With its emphasis on moral values the US election lead-up was a scary pumped-up version of what had already happened in Australia. 2004 was the year when politics didn’t just get into bed with religion, it stayed the night, snuggled in the morning and asked for breakfast.
After the March victory of gay-friendly Clover Moore in the local government elections (which saw two openly gay men also elected to council), those in Sydney’s gay ghettos predicted big things for the future. Mark Latham had previously spoken about widening Australia’s mateship circles to include the gay community, and no-one really believed that George Bush, with his proposed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, would win another term.
Prime Minister John Howard began testing the moral values waters in March, when he told 2UE he did not support gay adoption or gay marriage.
In the lead-up to the October election, a new political party emerged, taking up the slack left by the collapse of One Nation. Family First were unashamedly religious, and made no secret of their anti-gay policies. A volunteer told a journalist lesbians should be burned at the stake and a Queensland Family First candidate agreed to preference the Liberal Party, with the exception of Brisbane candidate Ingrid Tall, an out lesbian GP.
Bus-loads of concerned Christian citizens travelled to Canberra to hear John Howard reiterate his commitment to them and their values. Shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon told the crowd the ALP would support Howard’s proposed ban on same-sex marriage, then the subject of a Senate inquiry and not expected to come up for debate before the election.
Gay community supporters had mixed results. The Greens did better than expected, while the Democrats faltered -“ a last-minute, contentious preference deal with Family First was not enough to get them over the line -“ and gay senator Brian Greig lost his seat.
In the US, even gay Republicans were urging voters not to support George Bush. The Log Cabin Republicans voted 22 to 2 against endorsing Bush’s campaign, due to Bush’s commitment to banning same-sex marriage in the constitution. Meantime, the biggest US gay and lesbian organisation the Human Rights Campaign threw its support behind John Kerry. In the end, Bush won. Debate has raged since about the impact gay marriage had on his victory, and whether it simply served to mobilise Christian voters against Kerry.