A vote in the upper house of the Australian state of Tasmania has seen same-sex marriage rejected.
The vote was close with eight opposing and six supporting the bill, but as the debate continued it became clear that it would not go the same way as in the lower house, where it passed 13 to 11 last month.
The debate, which began yesterday and lasted from 11am to 9.30pm today, heard from all 15 MLCs. The chamber was full of members of the public including representatives from religious groups.
Arguments against were characterised with caution, with many MLCs stating that this issue should be decided nationally, not at state level.
Supporters Michael Gaffney and Ruth Forrest emphasized that the bill was about ending discrimination, but Rosemary Armitage who opposed questioned how much the bill would end do that.
Armitage said the legislation was a ‘second class marriage bill’ because it would only be binding in Tasmania and it might be challenged in the High Court as unconstitutional.
Independent MLC James Wilkinson agreed that it would be ‘irresponsible’ to pass a law that may be unconstitutional.
Legal advice about the constitutionality of the bill was colored by the fact that some was circulated by anti-gay-marriage group FamilyVoice. Wilkinson said that this was no reason not to trust the recommendations of the lawyer involved.
Another independent MLC Ivan Dean said that he had received more emails against the bill than supporting it (1,301 to 1,072).
When it became clear that the bill was going to be defeated, independent same-sex marriage supporter Gaffney said ‘I am truly truly sorry’ followed by applause from the public gallery.
After the federal government rejected bills last week, marriage equality advocates had hoped the states, starting with Tasmania, would legislate for same-sex marriage.
Australian Marriage Equality national convener and Tasmanian local Rodney Croome, who has campaigned rigorously for the other outcome, said:
‘Today in Tasmania we came closer to allowing same-sex couples to marry than ever before in Australia.
‘The fact that most upper house members who voted against of this bill cited constitutional issues as the problem shows we have won the marriage equality debate even though the bill was lost.
‘We will never rest until same-sex couples can marry.’