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What’s next for gay marriage in Australia?

After national and state governments rejected same-sex marriage bills last month, Gay Star News asks Australian Marriage Equality what’s next

What’s next for gay marriage in Australia?

Last month same-sex marriage legislation was rejected by the two houses of the Australian federal parliament and in the state of Tasmania.

Gay Star News asks national convenor of lobby group Australian Marriage Equality what’s next for their campaign.

It’s been a disappointing couple of months for the fight for same-sex marriage in Australia. Did you know that the bills were not going to pass in the federal House of Representatives and the Senate?

We always knew it would be difficult for the reform to pass in federal parliaments as long as the coalition refused to have a conscience vote [opposition MPs and Senators had to vote as a block against the bills]. 

The result, while very disappointing, contains the seeds of hope for the future. Two-thirds of Labor MPs voted for marriage equality. So that means we only need a third of the Liberals to vote for it for it to pass.

The last time the national government voted on marriage equality there were only six votes in favor. That’s increased now to 70, more than a ten fold increase.

How about the vote in Tasmania, where a same-sex marriage bill was passed by the lower house and then rejected by the upper house?

In Tasmania, we actually felt as some point as though we had the numbers to pass. It was very close. Much closer than many people realise. The final numbers were close anyway, eight against six in favor, but behind the scenes it was even closer than that.

The Tasmanian upper house is made up almost entirely of independents and they sometimes don’t make up their minds until the give their speech. And they sometimes they even change their minds after they’ve given their speech. So it was only towards the end of the debate that we realised that the bill would be defeated.

It was very disappointing but we shouldn’t focus on that, we should focus on the fact that it was so close.

The other aspect of the Tasmania vote that gives me hope is that the majority of upper house members support the principle of marriage equality but they opposed this bill because of concerns about the constitutional validity. At the very last minute they were fed a whole lot of bogus legal advice which exaggerated the risk of the bill being found unconstitutional and the costs associated with that.

Are you hopeful or confident that other states can pass same-sex marriage legislation?

I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that we’ll see same-sex marriages being performed somewhere in Australia in the next few months.

Bills have now been tabled in six different Australian jurisdictions: Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, New South Wales (NSW), the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and South Australia.

I think there will be most progress in the future in Tasmania, South Australia, NSW and the ACT. In the ACT they only have one legislative chamber. They have an election this month and if the current Labor government is returned then they have committed to moving forward on the issue.

What is Australian Marriage Equality’s strategy for the next year?

Our strategy has three elements. First is to encourage reform at a state level. And to work closely with advocates in South Australia, NSW, the ACT and Tasmania.

The second element of the strategy is to continue to work on a national level lobbying MPs who support the principle of marriage equality but are yet to vote for it. And in the lead up to the general election next year we’re seeking a commitment from the coalition to have a conscience vote on marriage equality.

The third element is to increase and consolidate the majority community support for marriage equality. Community support is fairly level at 65% we aim to increase that and to promote more active support among the large number of Australians who already support it.

We’ll do that with a greater focus on community education. We’ll be running forums on the issue in those areas where we know the support is lower, like western Sydney and regional Queensland.

How do you keep the momentum going after the disappointments? Do you worry that people might get tired of the issue?

I’m not worried that people will tire of the issue at all, because what we’re talking about is the recognition of our fundamental humanity.

Marriage equality in Australia and elsewhere is essentially a grassroots movement. It carries forth regardless of the response of the legislators, because it affects people on a day-to-day basis, it goes on and it grows.

What do same-sex marriage supporters in Australia and around the world need to do to make it happen?

I think what has the most impact in changing hearts and minds is everyday conversations. That’s what makes a difference.

Which opposing argument to same-sex marriage makes you most angry?

What annoys me most is when MPs think they know what’s best for gay and lesbian people. When they say ‘gay people don’t really want this’ or ‘it won’t make any difference to them’ or ‘they’ll still be discriminated against’ or ‘I don’t understand why they don’t want to get married’.

It’s those kind of really patronising arguments that anger me the most, because it shows such a lack of empathy. And it’s incredibly condescending.

Why do you think same-sex marriage is so important for Australia?

In terms of same-sex attracted people I think this is about removing discrimination but also about something much deeper. It’s about recognizing our fundamental humanity.

For the nation this reform is important because it fulfils our promise as a tolerant, open-minded and inclusive society. Australians like to believe that we’re fair-minded and we treat everyone equally.

Jim Wallace, head of Australian Christian Lobby said that ‘This whole campaign [for marriage equality] would do great credit to Joseph Goebbels’. Do you take that as a compliment?

I’m quite proud of the campaign that we’ve run up until now. And it has been praised as one of the best law reform campaigns in recent Australian history.

But I just can’t get round the fact that it is an extremely derogatory remark. Several people of Jewish origin have been quite prominent in this campaign, who lost their members of their families in the holocaust. And that comparison is not just tasteless it’s extremely offensive. I don’t take anything positive out of that comment.

Obviously what he’s suggesting is the campaign that we’ve been running has tried to turn lies into truth and it’s just about propaganda and that’s really demeaning to the thousands of Australians who have told the truth about their lives to their friends, families, neighbors, politicians in order to achieve legal equality. They have been very courageous and deserve the gratitude of the nation for their bravery. For them to be disparaged by being compared to the chief of Nazi propaganda is extremely offensive.

So, no I don’t take it as a compliment even a back-handed one. I can’t.  

Find out more about Australian Marriage Equality

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