David Southwick peddled misinformation about Safe School in his election campaign and owes the community an apology.
David Southwick was reported in the Australian Jewish News (Nov 23 2018), commenting on the Safe Schools program:
Southwick and Grasso clashed over the Liberals’ plans to scrap the Safe Schools program in which he said “really young children [are] being exposed to sexual education” and replace it with anti-bullying legislation, which she said would not teach respect for those with diverse sexual orientations.
One Nation Queensland leader Steve Dickson’s claim that the Safe Schools program “contains highly explicit material directed at young children in their formative years” is incorrect.
There is no discussion of the details of specific sex acts, sex aids or sexual health in Safe Schools resources.
Safe Schools is an optional resource for schools and teachers. Its aim is to help school staff create safer and more inclusive environments for LGBTI students and families.
It is apparent that the understanding David Southwick has of the Safe Schools program, held uniformly across the Liberal Party, differs markedly from the reality of the program.
Is it deeply concerning that David Southwick campaigned on misinformation and fear-mongering, rather than truth and honesty.
David Southwick owes the voters and residents of Caulfield, the Jewish and wider community who put their trust in him, LGBTIQ people and their families, and all Victorians a sincere apology for flagrantly peddling damaging misinformation.
Opponents of marriage equality often say that married and de facto couples already have the same rights. To what extent is this true? And, in legal terms, how much do the differences matter?
In an opinion piece last week, former prime minister Tony Abbott claimed:
Already, indeed, same-sex couples in a settled domestic relationship have exactly the same rights as people who are married.
This isn’t true.
At the most fundamental level, same-sex couples do not have the right to marry and therefore do not have “marriage equality”. While de facto couples may be able to assert some of the same rights as married couples, they often have to expend significant time, money and unnecessary heartache to do so.
Marriage allows people to access a complete package of rights simply by showing their marriage certificate or ticking a box, and is based on their mutual promises to one another rather than proving their relationship meets particular interdependency criteria.
Unlike de facto relationships, marriage is recognised nationally and internationally.
Differences under law
The laws regarding de facto couples differ between states and the Commonwealth, and from one right to another.
For Centrelink purposes, you are a de facto couple from the moment you start living together; for migration law it is after 12 months of cohabiting (unless you have a child together or de facto relationships are illegal in your country of origin).
Under family law it is different again: a minimum of two years (unless you have a child together, have registered your relationship, or have made significant contributions to the relationship).
Where married couples use IVF, both spouses are automatically legal parents. But for de facto couples using reproductive technologies, their child’s parentage depends on whether a de facto relationship is proven to exist.
Couples who are or were married must file for property and/or spousal maintenance proceedings in the Family Court within one year of finalising a divorce, but have the option to agree to an extension of time in which to file. No such provision exists for de facto couples; they must file proceedings within two years.
In many states, a new marriage nullifies an existing will, unless that will was quite specifically worded. This is not the case when you enter a new de facto relationship. In the latter situation, if you die before making a new will, a court might need to decide how your assets are allocated (with costs borne by your estate).
In all contexts, de facto relationships require significant proof, which means partners may have to provide evidence about their living and child care arrangements, sexual relationship, finances, ownership of property, commitment to a shared life and how they present as a couple in public. These criteria can be absent from a heterosexual marriage, but it is still deemed a marriage.
Despite the wording in the marriage ceremony that marriage “is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”, it is up to married partners whether or not they share their finances, their housework, their childcare responsibilities, their homes or their beds, and how long they want to stay married.
‘Registered relationships’ – separate but equal?
Many states and territories have legislation permitting couples to register their domestic relationships – the exceptions are the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
To register, you first need to prove that you meet the criteria – for example, providing “personal or financial commitment and support of a domestic nature for the material benefit of the other”. Where marriage delivers rights based on a couple’s promises to one another, registered relationships still require proof that a relationship meeting the criteria already exists.
Such registered relationships are not reliably recognised overseas.
When does it matter?
While married and de facto relationships largely have equal standing before the law, only marriage is immediate and incontrovertible.
Difficulties for de facto couples arise from the complex inter-relationship between the “burden of proof”, institutionalised homophobia, and the sticky situations that can often arise in interpersonal or family conflict.
For example, a person in a de facto relationship might need to prove their relationship:
if their partner is very ill, in order to make decisions about their care and treatment (this can be prevented by having another piece of paper – a medical enduring power of attorney equivalent document depending on your state or territory);
if their partner who has died, in order to be listed as their spouse on a death certificate or to be involved in funeral planning (being listed on a death certificate is critically important when it comes to claiming superannuation payouts and myriad other issues); or
if their partner has died without leaving a will.
