Ron Hughes: The Rann Dilemma
I'll start this column by saying I don't know Mike Rann. I've never met him, personally or professionally, mainly because apart from announcing some 11 or 12 years ago that the ALP party platform included recognising same-sex couples as de factos, he's kept his mouth pretty well shut on LGBTI issues.
Now Rann has come in for some pretty heavy criticism over the last couple of weeks for not announcing his support for marriage equality earlier in his career. "Too little, too late" – that sort of thing.
OK, I'm no apologist for any party or politician, but I do understand why he kept his mouth shut. I don't like it, but I understand it.
As leader of a political party, Rann has had to straddle the divides within his own party just to keep the peace. If he'd spoken out earlier, say in 2004 when John Howard brought in his infamous gay marriage ban, the right wing of his own party would have knifed him then and there. Instead he kept his mouth shut and continued as a more or less effective premier for another seven years. Although I do wish he'd quit invoking the spirit of Don Dunstan. It is possible to suffer by comparison, you know?
I believe Rann was telling the truth when he told blaze he had intended to announce his support for marriage equality at the ALP National Conference, but since he was denied the opportunity to speak there, he chose the next best thing: the prestigious and highly respected Flinders University Investigator Lecture.
I'm pleased he finally did. A lot of people are pleased he also spoke against civil unions as an alternative.
Marriage equality activists will often point out that civil unions are actually a roadblock on the path to equality, the last desperate act of those who oppose equality fighting a rear-guard action against the inevitable. I myself think civil unions are a viable option for those who dislike the institution of marriage for whatever reason. But they should be open to all couples, opposite and same sex. As indeed should marriage.
But getting back to Rann: it's a clear indictment of our political system that the need to bridge ideological divides can sometimes lead to debate on an issue being stifled almost completely. That's what's happened here. Instead of a respectful and healthy debate on the issue we've had near-silence from both sides on a range of issues such as marriage, adoption and IVF treatment. The notable exceptions have been Labor's Ian Hunter and the Greens' Tammy Franks. They're the exceptions that prove the rule: nobody wanted to talk about these things.
Well, they're talking now.
At least it kept the mainstream media occupied for a week.
Oh, and Mr Rann: sincerely, thanks for your support.