Professor Dennis Altman, whose ideas helped define the early gay movement in Australia, says gay marriage is “self-indulgent crap” and a second-order issue.
Altman was commenting on the election of the Labor Government and the likely effect on gay rights and the handling of the AIDS epidemic both domestically and internationally.
“I think it’s [gay marriage] a great deal of self-indulgent crap,” he said.
“I mean people around the world are being tortured for being homosexual and people here carry on as if not being allowed to marry was a huge abuse of civil rights.
“I wish there was a bit more internationalism in the Australian gay world. I mean it’s not too much to ask that we remember, sometimes, we are not the most persecuted and oppressed group in the world.”
Under the Liberals, Altman said Australia had been pretty good internationally on HIV/AIDS, in contrast to its performance at home, which urgently needs improvement.
“Australia has not followed the US line internationally. Downer certainly wasn’t going to start pushing for abstinence, or anti-sex work, or anti-homosexual policies,” he said.
But he slammed the performance of the Federal Health department at home as “very, very inadequate”, blaming Health Minister Tony Abbott, not least for his habit of replacing experts on his advisory committees with Catholic priests and laymen.
Altman was deputy chair of the government’s advisory committee on HIV/AIDS until he and chairman Michael Kidd were dumped by the minister.
“I’m not complaining about getting dumped, but I do complain that he did bring in a number of Catholic priests who knew virtually nothing,” Altman said.
“We’d been doing so well for so long [on HIV/AIDS], then Abbott slowly shifted the Federal Government response. I mean, for example, there was an extraordinary amount of censorship on stuff that the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations did. Just to produce the HIV Herald has been an absolute nightmare for AFAO because everything had to be approved three times in Canberra.”
Altman hopes for a return to the previous bipartisan approach instituted by Labor.
“I think one of the most important changes … will be who then advises the Government on HIV issues,” he said.
“I would hope for a real lift in the performance of the Federal Health department which has been very, very inadequate on AIDS over the last few years.”
But he doesn’t think gay marriage will ever be on the Rudd agenda.
“There are people coming into the cabinet who genuinely understand and are sympathetic to bringing about real equality, but I think there is no way this government or any likely future government will touch gay marriage. I think they will be responsive on a whole range of other equality issues.”
Dennis Altman taught politics at the University of Sydney and, in 1971, published his book Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation, which helped shape Australia’s gay liberation movement. He was also a speaker at this week’s World AIDS Day forum.
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