Tag Archives: same-sex marriage

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.

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

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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

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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

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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

Don’t be surprised by papal meeting with Kim Davis

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi meets former Pope Benedict XVI. (Alessia Giuliani/Getty)
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi meets former Pope Benedict XVI. (Alessia Giuliani/Getty)

Days after Pope Francis left a historic visit to the United States, news emerged that he spent part of his time at an unannounced meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk waging a fight to withhold marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds.USflagItaly Flag Iconvatican flag

As The New York Times reported earlier this morning, Francis met with the Kentucky woman last Thursday at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C.:

On Tuesday night, her lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Davis and her husband, Joe, were sneaked into the Vatican Embassy by car on Thursday afternoon. Francis gave her rosaries and told her to “stay strong,” the lawyer said. The couple met for about 15 minutes with the pope, who was accompanied by security guards, aides and photographers. Mr. Staver said he expected to receive photographs of the meeting from the Vatican soon. On Wednesday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the meeting took place, but he declined to elaborate. “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” he said.

Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University, argues that the meeting undermines the rule of law:

When Francis met with Davis — who let it be noted is an evangelical Protestant, although her parents apparently are Catholic — he was sending the wrong message, namely that there’s something sympathetic or even legitimate about public official refusing to do his or her job when religious teaching goes the other way.

Running for president, John F. Kennedy had to overcome the Protestant allegation that as a Catholic he would obey the pope and not the laws and Constitution of the U.S. In a famous speech, Kennedy made it clear that he wouldn’t take instructions from Rome. And he said he would be a president “whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.” That’s exactly what’s required of all public officials. And no one should undercut it, pope or otherwise.

For better or worse, the Vatican City is a state (albeit a very small one), and both the Vatican City, a traditional jurisdictional-based sovereign, and the Holy See, the universal ecclesiastical government of the Catholic Church have their own versions of the ‘national interest.’ That is, the Vatican and the Holy See both work to perpetuate their global power and influence, chiefly by maintaining and growing the base of 1.2 billion Catholic believers worldwide.

So it should come as no surprise that any pope, Francis or otherwise, would seek to empower the religious influence of Christians, including Protestants like Davis, even if it means trashing the rule of law. It’s no shock to learn that the Catholic Church has often joined the side of illiberalism in history.

The Vatican City came into existence on in 1929 as a sovereign entity when Italy’s Fascist leader at the time, Benito Mussolini, signed the Lateran Treaty with the Holy See, settling a long-running question that followed Italy’s unification in the 1860s. The support that the Catholic Church provided to Italy’s Fascist government is well-documented. Moreover, the Church played an important postwar role in bolstering the essentially one-party rule of Democrazia Cristiana (DC, Christian Democracy), making the Church all too often bedfellows with the Sicilian Mafia and other uncomfortable backers of the Christian Democrats.

As recently as 2008, the Vatican helped pressure senators in Italy’s parliament to bring down the elected government of center-left prime minister Romano Prodi because it fiercely opposed Prodi’s effort to introduce same-sex civil unions. Prodi, it’s true, pushed ahead with the vote despite warnings from many politicians that it would cause his government to collapse. The Church, for what it’s worth, did not force anyone in Italy to vote for Silvio Berlusconi in the resulting election, who won and would serve as prime minister until 2011. But it’s impossible to avoid the uncomfortable conclusion that the Vatican played a significant role in Prodi’s fall. Moreover, Italy today remains one of the only western European countries that lacks marriage equality. That’s almost entirely due to the Vatican’s influence.

Throughout most of the world, the Vatican’s power is limited to ‘soft power’ — that is, the authority that it commands as an arbiter of moral and ethical standards for 1.2 billion Catholics and, likely, throughout all of Christendom. Sometimes, a pope’s influence is political, like John Paul II’s particular experience and anti-Communist credentials as a Polish national serving at the height of the Cold War. Francis, the first Latin American pope, has a particular hold in South America, especially in Brazil and his native Argentina, that mixes religious belief with national pride.

But in Italy, the Vatican actually has quite a bit of ‘hard power’ — according to a recent article in The New Yorker, the Church owns around 20% of all real estate in Italy and 25% of the property in Rome, Italy’s capital and home to the Vatican City itself: Continue reading Don’t be surprised by papal meeting with Kim Davis

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.

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

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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?

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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?

Scotland passes same-sex marriage, joining England and Wales

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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.

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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

14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014

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Though I rang in the new year with a list of 14 world elections to watch in the coming year (and 14 more honorable mentions to keep an eye on), I wanted to showcase a few more thoughts about what to watch for in world politics and foreign affairs in 2014.

Accordingly, here are 14 possible game-changers — they’re not predictions per se, but neither are they as far-fetched as they might seem.  No one can say with certainty that they will come to pass in 2014.  Instead, consider these something between rote predictions (e.g., that violence in Iraq is getting worse) and outrageous fat-tail risks (e.g., the impending breakup of the United States).

There’s an old album of small pieces conducted by the late English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, a delightfully playful album entitled Lollipops that contains some of the old master’s favorite, most lively short pieces.

