There has been much comment in the queer press since the state-based same-sex marriage forum organised by the Greens at the Newtown Hotel on May Day.
Much of that comment has been from the GLRL (Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby). It is now appropriate for the Greens to respond.
In relation to many lesbian and gay issues the Greens and the GLRL share the same goals, including marriage equality.
It appears the sticking point is whether it is best to seize the chance of state-based same-sex marriage or hold out for federal relationship recognition.
Whilst the Greens are working for federal marriage equality we realise it is a long way off and so we are campaigning for state-based same-sex marriage.
This will not be a distraction from pursuing changes to federal legislation; instead it’s a step towards it.
For the Greens our activism on this important issue is not unilateral grandstanding, as some letters to the editors of the gay and lesbian press suggested.
Instead it is what Rodney Croome has described as legislative activism.
It is only one form of activism, and sits alongside forums, lobbying, letter-writing, petitions, rallies and marches, all of which are undertaken by the Greens and various community groups, as one way of building up momentum that will, over time, erode opposition and bring about change.
Nor should the introduction of the same-sex marriage bills into state parliament be seen as pre-empting community debate.
Far from it, for it is in fact part of an ongoing consultative process that included all queer community groups from the very beginning. We will be consulting with individuals and queer community groups as the bills are drafted and fine-tuned.
There was also some talk at the forum and in the queer press that the lesbian and gay community does not want same-sex marriage.
On the contrary, as the Greens LGBTI Standing Committee’s consultation process has made quite clear, though some people may not want it, or have other priorities, many more individuals and groups, such as CAAH and AME, do.
In announcing that he would not allow a conscience vote on the issue, NSW premier Bob Carr argued that Australia is one nation and should have one marriage law.
This is one of the most nonsensical arguments of all, for we all know that the states have control of many areas of our lives equally as significant as marriage, such as de facto relationship laws and criminal law.
It was argued at the forum that state-based same-sex marriage would be nothing more than symbolic reform with no real benefits.
But as was made clear by Nick McKim, Rodney Croome, Lee Rhiannon and others at the Newtown forum, in states such as NSW where same-sex couples are still denied important spousal rights, marriage would bring these rights as a matter of course.
Many other aspects of our lives are legislated by the states rather than the commonwealth. Anti-discrimination laws are an obvious case in point, for under federal laws there is hardly any protection.
Are we to argue against our state-based protection? Of course not.
Furthermore, there are many examples where federal and state law result in same-sex couples being treated separately.
For example, under state de facto relationship laws, opposite-sex couples can access the federal Family Court to settle their property and custody disputes, but same-sex couples have to take their disputes to the state Supreme Court.
Arguments were made at the forum that a campaign on same-sex marriage in NSW will distract from other important issues, such as parenting reform.
The history of campaigning shows that a diversity of campaigns and a variety of tactics are a strength. A campaign for state-based same-sex marriage legislation could actually help the parenting rights campaign.
There was also a lot of noise at the forum that campaigning for state-based same-sex marriage will stir up homophobia. More than same-sex parenting rights? We don’t think so.
Let’s have faith in our community’s power and activist credentials and move forward to change homophobic attitudes, not give in to them.
Which leads me to ask, where to from here? I’m pleased to report that the Greens are continuing to consult with the GLRL as well as other community groups.
David Scamell of the GLRL has said he respects the Greens’ goal of keeping the issue of gay marriage in the media, even if he disagreed with their marriage bill, and Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon has told the media that she understood where the GLRL was coming from, even if they agreed to disagree on tactics.
The Greens also welcome the recently announced GLRL forum on federal marriage rights taking place on Saturday 18 June as having the potential to make a significant contribution to the debate.
I’ll be there, arguing for a coordinated campaign on several fronts, including state and federal marriage equality legislation.
It would be great if we could get federal reform in the foreseeable future, but in the meantime let’s campaign on something that might be winnable in the shorter term.