from 1998 to 2003 and health minister from 2003 to 2007.  Australian voters remained too hesitant about Abbott to hand the government back to the Coalition in 2010, but just barely.  Today, the Coalition holds one more (72 to 71) seat than Labor in the  House of Representatives, but independents and the Australian Greens have provided the Gillard/Rudd government a 76-74 majority since 2010.  It’s a similar story in the Senate, where the Coalition already holds a 74 to 71 advantage over Labor, which governs with the support of nine Green senators.

Just as Rudd routinely garnered higher approval ratings than Gillard between 2010 and 2013, Turnbull posted higher ratings as well.  Commentators in early 2013 daydreamed over the possibility that both of Australia’s major parties would dump their unpopular leaders in favor of their more charismatic alternatives.

But while Rudd and Gillard plotted and schemed over leadership, dragging Labor’s government and Australia into what amounted to a personality contest, Turnbull refrained from challenging Abbott for the Liberal leadership.  The difference between the Labor approach and the Liberal approach is one reason why Abbott is a certain favorite to become Australia’s next prime minister.

Since returning as prime minister in June, Rudd has spent most of his time flailing — although a Newspoll survey showed Rudd’s Labor tied with Abbott’s Coalition as recently as July 8, Labor now trails the Coalition in the two-party preferred vote (i.e., after all third-party voter preferences have been distributed to Labor and the Coalition) by a 54% to 46% margin, according to the latest September 1 Newspoll survey.

But Rudd’s campaign has managed to do what even Gillard’s government could not — turn Abbott into a plausible prime minister.  For the first time in the campaign, more voters prefer Abbott as prime minister (43%) than prefer Rudd as prime minister (41%) — that’s an astounding turnaround, given that an early August poll showed that voters widely preferred Rudd to Abbott by a 47% to 33% margin.  Ironically, though Rudd was supposed to be Labor’s secret weapon in winning a third term in power, Abbott has so completely transformed his image through the course of the campaign that Rudd may now be saddled with the kind of landslide defeat that terrorized his Labor colleagues into sacking Gillard just three months ago.

If Abbott delivers the kind of victory that polls predict on Saturday, it will be in large part due to the self-destructive factional battles within Labor, but it will also have much to do with Abbott’s steady happy-warrior approach over the past four years.

So what will Abbott’s likely win mean for Australia as a matter of policy, beyond the presumable end to the instability of the Rudd-Gillard era?

Here’s a look at seven issues to keep an eye on in what’s become an increasingly likely Abbott government. Continue reading What should Australia expect from prime minister Tony Abbott?

Rudd stakes reelection bid on passionate same-sex marriage support

ruddmarriage

Behind in the polls, despite the fact that supporters engineered his return as prime minister earlier this summer to boost the Australian Labor Party’s reelection hopes, Kevin Rudd is increasingly depending on his support for same-sex marriage to encourage young, urban voters not to abandon him in favor of the center-right coalition headed by Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott.Australia Flag Icon

In a passionate plea on the campaign trail, Rudd confronted an opponent of same-sex marriage by arguing that supporting marriage equality is fully compatible with Christian faith, in one of the most memorable moments of the 2013 Australian campaign — and one that’s largely won cheers from Australians and same-sex marriage enthusiasts globally:

Challenged by a pastor on a Q&A programme on Monday night as to why as a Christian he did not follow the teaching of the Bible, that marriage was between a man and a woman, Rudd replied: “If I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition because St Paul said in the New Testament ‘slaves be obedient to your masters’, and therefore we should all have fought for the confederacy in the US civil war.”

He added: “I mean, for goodness sake, the human condition and social conditions change. What is the central principle of the New Testament? It is one of universal love, loving your fellow man.”

It’s something worth watching in full:

While it might be a ‘West Wing’ or ‘prime ministerial’ moment for Rudd, it’s also perhaps one of the last tricks up Rudd’s sleeve to galvanize Labor enthusiasm ahead of Saturday’s vote — and to plant doubts about the social conservatism of an Abbott-led government.

