Gay marriage has become a wedge issue in one of Australia’s most prominent gay and lesbian lobby groups, leading two committee members to resign.

Secretary Alistair MacKay and committee member Bernard Ryan resigned this month, both saying they were disappointed the organisation was not pushing harder to achieve gay marriage rights.

I would have liked the lobby to have pre-empted what John Howard did last week by being a bit more aggressive and active, Ryan told Sydney Star Observer.

We could see this debate coming -“ it had happened in the States and it was very obviously going to happen here. Alistair and I felt frustrations that the lobby wasn’t prepared to formulate a strategy for it.

Ryan and MacKay were the only committee members to speak against the Lobby’s decision to prioritise parenting and de facto relationship recognition above marriage. Both Ryan and MacKay told the Star they supported the Lobby’s work in other areas but did not feel comfortable with the Lobby’s strategy.

Getting de facto status for gay and lesbian people will help. But whether marriage is treated as symbolic or not, same-sex couples are being cut out of something that is an important institution in society, MacKay said.

Since John Howard announced plans to introduce legislation against same-sex marriage last week, the Lobby’s decision not to prioritise equal marriage rights has been under question in community forums and discussions.

Rights Lobby co-convenor Somali Cerise said the Lobby had always supported gay and lesbian marriage, but decided not to make it a priority in the lead-up to this year’s federal election. The decision was formulated through consultation with the community and studying overseas models, Cerise said.

The position that we’ve taken in the lead-up to the next federal election is to not have marriage as part of our lobbying agenda. We think the best way to achieve full equality including marriage is to pursue de facto recognition in the lead-up to the election, she said.

I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest if we had started a marriage campaign it would have made this blow up any less. Those people who are saying that it’s our community’s fault for not having a marriage campaign -“ that this is why John Howard has attacked us -“ are just blaming our community for homophobia. To say that at a time when we’re being attacked is counter-productive.

Fellow co-convenor Rob McGrory said the Lobby recognised there were differences of opinions in the gay and lesbian community about what priority to give marriage as a campaign issue.

It would be great if everything came in one bucket, McGrory said.

But our experience tells us that doesn’t happen, and that in order to achieve our ultimate goals there are some steps along the way.

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