Marriage Equality By Christmas?


With debate now beginning on marriage equality in the Senate, an on-going debate in the House of Reps, and legislation now hitting state parliaments across Australia, many supporters of marriage equality are asking the questions, "When, where and how?"

Same-sex marriage is very likely to hit Australian soil by Christmas. Tasmania and South Australia are the obvious starting places, both have legislation drafted and support from their respective premiers. But where does that leave those of us in other states?

In NSW the Upper House passed a motion from the Greens’ Cate Faehrmann in support of marriage equality with Coalition support, and in the Lower House independent Clover Moore continues to pressure the premier and state attorney-general on potential marriage equality legislation for the state with the most same-sex couples

In Victoria, the state Labor leader has declared strong support for reform, there is support from Liberals such as Clem Newton-Brown, and legislation pending from the Greens.

Clearly, the ACT has been a trailblazer in the recognition of same-sex relationships and is now also moving towards marriage equality. Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr is one of the nation’s most effective marriage equality champions.

In the NT, Chief Minister Paul Henderson has committed the ALP to a conscience vote on territory marriage equality laws.

Support continues to grow in WA, and in Queensland the removal of rights from gays and lesbians has sparked a co-ordinated campaign to challenge the Premier, who actually supports marriage equality, to treat all Queenslanders equally and fairly.

But a federal vote will be tough, although there are positive signs. The numbers are better in the Senate than the House of Reps, and in both houses those declaring "yes" continue to grow.

If Federal Parliament fails us we know this will only galvanise supporters ahead of the next vote. Polling proves enthusiasm for reform is growing despite resistance from some quarters. In each successive national poll more people shift from "support" to "strongly support".

This is because Australians increasingly understand this reform is about strengthening families, and providing loving and committed couples with security, protection, and recognition.

Australians understand the benefits of marriage, and that is why 61 per cent of married heterosexuals support a reform that will strengthen the relationships of their gay and lesbian friends, and ensure the institution of married is defined by love and commitment, and not excluding gay and lesbian Australians.

Jim Wallace and the Australian Christian Lobby this week displayed their ignorance on how important this issue is to Australians when they issued a statement calling on the federal government to "stare down the issue" and get it out of the way.

This completely ignores that fact that more Australians have engaged in parliamentary process to show support for marriage equality than on any other issue, ever.

177,000 Australians supported reform through the Lower House inquiry, and 44,000 Australians made submissions to the Senate Inquiry on marriage equality.

What Wallace and his friends Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard fail to realise is that many Australians are now emotionally invested in what they believe is a key aspiration for our nation.

While the states legislate for the reform one by one, the federal campaign will only continue to build steam towards the next election. This process started at the last election when this reform found its place on the mainstream political landscape.

Marriage Equality helped Adam Bandt win Melbourne, and contributed to big swings against prominent Labor figures Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese, who hadn’t then declared support for reform.

We will now see the same thing happen to their Liberal Party colleagues, including Josh Frydenberg, Kelly O’Dwyer and Theresa Gambaro, all of whom know from their own polling that marriage equality enjoys widespread support in their electorates.

Just as Australian Marriage Equality led a targeted electoral campaign in the seats of Melbourne, Sydney, and Grayndler at the 2010 election, we will do the same in the seats of Brisbane, Kooyong, Higgins and others.

At the same time, we are seeing an internal push in the Coalition towards supporting reform, one that is reminiscent of the campaign that began in Labor after the last election.

Growing dissatisfaction with Tony Abbott breaking a Coalition tradition and denying a conscience vote has been voiced by Malcolm Turnbull, and by senators Simon Birmingham and Sue Boyce in their report to the senate inquiry. A number of Liberal and National Party branches have also begun passing motions calling for a free vote on the reform.

If the Greens retain the balance of power after the next election, and Labor shows more courage in opposition than in government, then the likely numbers will be even stronger. 

We saw the same thing happen in Tasmania with the decriminalisation of homosexuality, which occurred under a socially conservative Liberal Government, a Labor opposition that was true to their core values, and a gutsy Greens’ leader named Christine Milne holding the balance of power.

Add to the mix that New Zealand is set to win the marriage equality Bledisloe Cup against Australia under a conservative government — no wonder many aspirational voters are becoming impatient.

Should the Feds squib, it is inevitable that many Australians will use the next federal election to vent their frustration, to the benefit of those candidates who stand up for the values of fairness and equality.

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