Unfortunately for Rudd and proponents of same-sex marriage, most polls show that on the two-party preferred vote (Australians rank their preferred parties), Labor faces a 52% to 48% defeat.  Although marriage equality has become one of the top issues in the election, it’s not nearly the only issue in the campaign — it joins Australia’s weakening economy, budget issues, how to handle the ever-growing influx of asylum-seekers, relations with Asia, a controversial Labor carbon tax, and paid parental leave, not to mention the stability, discipline and maturity of a Labor government that, over two terms, has purged a sitting prime minister twice.

Although Rudd has only came to the view that gays and lesbians should have the same marriage rights as other Australian couples, he campaigned in the 2007 election on greater marriage equality and enacted reforms in December 2008 as prime minister that delivered the same rights to ‘de facto partners’ as those enjoyed by cohabiting opposite-sex couples that included many of the key rights that married couples enjoy on joint taxation, inheritance, employment and entitlement.

After losing the prime ministership in June 2010 after an internal Labor revolt against his leadership style, Rudd returned three months ago after polls showed that Labor faced a catastrophic loss under former prime minister Julia Gillard.  In that time, Rudd has not only become the first sitting prime minister to support marriage equality, but announced in the campaign’s first debate against Abbott that he would call a ‘conscience vote’ on same-sex marriage within 100 days of reelection.  Although Abbott supported the reforms to provide same-sex partners with ‘de facto partner’ rights in 2008 and Abbott has a lesbian sister, he has insistently ruled out the possibility that a Liberal/National Coalition government would enact marriage equality.

Rudd’s same-sex marriage pledge biggest surprise in bland Australian leaders debate

firstdebate

After six years of government defined in large part by the bickering of one odd couple of Labor leaders, current prime minister Kevin Rudd is betting that his push to recognize all Australian couples will push his center-left Australian Labor Party to a third term in government. Australia Flag Icon

In what most commentators agree was a bland performance by both leaders in the first debate between prime minister Kevin Rudd (pictured above, left) and opposition leader Tony Abbott (pictured above, right) in Australia’s election campaign, the biggest news of the night was Rudd’s announcement to take up the cause of full same-sex marriage equality.  When Rudd announced in the debate that he would, if reelected, call a vote within 100 days to enact same-sex marriage equality in Australia, his campaign team was ready to go with a fully-formed campaign-in-miniature (with its own website and Twitter handle) and a nifty slogan, ‘It’s time,’ that draws on Labor’s popular slogan from the 1972 election campaign that brought prime minister Gough Whitlam to power.  Arguing that ‘folk out there want this to happen,’ especially young voters, Rudd pledged a full vote of conscience if Labor wins the September 7 national elections.

In one sense, it marks a step forward for Australian marriage equality, especially after New Zealand enacted a same-sex marriage statute with the support of prime minister John Key, nearly half of his governing National Party and virtually all of the opposition Labour and Green Parties.  Rudd announced earlier this year that he supported full same-sex marriage rights, which put him at odds with the Labor prime minister at the time, Julia Gillard, and it meant that when Rudd replaced Gillard in June after a Labor Party leadership contest, Australia had its first pro-gay marriage prime minister.

Rudd, who came to power for the first time after the November 2007 elections, enacted reforms in December 2008 as prime minister to provide that same-sex couples in Australia would have the same rights as ‘de facto partners’ as cohabitating opposite-sex couples, including inheritance rights, joint tax rights, employment rights, and joint entitlement rights.  The reforms received support at the time not only from Labor, but from the center-right Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Green Party as well.

But though LGBT rights groups welcomed Rudd’s statement, it has more than the whiff of a gimmick to it, coming less than a month before Australians go to the polls and with Rudd either tied or narrowly behind Abbott in the polls.  Moreover, there’s no guarantee that holding a vote would actually enact gay marriage.  Labor MP Stephen Jones introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in September 2012, and it lost in the House of Representatives on a vote of 98 to 42.  A similar vote in Australia’s Senate lost by a vote of 50 to 26.

Abbott, who leads not only the Liberal Party, but the broad Liberal/National Party ‘Coalition’ in Australia’s parliament, has not committed to hold a free vote on same-sex marriage if he becomes prime minister — despite the fact that his sister, Christine Forster, is a lesbian.  Abbott, who supported the 2008 reforms, currently opposes changing Australia’s Marriage Act, which currently defines marriage as between one man and one woman:  Continue reading Rudd’s same-sex marriage pledge biggest surprise in bland Australian leaders debate