HIGH-profile advocates for marriage equality met in Brisbane on the eve of the 10th anniversary of an amendment to the federal Marriage Act to explicitly exclude same-sex relationships to continue their push for equality.
The forum organised by the Australian Marriage Equality (AME) movement included speakers such as Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s sister and Sydney councillor Christine Forster, AME national convenor Rodney Croome, Moreton federal Labor MP Graham Perrett, the Anglican Dean of Brisbane Reverend Dr Peter Catt and psychologist Paul Martin.
Liberal National Party representatives including Brisbane federal MP Teresa Gambaro and Brisbane councillor Vicki Howard also spoke of their support for equal marriage rights, along with local Greens representatives and a written statement from Queensland Senator Larissa Waters.
Hosted at the New Farm Uniting Church, speakers spoke to the invitation-only audience about how each came to believe in extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples based on their particular political leanings, ethos and personal beliefs.
Despite “agreeing to disagree” with her brother over their opinions on same-sex marriage, Forster said that support for movement was influencing how he was approaching the issue.
Forster spoke of the shifting view of the PM to a point to where if requested by Liberal Party members for a conscience vote, he would allow it.
“My brother is a very good Liberal and a very good leader of the party and if that’s what the party tells him that’s what he will accept,” she said.
Speaking of her personal take on marriage, Forster said that having previously been married to a man gave her insight into the importance of the issue.
“I have been married, I am a gay woman, a lesbian, but I was married for 20 years. So I know the significance of marriage and how that speaks to your community, friends and family and what it says about the special relationship you have with your partner,” she said.
Speaking to his professional area of expertise, Wilson said that marriage was not a human right, but it was ”a civil right”.
“Civil rights are those gifted by society, such as the principle of non-discrimination and universal health care,” he said.
He also said that it was more appropriate for governments to legislate for secular marriage and leave religious marriages to churches.
“They could compete and people could choose which one they want based on the standards set around them,” Wilson said.
He added that a human rights principle about marriage was equality before the law.
“So as long as the civil right of marriage exists, it must be open to all people equally,” he said.
“If we can hold high offices in this country we should be able to get married… If we don’t let parents choose who we can marry why do we let the government do this.”
In a point of contention during the forum, Wilson said conservatives were “pro-change”, favouring less government involvement in people’s lives.
Perrett disputed Wilson’s point, stating that it was the nature of conservatism to oppose change and support traditional values. This was met with a heated exchange with an audience member who accused Perrett of “fear-mongering”.
Martin and Dr Dane spoke about their personal experiences with regards to the impact of research showing support for marriage equality and the mental health issues experienced by youth faced with homophobic stigma and the inability to legitimise their relationships with marriage.
Approaching the issue from a religious standpoint, Dr Catt – who heads A Progressive Christian Voice – said marriage had evolved over centuries.
“I don’t think God gives two hoots about societal order, about the exact structures, as long as people are pursuing justice,” he said.
“Marriage is the rite through which we publicly honour and celebrate love – I support it being open to all.
“Because if love is the guiding principal to how we are to live, then there really isn’t much room, if any room at all, for other hard and fast rules or structures.”
Explaining why he believed in equality, Dr Catt said: “Always ask: is it loving? If it is, it’s good. This is the only test. This is why I support equal marriage.”
Touching on a fellow religious perspective, Dr Berry said that there was equality in the way that God saw everyone.
“In the eyes of God everyone has value. If Mr Abbott is truly a Christian he should show justice and mercy to all in Australia,” she said.
“My son is not inferior and he is not second class… I look forward to Simon’s marriage if that’s what’s he wants.”
Perrett also urged the audience and people watching the recorded forum to contact their local MPs from across the political divide to express their support for marriage equality.
Recent news of overwhelming support in a Crosby Textor poll was proof enough for Croome that marriage equality was inevitable, and he highlighted an AME campaign to win over the support of at least 20 MPs who were on the fence about the issue.
“The debate is largely over… the community has made up its mind,” Croome said.