A same-sex marriage bill put before Tasmanian parliament this week has led to calls for a similar move in NSW.
The Tasmanian Greens tabled the Same Sex Marriage Bill on Tuesday after advice from constitutional law expert Professor George Williams that the state-based same-sex marriage law would be valid.
For federal purposes, marriage does mean a union between a man and a woman. However, it doesn’t actually say anything about specifically excluding types of marriage laws at the state level, Williams, a professor at the University of NSW, told ABC News.
Similar laws may also be valid in NSW, according to another constitutional expert.
One of the ironical and perhaps unintended consequences of last year’s [Com-monwealth Marriage Act] amendment may have been to open up this space for state laws with respect to same-sex marriage, said Dr Simon Evans, director of the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at the University of Melbourne.
If the legislation were validly drafted and enacted in Tasmania there’s no reason that similar legislation could not be adopted in each of the states, Evans said.
However, NSW attorney-general Bob Debus rejected the suggestion.
A spokesperson for Debus told Sydney Star Observer, Our legal advice is that marriage is an exclusive power of the commonwealth.
Tasmanian attorney-general Judy Jackson said she also understood marriage was the domain of the federal government, but if she received different advice she would support debate on the issue.
Local politicians have begun pushing for NSW to follow the Tasmanian lead.
Independent Bligh MP and Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore said the legal advice provided in Tasmania could be a basis for progressive law reform.
I call on the state government to investigate a similar bill for NSW, Moore told the Star.
NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said her party was seeking a meeting with Debus to discuss the issue.
We’re certainly looking to do a similar thing [to the Tasmanian Greens] in NSW and we’re starting off with the attorney-general, Rhiannon said.
Rodney Croome, spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, hoped similar legislation could be introduced around Australia.
That will give us an opportunity to have the kind of national debate on same-sex marriage that we desperately need to have, Croome said.
The federal government may think that it’s succeeded in building a wall around the definition of marriage in Australia and in silencing the debate, but I don’t think we should accept that.
Luke Gahan, national convenor of lobby group Australian Marriage Equality, said the Tasmanian development was a ray of hope after the disappointment of last year.
With the [gay] marriage ban last year, a lot of people were thinking, -˜What to do now?’ Gahan told the Star.
Now we’ve basically been given a second chance to have a debate publicly and also to get the idea of same-sex marriage back on the agenda.
But state-based initiatives alone would not end discrimination, said David Scamell, co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.
It is only through legal recognition under federal law that our relationships will be equal, Scamell said.