Think of these as Suffragio‘s 14 world politics lollipops to watch in 2014.

We start in France… Continue reading 14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014

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

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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?

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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

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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.

Feisty debate leads Abbott to ask Rudd, ‘Does this guy ever shut up?’

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The consensus is that prime minister Kevin Rudd, behind narrowly in the polls, had a better performance in the second leaders’ debate earlier in Brisbane, turning his underdog status as a way to poke holes in the platform of his rival, opposition leader Tony Abbott.Australia Flag Icon

At one point, Rudd harped so much about the cuts that Abbott might make as prime minister that Abbott snapped, ‘Does this guy ever shut up?’

It’s a sentiment many of Rudd’s rivals — from former Liberal/National Coalition prime minister John Howard to Labor prime minister Julia Gillard, who Rudd deposed as Labor leader only in June.

But Rudd’s tenacity resulted in at least one major concession from Abbott — that Abbott’s plan to cover the costs of a $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme are insufficient.

Rudd parried with Abbott on the carbon tax that Rudd initially championed, Gillard ultimately enacted and Abbott hopes to repeal.  Rudd warned Abbott that the rest of the world, including the People’s Republic of China, is moving toward Australia’s carbon scheme — China launched its first experimental carbon scheme earlier this year in Shenzhen.

Rudd returned to his pledge from the first debate to introduce a bill legalizing same-sex marriage if Labor wins a third consecutive term, and Abbott reiterated his opposition to marriage equality, however gingerly — Abbott’s sister is gay:

All I can do is candidly and honestly tell people what my view is. I support the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. I know that others dispute this, because I have lots of arguments inside my own family on this subject now.

The two also bickered over asylum policy, an issue upon which Rudd and Gillard have now both made such a 180-degree turn that Labor’s policy on granting asylum to migrants who attempt to arrive in Australia by boat is now much tougher than the Howard government’s policy in the mid-2000s.

Rudd also repeatedly singled out Abbott’s record as health minister and he cheerfully alleged that Abbott cut $1 billion from public hospital budgets while in government.  Abbott denied the charges, arguing that the Howard government cut the rate of growth in spending, and he asked Rudd to stop telling fibs.

Commentators did not necessarily believe it was the kind of debate that marked a massive turning point in the campaign, though most agreed Rudd performed better than in his first debate:

In an early sign that the Labor leader needed a punchier performance than he had put in at the first debate nearly a fortnight ago, Mr Rudd capitalised first on the more flexible format of the people’s forum in Brisbane’s Broncos Leagues Club to accuse Mr Abbott of having ”ripped” $1 billion from hospital budgets and of planning further cuts. It was a charge Mr Abbott flatly denied after using his opening remarks to remind voters of Labor’s record in office.

Michael Gordon, political editor for The Age, argues that Rudd won narrowlyContinue reading Feisty debate leads Abbott to ask Rudd, ‘Does this guy ever shut up?’

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

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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

Hey! What about gay marriage in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

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Amid the fanfare that much of the United Kingdom would now enjoy full same-sex marriage rights following the success of Conservative UK prime minister David Cameron in enacting a successful vote earlier this week in Parliament, some LGBT activists are still waiting at the altar of public policy for their respective day of celebration.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotlandnorthernireland

Under the odd devolved system within the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland and Great Britain, it’s up to the separate Northern Ireland Assembly to effect its own laws on marriage.  Even within Great Britain, the Scottish parliament, likewise, has the sole power to enact legislation related to marriage rights.

So while nearly 90% of the residents of the country will now be able to enter into same-sex marriages, Scottish and the Northern Irish will have to wait a little longer — and in the case of Northern Ireland, it seems like the wait will be lengthy. Scotland, with 5.3 million people (8.4% of the total UK population), and which will vote on independence in a referendum in September 2014, is already taking steps toward passing legislation, though Northern Ireland, with 1.8 million people (2.9% of the UK population), has already considered and rejected same-sex marriage.

The reason for the disparity within the United Kingdom goes back to former Labour prime minister Tony Blair.

Under the broad devolution process that his ‘New Labour’ government initiated upon taking power in 1997, much of the power to regulate life in Scotland was devolved from Westminster to the new parliament that met for the first time in 1999 at Holyrood.  Although a parallel Welsh Assembly exists in Cardiff for Welsh affairs, the Welsh parliament lacks the same breadth of powers that the Scottish parliament enjoys, which is why the Welsh now have same-sex marriage rights. (Take heart, Daffyd!)

Northern Ireland has a similar arrangement, with its own devolved Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, though its powers were suspended from 2002 to 2007 when the Northern Ireland peace process fell apart, however briefly.

The disparate courses of English, Scottish and Northern Irish marriage rights are a case study in how devolution works in the United Kingdom today.

