The Australian Greens are ramping up efforts to finally get marriage equality over the line in Australia in the wake of a successful referendum in Ireland and increasing pressure on the major parties to back the legislation.
New Greens’ spokesperson for LGBTI and Marriage Equality Janet Rice told New Matilda a bill introduced by fellow Senator Sarah Hanson-Young would be debated in June, and put to a vote on November 12.
Coalition MPs are currently barred from voting in favour of the legislation, while Labor members are offered a conscience vote, and are increasingly backing change.
“Everyday we’re having more and more MPs coming out and saying yes, they’re in support of it,” Rice said.
The issue is set to be debated by Labor at its national conference in July, with Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek pushing for MPs to vote together.
That move is facing fierce opposition from some segments of the party, most notably the conservative leadership of the powerful Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association.
Rice, who took over the LGBTI portfolio during the Greens’ recent reshuffle, said it was “absolutely” time for Labor to bind on the issue.
“There’s no reason why we should be discriminating against people on the basis of their sexuality or gender,” she said.
“If the Labor Party are a party that is concerned about human rights and concerned about ending all discrimination, then it should be a matter of principle.”
While describing marriage as an area “in which there is the most evidence of outright discrimination against LGBTI people”, Rice acknowledged the focus on the issue may be obscuring other forms of discrimination being suffered by the communities. She gave access to maternal and child health services, safe school environments, and welcoming aged care facilities for LGBTI people as examples.
One of the few MPs in an open same-sex relationship, Rice has previously spoken publicly about the experiences of her family and partner Penny.
“For me, it is an issue where the personal is political. Having a transgender partner means I’m very aware of the issues that transgender people face and have got good connections with the transgender community,” Rice said.
“The issues that we face are the issues being faced by families right across the country, so it really underpins the need for society to be seeing families like ours as just normal.
“Issues of sexuality and gender just shouldn’t matter, because we’re the same people we were before Penny transitioned. We’re the same people we were when we were married – we’re still married, we still love each other. We’re ordinary and diverse at the same time.”
Debate about marriage equality has held fast to the political agenda in recent months, despite the Coalition remaining in a position to knock down any legislation.
Libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm made an unsuccessful attempt to introduce legislation in 2014, with polls putting the level of support for marriage equality as high as 72 per cent.
After an Irish referendum on the question passed over the weekend with 62 per cent support, sparking scenes of elation, advocates in Australia are hoping the country will be able to host its own celebrations in the near future.
When New Zealand legislated in 2013, visitors and parliamentarians spontaneously burst into a Maori love song.
“It’s just been fantastic to see the level of joy and celebration that’s been experienced there and frustration that we haven’t got there in Australia yet, but the time will come,” Rice said. “It’s got to happen, and we’ll enjoy it when it does.”
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