Sadly, the times when marital status matters most are likely to be times of grief, or high stress. To compound this, there are many examples of a couple’s “de facto” status being challenged by one partner’s family of origin. Marriage, on the other hand, is undeniable.
Unmarried de facto couples often experience difficulties attaining residency and/or working rights overseas. Married couples rarely experience these problems.
Same obligations, without the same right to wed
Same-sex couples have all the same obligations as married couples – to pay taxes, child support and so on. But they don’t have the ability to marry – to enjoy the symbolic and emotional effects of entering into a legal union with their partners before friends and family, or enjoy the legal security of having one document to confirm the legal status of their relationship.
Many heterosexual couples in Australia choose to live in de facto relationships. This is their right. Same-sex couples do not get to choose – they have no alternative.
Marriage equality is about giving couples genuine choice about how they structure their relationships.
Young adult fiction and complex themes go hand in hand – not least in one of the most recent entries to this field.
Melbourne-based writer Eli Glasman’s debut novel The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew opens a window on growing up Jewish and the ramifications this has for the development of an individual’s sexuality; protagonist, 17-year-old Yossi Speilman, is working out how to be gay in a strictly orthodox family.
Glasman’s book is a breath of fresh air, and fascinating culturally. Having lived in Melbourne’s Caulfield and St Kilda I’m familiar with the sight of Jewish families in the streets on Saturday and the men and boys in long coats with their sideburns and hats.
I’m guilty of reading this visual display of religiosity as a one-dimensional indicator of a life committed to religion with no room for fun or personal choice. Glasman’s novel has opened my eyes and reminded me (yet again) of the danger of cultural stereotypes.
Being serious about one’s religion does not, of course, mean being devoid of a sense of humour or of not having fun with your mates. Religion may provide some certainty and rules for living but it does not preclude the need for individual self-discovery that all adolescents experience.
Yossi is a young man committed to his religion, culture and community but also a typical teenager exploring his sexual feelings. I found him a delightful character and was relieved Glasman didn’t portray Yossi’s homosexuality as a torturous burden that blights his life.
Earlier young adult novels about gay and lesbian characters such as John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better be Worth the Trip (1969) or more recently Julie Ann Peters’ Keeping You a Secret (2003) frequently did take this path – the sexuality of the character being the defining quality of their lives and a problem that had to be solved.
Refreshingly, Yossi does not find his homosexuality an insurmountable – the challenge is how to express it within the laws of Judaism and how to tell his friends, family and wider community. Yossi knows he is gay, he has always known; he isn’t embarrassed and he knows he can’t change.
Yossi does initially seek help from Rabbi Pilcer via an internet chat site, who advises him to wear a rubber band on his wrist and snap it whenever Yossi has a sexual thought about another male. This, Pilcer claims, will “cure” him. It doesn’t.
The Jewish teachings on sexual behaviour are complicated and, to an outsider, peculiar. It is OK to have a wet dream but masturbating is forbidden; having homosexual thoughts is all right but acting on them isn’t. Yossi’s friendship with a new kid at school, Josh, is pivotal in his coming-out process.
Josh does not have an orthodox Jewish background and challenges many of Yossi’s religious beliefs. Glasman uses these conversations between Yossi and Josh to explain various Jewish teachings, not just those on sexuality.
Josh takes Yossi to his first gay synagogue and through this Yossi begins to understand that he can be gay and religious – he meets other gay Jews and begins to see a way forward for himself.
Yossi has his first sexual experience with Josh and, for once in a young adult novel, the sex did not make me cringe. It is natural, simple, affectionate and just slightly uncomfortable. It isn’t overly graphic, nor is it coy.
The morning after, Yossi isn’t embarrassed or filled with remorse but quietly and with humour discusses the reasons for the religious prohibitions against anal sex and condoms with Josh.
As Yossi says, preempting the reader’s possible response, some of this may seem silly but it is still interesting.
Coming out isn’t easy for Yossi; his father, sister and friends don’t accept immediately that he is gay; they learn as Yossi does to integrate their idea of homosexuality into their orthodox worldview. Glasman does a great job of presenting a balanced account of Yossi’s experience.
For every challenge he faces coming out to his Jewish community he also finds support and kindness from strangers, friends and family.
Glasman has avoided the trap of producing a novel about teenage sexuality; he has written a story about an interesting, intelligent and loving young man who happens to be Jewish and gay. Yossi never feels like an afterthought, created to populate an issue based or “problem” novel.
Australian writing for young adults has moved on as has our thinking about what it means to be gay.
Yossi’s life is not defined by his gayness or his Jewishness and neither is Glasman’s novel. Sure this novel could be a real comfort and support to young people facing coming out in a potentially hostile environment but it is also a joyful book that would inspire all readers to question the rules and to use creativity and love to find their path in life.