Happy 10th Birthday To Formal Prejudice Against Same-Sex Marriage!

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Today, August 13, marks the 10th anniversary of federal parliament passing legislation explicitly excluding same-sex couples from marriage.

It was, and remains, one of the most retrograde amendments ever passed by an Australian Parliament.

It explicitly enshrined discrimination against an entire group of Australians, fostering prejudice and stigma more deeply than before.

It fossilised marriage, preventing it from adapting, as it always has, to changing social conditions. Australia's decade-long same-sex marriage ban has also caused its fair share of personal grief.

Partners who wanted nothing more than to marry have passed away without the opportunity to say "I do".

Other partners have been forced to marry overseas, away from family, friends and home.

Children of same-sex have grown into adulthood without the acknowledgement and validation that would have come from having married parents.

But today’s anniversary should be more about celebration than sadness because marriage equality has moved forward so much since 2004.

Popular support for reform has grown from 38 per cent in 2004 to 72 per cent today.

The number of countries allowing same-sex couples to marry has soared from three to almost 20, including Australia’s closest friends and allies like New Zealand, the UK, the US and Canada.

In 2011 the ALP changed its policy to support marriage equality and allow a conscience vote.

Indications are that the Liberal and National Parties will also allow a conscience vote soon, removing the final formal barrier to change.

At the moment we can't be sure if, pending a conscience vote, there is sufficient support among MPs for reform to pass.

Polling shows there are votes to be won by supporting marriage equality.

Advocates are doing all we can to highlight that fact at a local level.

Given the immense steps forwards over the last 10 years, we should remain optimistic that MPs will listen and bring to an end a decade of overt discrimination.

But what if they don't?

What if factional leaders bring on the vote prematurely to scuttle the reform, as they did under the previous government?

What if MPs continue to hide behind the two tired and contradictory mantras, “it’s not important enough for parliament to waste time on” and “it’s so important it should go to a referendum”?

What if the political class again tries to ignore the issue in the hope it will go away, just like it hasn’t for the last decade?

If marriage equality is struck down again it will only gather strength as an issue.

It will be the defining legal and social reform at the next federal election causing acute electoral discomfort to those MPs who continue to oppose it.

It will again be taken up by the states as they attempt to pass laws framed differently to the ACT marriage equality law defeated by the High Court last year.

It will come only ever closer to the hearts and hearths of heterosexual Australians as their gay friends and family members marry overseas, or in consulates in Australia, rather than wait any longer.

As a public issue, marriage equality will never follow the downward trajectory of the republic because it has a direct, personal impact on so many Australian families, and because it has such overwhelming and passionate support among the young.

The only thing that will ever take marriage equality of the agenda is achieving it.

The Australian public understands this, which is why it overwhelmingly believes marriage equality is inevitable, including a majority of those who are against.

It’s clear to everyone that the community has made up its mind in favour of marriage equality and will never change back.

For these reasons we should do it now.

There is just no good reason for making the nation wait another two, three or four years.

Nothing would be achieved by spending parliament’s time on yet further debates, inquiries and votes.

Forcing couples to delay their vows or make them marry overseas does nothing but punish them and their families.

Marriage equality is going to happen so why wait?

Ten years has been long enough for everyone.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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