Black Friday: an example of why we need a Bill of Rights

As if to prove my point, it appears that right about the time I was writing my last post, the Government and the ALP were teaming up to race a new law law through the Senate banning gay marriage in Australia. What a tremendously progressive piece of legislation. God forbid that we should want two people in a long term loving relationship to legally and publicly commit to each other for life. As the leader of the Democrats pointed out, this legislation should be very helpful for all those young people wrestling with their sexual identity.

Andrew Bartlett stood on the floor of the chamber choking back tears. Overcome as he tried to read speech notes contemplating how he would have felt if he had been banned from marrying his wife, Julie, the Democrats leader spoke instead of how the new laws might hurt gay teenagers contemplating suicide.

Once again it was left to the minor parties to stand up for some modicum of fairness and equality. The liberal wing of the Liberal party has been missing in action for years now (does it still exist?), and the ALP can rarely be counted on on matters like this.

It looks like the legislation is going to be subject to a High Court challenge (read here), but — as constitutional law expert George Williams points out — in the absence of a Bill of Rights to protect citizens against discrimination it is going to be a tough case to argue. In my last post, I suggested that we didn’t tackle these kinds of issues in IA. Actually, that’s not quite true. In our chapter on reinvigorating Australia’s democratic system (Chap 2) we propose that Australia adopt a bill of rights (pp.57-61). One of our main arguments for a BOR is that it will “help protect those people whose predicament is not necessarily on the front pages of newspapers”. In fact, we go to say that:

It will help the recent migrant who is unlawfully detained in the criminal justice system. It will help the homosexual who wishes to be accorded the same rights and opportunities as any other member of society. (p.58)

If you were ever in any doubt that Australia needs a bill of rights, the disgraceful performance of our major parties on Friday should lay those doubts to rest.

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