Politicians and community leaders have expressed concern about Labor’s commitment to gay law reform, following the withdrawal of a Rainbow Labor motion at the party’s national conference last week.

The motion, proposed by the national network of Rainbow Labor groups, called on the party to develop a scheme enabling the recognition of same-sex relationships, but was withdrawn by Rainbow Labor executives on Friday when it became apparent that it would be defeated in a vote. Party sources said the opposition to the motion was being spearheaded by Joe de Bruyn, the national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson Rodney Croome said the ALP was caving in to right-wing scare-mongering.

The cowardice of the federal ALP places it in the absurd position of being more conservative on partnership registration than the Tasmanian Liberal Party and the Tasmanian upper house, Croome said. There’s something wrong with the Australian Labor Party when it can’t commit to a reform which its counterparts in Britain and New Zealand are pursuing with vigour.

And NSW Greens senator Kerry Nettle criticised Labor leader Mark Latham for failing to support gay marriage.

The Labor Party has consistently ducked this issue, choosing to hide behind a dubious legal claim that same-sex marriages could be ruled unconstitutional, Nettle said. Prejudice will continue whilst those in positions of leadership run scared of its power.

Australia should be following the lead of countries like Canada, Holland, France and Germany in extending the same rights to same-sex couples as heterosexual couples, including the right to get married, Nettle said.

Rainbow Labor co-convenor Scott Carn said the proposed motion had called for relationship recognition but made no specific references to gay marriage, which he said was reflective of community ambivalence on the issue.

We don’t want gay marriage to become the next Tampa, Carn said. He said the withdrawal of the motion was disappointing but the current debate was moving the party forward.

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