Gillard and Bruni
New Delhi, Oct. 11: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has denied India an opportunity to establish that it is not as prudish as the rest of the world thinks.
Protocol minders in Delhi were hoping that Gillard, who will start a three-day state visit to India from Monday, would bring along her partner Tim Mathieson.
But Mathieson, who is fondly referred to in Australia as the country’s “first bloke”, is not expected to accompany Gillard, apparently in deference to India’s “cultural traditions”. Gillard lives with Mathieson, her partner since 2006, who told the media last year that the couple did not plan to marry anytime soon.
Sources said New Delhi was ready this time to accord to Mathieson all ceremonial honours a legally wedded spouse of a head of state or government is entitled to.
The clear-cut stand is in contrast with the confusion that prevailed when New Delhi was to host then French President Nicolas Sarkozy in January 2008. Sarkozy was to be the chief guest at that year’s Republic Day Parade. Sarkozy and his then partner Carla Bruni wanted to visit the Taj Mahal but the former model dropped out of the visit as it was conveyed to Paris that she wouldn’t be recognised as the First Lady.
The two married within a week of Sarkozy returning to France from India and realised their dream of visiting the Taj together when Sarkozy visited again in December 2010.
A foreign ministry source said Mathieson’s case was different from that of Bruni. The Australian Common Law recognises him as Gillard’s partner and the Prime Minister’s passport mentions his name, the source in New Delhi said. “This is unlike the case of Bruni as French law didn’t give her any legal status as Sarkozy’s partner at that time,” the source added.
The sources agreed that by citing this logic, New Delhi could host Iceland’s lesbian Prime Minister Johanna Siguroardottir and her spouse Jonina Leosdottir with the latter being accorded the status of the visiting Prime Minister’s spouse.
Johanna became the world’s first openly lesbian head of state when she was sworn in as Iceland’s Prime Minister in February 2009. The two lived in a civil union since 2002 and married in 2010 when same-sex marriage was legalised in Iceland.
For the protocol enforcers in New Delhi, the spouse plays an important part in a state visit. A “state” visit — which Gillard will undertake — packs much more ceremonial fanfare than an “official” visit.
A visiting head of state or government on a state visit is given a 21-gun salute and a guard of honour on the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The President, the Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers attend the event, where the dignitary and his or her spouse are introduced to them.
This is followed by the visiting first couple laying a wreath at Rajghat, the final resting place of Mahatma Gandhi.
A President-hosted banquet, complete with a toast and speeches, is also an integral part of a state visit. In all these ceremonies, the spouse accompanies the dignitary.
On a state visit, the spouse is given security by the host country and visits to charitable organisations are facilitated. Mathieson, associated with initiatives on kidney health and diabetes, could have visited NGOs or hospitals working for such patients, the officials said.
Mathieson, “a very bubbly guy” who met Gillard at a salon in Victoria where he was a hairdresser, has been a regular presence during her visits abroad. He was with her for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and when Gillard attended the UN General Assembly session last month.
It is not known if the mandarins in New Delhi had conveyed to Gillard there wouldn’t be any protocol issues if her partner accompanied her. But knowing Gillard’s sharp tongue, they may have desisted.
Gillard’s repartee to the Opposition leader who sought the scalp of the Speaker for sending sexist text messages on women had caused a storm in Australia.
Gesturing to the Opposition leader across the chamber, Gillard had said: “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man.… If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House, he needs a mirror.”