Australasian Spartacist No. 212
Full Democratic Rights for Homosexuals!
For the Right of Gay Marriage...and Divorce!
The campaign for same-sex marriage rights in Australia has seen numerous rallies held in cities around the country over the past few years. At times mobilising thousands onto the streets, the demonstrations and marches have attracted a significant number of youth. Supporters of the Spartacist League have intervened into protests held in Melbourne and Sydney. As Trotskyist fighters for the socialist liberation of humanity, we stand committed to full democratic rights for gays, lesbians, transgenders and intersex people, and support any legal advances that can be wrested from this cruelly bigoted society, including the right to marry. This is part of our struggle to sweep away bourgeois class rule and all its means of reactionary social control, including marriage.
Anti-gay prejudice flows from the repressive institution of the family, a key prop for the maintenance of capitalist rule and the source of women’s subjugation. Enslaving women to domestic drudgery, the family serves the role of tying sex to private property rights. Its roots lie in the early division of human society into classes. The family is upheld to both ensure the “rightful” inheritance of property for the bourgeoisie and the raising of the next generation of wage slaves, instilling conservative obedience to the “values” of bourgeois morality. In bourgeois society the moral code of “one man on one woman for life” is reinforced by the authority of the family, the fear of god instilled by religion and the armed fist of the state. Homosexuality is deemed “sinful” and “deviant” because it challenges the stereotyping decreed by the sexual division of labour within the monogamous, heterosexual family. The destruction of capitalism through workers revolution will lay the basis for replacing the family by providing the material means to socialise and collectivise its functions (for example, establishing communal childcare, communal kitchens, and free quality healthcare).
In this country the deep-seated roots of misogyny and anti-gay bigotry go back to the establishment of an overwhelmingly male penal colony under British rule. Central to the transformation from penal colony to a modern capitalist society was the bolstering and glorification of the family, where women were to be “God’s police” and gays were not to be at all. Australian capitalist society was also founded on the attempted genocide of the Aboriginal people, pogroms against the Chinese and subsequent racial exclusion of all deemed “non-white.”
Attacks on vulnerable sections of the population are intended to strengthen the repressive power of the state and stymie united class struggle by dividing the proletariat along sexual and racial lines. For revolutionary Marxists, democratic rights are indivisible—an injury to one is an injury to all! In its own defence, the labour movement must vigorously oppose all bigotry and discriminatory attacks on homosexuals and every oppressed sector. In order to liberate itself from the shackles of capitalist oppression and exploitation, the proletariat must understand its historic task is to abolish class society in order to open the road to human freedom for everyone. The mobilisation of the immense social power of the organised working class against capitalism necessarily means an intransigent political struggle against the nationalist, chauvinist leaders of the ALP and its trade-union lieutenants, and for the construction of a revolutionary leadership.
Gillard ALP Government Enforces Anti-Gay Laws
The federal Labor government, led in-itially by devout, anti-abortion Christian, Kevin Rudd, and now by the atheist Julia Gillard, has upheld the anti-gay Marriage Amendment Act 2004 with its explicit ban on same-sex marriage and veto against recognising gay marriages conducted overseas. In 2004, the ALP Opposition helped the reactionary Liberal/National Coalition government of John Howard ram the legislation through parliament and has opposed attempts to overturn it since. The Act defines “marriage” as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” With one in three marriages reportedly ending in divorce, such a puritanical definition is clearly far removed from the reality of people’s lives.
Defending the ban on gay marriage, Gillard and Rudd boast that in 2008 the ALP government removed a raft of discriminatory legislation so that de facto same-sex couples are now recognised as de facto partners in areas such as superannuation, healthcare, taxation, immigration and social security. It is a good thing such discrimination is removed and gay couples at least have the same legal rights as de facto heterosexual couples. Of course, the bourgeoisie happily extends such rights when it means saving money. We oppose the government using the recent changes to cut social-security and other benefits to same-sex couples, hitting those that are older, poorer and disabled the hardest, just as we are opposed to slashing meagre benefits to any couple.
While Julia Gillard intones ad nauseam the Labor Party’s wretched line that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” polls have shown wide community support for equal marriage rights such that a number of politicians now echo support. Not surprisingly many activists are encouraged that legislative change is within grasp. Gay-rights groups such as Australian Marriage Equality (AME) have been pushing a parliamentary pressure campaign, directly lobbying politicians and pressing parties to allow a conscience vote on the issue.