Scotland: Holyrood poised to pass an even stronger marriage equality bill in 2014

Scotland’s local government, led by Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party, introduced a same-sex marriage bill late in June that is set to provide an even more liberal regime of marriage rights.  While the marriage bill passed earlier this week in London actually bans the Anglican Church of England from offering same-sex marriage ceremonies, the Scottish bill won’t have the same prohibitions on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which is seen as somewhat more relaxed about gay marriage.  Like the English legislation, however, the Scottish bill offer protections to ministers on religious grounds who do not choose to officiate same-sex marriages.

Although there’s opposition to the bill within the governing SNP as well as the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Liberal Democratic Party, the Conservative Party has very little influence outside England and Scotland, generally speaking, is even more socially progressive than England, which means that the legislation is widely expect to pass in the Scottish Parliament early next year, with the first same-sex marriages in Scotland to take place in 2015.

Northern Ireland: gay marriage as a football between Protestant and Catholic communities

Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Assembly considered a same-sex marriage bill, but it was defeated in April by a vote of 53 to 42 — a similar motion was defeated in October 2012 by a similar margin. Since 2005, LGBT individuals have been able to enter into civil partnerships (with most, though not all, of the rights of marriage enjoyed by opposite-sex partners) throughout the entire United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.

When Scotland passes its gay marriage bill next year, however, it will leave Northern Ireland as the only part of the United Kingdom without marriage equality.

Not surprisingly, given that Northern Ireland was partitioned out of the Republic of Ireland in 1921 largely on religious lines, and Protestant-Catholic violence has plagued Northern Ireland for much of the decades since, Northern Ireland is the most religious part of the United Kingdom.  A 2007 poll showed that while only 14% of the English and 18% of Scots were weekly churchgoers, fully 45% of the Northern Irish attended church weekly.

Unlike Scotland, where the mainstream UK political parties, such as the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats, aim to compete with the Scottish Nationalists (with varying degrees of success), Northern Irish politics are entirely different, based instead on the largely Protestant ‘unionist’ community and the largely Catholic ‘nationalist’ community.  Around 41% of Northern Ireland is Roman Catholic, while around 41.5% of Northern Ireland is Protestant (mostly the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Church of Ireland).

That helps explain why the opposition to gay marriage in Northern Ireland remains so strong, and it doesn’t help that the issue falls along the same lines as the entrenched unionist and nationalist divisions.  Given that it’s unlikely either community will come to dominate Northern Irish politics and the Assembly anytime soon, it means that proponents of same-sex marriage will have to convince at least some unionists to join forces with largely supportive nationalist parties to pass a marriage bill — and that may prove a difficult task for a five-way power-sharing government in Belfast that has enough difficulties even without gay marriage.  Continue reading Hey! What about gay marriage in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

After Britain and France, will Vietnam be the next country to enact same-sex marriage?

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Now that the House of Lords has approved changes to the same-sex bill in Parliament in the United Kingdom, same-sex marriage is set to become a reality in England and Wales (a separate Scottish bill is set to follow) under Conservative prime minister David Cameron.vietnam

That follows the final enactment of same-sex marriage in France earlier this summer — though the center-right and far right have vocally opposed it, the Assemblée nationale passed the measure with ease in June, fulfilling one of president François Hollande’s key campaign promises.

Great Britain (once Scotland joins) will become the 14th nation-state to have enacted legal same-sex marriage, joining France and eight other European countries,* as well as Argentina, Brazil, Canada and South Africa.  That doesn’t include México City or the 13 states (and the District of Columbia)** in the United States that have enacted marriage equality, which comes with the full set of rights and privileges of federal law following the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor that rules the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.  Last month, Germany’s constitutional court delivered same-sex partnerships a key victory by ruling that they are entitled to the same tax rights as other married couples.

So what’s the next horizon in what’s become a global fight for LGBT rights and marriage equality?

Vietnam.

Probably not what you were thinking, right?  After all, Asia has not typically been the most hospitable battleground for LGBT rights.

Moreover, Vietnam is a socialist republic and a one-party state ruled by a party, the Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam (Vietnamese Communist Party), that’s been enshrined through Vietnam’s constitution as the sole organ of political affairs since 1975, when North Vietnam formally overran South Vietnam, thereby uniting the entire country under communist rule.  The Vietnamese government is repressive on just about every other vector — press freedom, internet freedom, and of course, the kind of political freedom that would allow a challenge to the governing elite.  Though the country has been transformed economically as its one-time Marxist roots have been eroded into a more state capitalist approach, and its top destination for exports is now the United States (relations between the two countries have now been normalized for nearly two decades), the zeal for liberalization hasn’t met with the same enthusiasm in other quarters.

Vietnam is most well-known internationally for its economic growth — it’s a ‘Next Eleven‘ country and, while its GDP growth has slowed in recent years, it’s still poised to become a breakout economic power in southeast Asia.  It’s also a party to the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations that could ultimately establish a free-trade zone among the United States and other South American and Asian countries.

It’s less well-known for its positions on social justice, but it would be a huge coup for the global marriage equality movement — with over 90 million people, it’s the 13th most populous country in the world, and it would be the first Asian jurisdiction to recognize same-sex marriage.  Continue reading After Britain and France, will Vietnam be the next country to enact same-sex marriage?