Labor has of course for years allowed its members a “conscience” vote on abortion, not least to give a free hand to the reactionaries of the ALP right-wing machine heavily influenced by the Catholic Church hierarchy. Catholic leaders recently instructed their clergy and members to actively campaign against gay marriage. Meanwhile the reactionary nutters in the Australian Christian Lobby fretted that gay marriage would lead to a push for polygamous relationships, and the Christian Democrats’ candidate for Sydney in the upcoming NSW state elections incited further hatred and violence against gays, calling to remove the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from the streets (Sun Herald, 6 February).
Reflecting the ongoing poisonous influence of clerical reaction within the workers movement, Laborites like Catholic bigot Joe de Bruyn, head of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association has predictably expressed vehement hostility towards gay marriage. However, other union tops have given support, with the gay marriage campaign group Equal Love garnering a number of union endorsements for its same-sex marriage campaign, including the Construction Division of the CFMEU, the Australian Education Union, the National Tertiary Education Union as well as the Victorian Trades Hall Council. While it is a good thing that unions have gone on record defending gays, the fact that the pro-capitalist misleaders of these unions are happy to endorse reflects the conservative framework of the campaign, with its embellishing of the institution of marriage. The bitter truth is that these union tops do little to mobilise their members in struggle to defend the rights of gays.
A visible political force in the rallies for same-sex marriage has been the Greens, a small capitalist party with support particularly among the “small-l” liberal petty-bourgeoisie. In parliament its members have moved legislation to end the ban on gay marriage and opposed the 2004 anti-gay bill. Helping to preserve illusions in parliamentary capitalism, the Greens at times pose as friends of workers, minorities and the oppressed, while giving unalloyed backing to the Australian capitalist state. Today they help to prop up the minority Gillard Labor government, which administers racist Australian imperialism for the bosses.
Tailing along behind are the anti-Marxists of Socialist Alternative (SAlt) who bury the class character of the Greens in order to promote illusions in its “progressive” character, particularly as a means to pressure the social-democratic ALP. Thus in the 2010 federal elections, SAlt called for a vote to Labor, the capitalist Greens “or others who are genuinely left-wing,” once again trampling on the elementary Marxist principle of working-class independence from parties of the bourgeoisie. On gay marriage rights, SAlt likewise look to the Greens to “be an ally of the campaign in the parliament” lamenting that “we can’t expect them to drive the agenda. Nor do they have anywhere near the numbers in their own right to overturn the bigoted amendment to the Marriage Act” (Socialist Alternative Issue 159, September 2010).
Ensconced in Equal Love, SAlt push a parliamentary cretinist campaign, including petitioning for a repeal of the laws. They only differ from more mainstream pressure groups by offering some militant-sounding rhetoric and the occasional left-sounding critique of capitalism and the family as they channel social protest into the dead end of pressuring capitalist governments. Urging supporters to “keep fighting” to “force the Labor government to change their policy and the law,” SAlt sow the dangerous illusion that the brutal, racist capitalist state can be made to administer this class-divided society in the interests of the oppressed.
While defending every gain won from the capitalist rulers against attack by the state and other reactionary forces, we recognise that reforms won under capitalism are necessarily partial and can be reversed by the bourgeoisie: witness California’s Proposition 8 overturning the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the deepening attacks on abortion rights in the U.S. SAlt’s rare declaration that “lasting sexual liberation” requires “the overthrow of capitalism” is a cover for their actual reformist campaign. For Marxists, the understanding that full democratic rights for gays cannot and will not be guaranteed as long as bourgeois class rule remains is integral to winning workers and the oppressed to a revolutionary perspective.
Marriage and Bourgeois Respectability
With the number of marriages in 2008 at a 20-year high, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Adele Horin wrote “it is no wonder the subject of gay marriage has reared its head. Shock and horror: gays and lesbians are just like other Australians. They are just as conservative as the mainstream, just as influenced by the social currents that have made living in sin till death doth part them so 1970s” (20 November 2010). Such conservatism is reflected in the hoopla of mass mock wedding ceremonies that have on occasion been conducted at the end of marches for same-sex marriage rights. This year the central theme of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was marriage. The drive for bourgeois respectability is graphically seen in AME’s recent “pledge” to “respect the views of people who oppose same-sex weddings on religious grounds,” a futile attempt to conciliate religious bigots like Cardinal Pell and the Catholic Church as well as the powerful Australian Christian Lobby. AME’s national convenor declared “Just like the Christian lobby, we believe in the importance of marriage, protecting families, and religious freedom...in fact, we see these as three keys [sic] reasons for marriage equality” (Australian, 31 January).
It’s little wonder that many, like freelance writer Helen Razer, are repelled by the social conservatism that permeates the campaign for gay marriage. In her caustic article “Homosexuality is a bore now so many gays are wedded to a rickety institution” (Sydney Morning Herald, 3 March) Razer quipped, “But ‘gay’ itself has become a rickety institution. Wedded to the idea of weddings, military participation and cheering on ‘out’ footballers, the visible gay culture retains all the radicalism of a radish.”
SAlt have been in the forefront of conciliating the social conservatism that underlies the campaign for gay marriage. In a 2009 polemic, SAlt vituperate against those in the gay movement who oppose the campaign for gay marriage because they oppose the conservative institution of marriage: “So in general their argument is something like ‘we don’t want to fight to be included in these institutions, we want to smash them!’ This sort of argument needs to be exposed for the bullshit phrasemongering that it is” (Socialist Alternative, December 2009). While such opposition to supporting gay marriage rights stands at odds with the necessary struggle for democratic rights for all, it speaks volumes that not once in their polemic does SAlt even vaguely solidarise with the desire to sweep away the institution of marriage or raise the call for socialist revolution.
At the same time as defending the right of gays to marry, we socialists fight for a society in which no one needs to be forced into a legal straitjacket in order to get medical benefits, visitation rights, custody of children, immigration rights or any other privilege that capitalist society grants to those who are embedded in the traditional legal marriage mould. While marriage is held up to be “special,” more “sacred,” the “ultimate expression” of a relationship, in reality monogamous marriage is a creation of class society, imposed by state and church. It has been used historically as a means of reactionary social control by the ruling class.
In “Marriage and the Capitalist State” (Workers Vanguard No. 824, 16 April 2004), our U.S. comrades quote the apt remark by radical columnist Alexander Cockburn: “Why rejoice when state and church extend their grip, which is what marriage is all about.” Cockburn goes on to quote early U.S. ACTUP activist Jim Eigo on the question: “Why are current mainstream gay organizations working to strike a bargain with straight society that will make some queers less equal than others?... Marriage has no more place in efforts to achieve equality than slavery or the divine rights of kings. At this juncture in history, wouldn’t it make more sense for us to try to figure out how to relieve heterosexuals of the outdated shackles of matrimony?”
It certainly would! And it is the Marxist movement that figured out how to break those shackles, through abolishing the system of private property in the means of production, thus rendering obsolete the function of the bourgeois family structure to pass on such private wealth. As Leon Trotsky, co-leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution with Lenin, responded to the magazine Liberty (14 January 1933) which asked, “Is Bolshevism deliberately destroying the family?”:
“If one understands by ‘family’ a compulsory union based on the marriage contract, the blessing of the church, property rights, and the single passport, then Bolshevism has destroyed this policed family from the roots up.
“If one understands by ‘family’ the unbounded domination of parents over children, and absence of legal rights for the wife, then Bolshevism has, unfortunately, not yet completely destroyed this carryover of society’s old barbarism.
“If one understands by ‘family’ ideal monogamy—not in the legal but in the actual sense—then the Bolsheviks could not destroy what never was nor is on earth, barring fortunate exceptions.”
Russian Revolution and the Fight for Gay Rights
Following the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks began immediately to undercut the old bourgeois prejudices and social institutions responsible for the oppression of women and homosexuals. They abolished all legal impediments to women’s equality and all laws against homosexual acts and other consensual sexual activity. Within the limits of their capacity in backward Russia, bled white by world war and the outbreak of civil war soon after the Revolution, and under the immense pressure of hostile imperialist encirclement, the Bolsheviks sought to build socialised alternatives to the family.
The young Soviet state’s economic backwardness and its international isolation meant that the Bolsheviks could only hint at the large-scale allocation of social resources necessary to achieve the liberation of women from household drudgery. Under these conditions and following the failure of revolutions abroad particularly in Germany, a conservative, nationalist bureaucratic caste arose headed by J.V. Stalin. With the Stalinist bureaucracy’s usurpation of political power in 1923-24, the Bolshevik internationalist program was abandoned, replaced with the anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country.” Over time the bureaucracy rehabilitated the reactionary ideology of bourgeois society, not least glorifying the family unit. In 1934 a law making homosexual acts punishable by imprisonment was introduced, and mass arrests of homosexuals took place. Despite the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union, we Trotskyists always stood for the unconditional military defence of its socialised property forms against capitalist attack and counterrevolution. At the same time we fought for workers political revolution to oust the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy and restore the liberating proletarian-internationalist program and goals of the party of Lenin and Trotsky.
Not so the anti-Communist Socialist Alternative. Their political origins date back to the late Tony Cliff in Britain who split from Trotsky’s Fourth International in 1950. Bowing to the pressure of anti-Communist Cold War hysteria during the Korean War, Cliff capitulated to the British bourgeoisie and then-ruling British Labour Party, refusing to defend the Soviet Union, China and North Korea against imperialist attack. Cliff’s claim that the Soviet Union had become “state capitalist” (promoted earlier by social democrats who had opposed the 1917 Russian October Revolution) was the “theoretical” justification for his pro-imperialist program.
Similarly during the renewed anti-Soviet Cold War of the 1980s, as then members of the Cliffite International Socialist Organisation, SAlt cadre lined up with their own capitalist rulers against the bureaucratically degenerated Soviet workers state and deformed workers states of Eastern Europe backing vile, reactionary, anti-communist, anti-woman and anti-gay forces from the Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin in Afghanistan to Solidarność in Poland. To this day, SAlt laud Solidarność, a creature of the CIA and Catholic Church, while they march in lockstep with the imperialists’ push for capitalist counterrevolution in the remaining deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba. Meanwhile under cover of fighting against the “war on terror,” SAlt continue to conciliate reactionary anti-gay religious forces, campaigning for Muslim prayer rooms on university campuses. (See “On Marxism and Religion—Socialist Alternative: God Delusional Opportunists,” ASp No. 204, Autumn 2009). Given their conciliation of religion, it’s not surprising that SAlt soft-soap marriage in their approach to the same-sex marriage campaign. The common link between their justification for those who push sharia law and their enthusing for marriage is their capitulation to bourgeois ideology.
Government Out of the Bedroom!
While fighting for every possible democratic right, including the right of gays to wed, we recognise that gay marriage will not end the often deadly prejudice and violence that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people encounter every day in this homophobic, anti-sex society. In a recent national study, 61 percent of the thousands of gay, lesbian and gender-questioning youth who took part reported being subjected to homophobic verbal abuse while 18 percent also reported physical abuse, with most abuse taking place in schools. Facing schoolyard bullying and bashings, assaults while walking down the street, rejection and violence from intolerant parents, many of those surveyed said they had tried to harm themselves, including attempted suicides.
Underscoring the deeply entrenched homophobic nature of White Australia capitalism, the earliest Australian rulers were fanatical about suppressing homosexuality, for which the death penalty was prescribed. As recently as 1997, homosexuality was illegal in Tasmania. While Western Australia (WA) removed its anti-sodomy laws in 1989, it replaced them with “age-of-consent” laws that criminalised homosexual sex before the age of 21 (for heterosexual males, age of consent was 18 and for women, 16). Age of consent in WA was equalised at 16 in 2002. The state uses “age-of-consent” laws to target gays and especially youth nationwide. While “age of consent” for vaginal sex in Queensland today is 16, the state Labor government of Anna Bligh retains anti-sodomy laws that make anal sex involving a person under 18 a criminal offence punishable with up to 14-years jail.
It is nobody’s business, least of all the state’s, what sexual activities people engage in as long as it is consensual. State out of the bedroom! As we explain in the programmatic statement of the Spartacist League/Australia (1998):
“We stand in opposition to the state’s attempts at social regimentation, whether through censorship, anti-sex witchhunts or mandatory reporting of “under-age” sexual activity. Instead of reactionary age of consent laws which in Australia particularly target male homosexuals, we are for the principle of effective, i.e., meaningful, consent. We are for full democratic rights for gays.”
We have long opposed the anti-“paedophile” hysteria that has been whipped up by the state and which especially targets gays. In 1983, the Cain Labor government in Victoria unleashed a vicious witchhunt against supporters of the Paedophile Support Group (PSG), a grouping which took up the issue of consensual cross-generational sexual relations between adults and “under-age” youth, in an attempt to smear the small organisation of homosexuals as child molesters and sex criminals. As we wrote then in defence of the PSG: “The case is also a test of elementary political decency, as most feminists and the reformist left are washing their hands of the small and vulnerable group, if they are not actively egging on the witchhunters. Down with Cain’s puritanical witchhunt! Drop the charges!” (ASp No. 105, March/April 1984).
It is a key task of the workers revolutionary vanguard to fight for full democratic rights for all and to struggle to win the proletariat to this cause as part of the struggle to overthrow the capitalist system through victorious workers revolution. In his 1902 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done?, Lenin sharply outlined what the revolutionary’s ideal should be:
“the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
Sexuality is not in itself a political question. It is the bourgeoisie which politicise this issue, victimising those who do not fit the norms as established by the family, church and state. We carry forward the program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks who led the working class to power in the 1917 Russian Revolution. We seek to mobilise the proletariat in defence of gay rights and the rights of all the oppressed as part of the fight to overturn capitalism through socialist revolution. To create genuinely free and equal relations among people in all spheres, including sex, requires nothing less than the destruction of capitalist class rule and the creation of a communist world.