Gay rights activists and politicians have accused the Labor Party of betraying the gay and lesbian community by supporting Prime Minister John Howard’s plan to ban same-sex marriage within the next fortnight.

Howard yesterday announced his government would push for the anti-marriage legislation to be debated and voted on in the Senate next week. This is despite the Senate inquiry currently under way into same-sex marriage.

It had to be rushed through to ensure marriage didn’t become a wedge issue in the upcoming election, he told the crowd at the National Marriage Coalition forum in Canberra.

Labor’s shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon, also speaking at the forum, pledged the opposition’s support for the ban. She said the importance of keeping marriage as a union between a man and a woman was an issue over which the major parties agree.

Labor has consistently stated publicly that we will not support gay marriage and I make that statement here again today, she said.

Gay rights activist Rodney Croome said he felt disgusted and betrayed because Roxon didn’t reveal Labor’s plan in a meeting he had with her on Tuesday. She gave no suggestion whatsoever that Labor was planning to scuttle the Senate committee, Croome said.

However, it was clear today Labor had done a deal with [the coalition] and didn’t tell us in advance. It will mean same-sex relationships continue to be treated as second-rate, and it means marriage equality will take an extra 10 years to achieve.

Meanwhile it has emerged that out of around 12,100 public submissions made to the Senate inquiry investigating the marriage ban, only 100 opposed the ban. Labor MP Tanya Plibersek told Sydney Star Observer she was disappointed the GLBTQ community didn’t make more submissions, as it would have been a great opportunity to state their case.

The inquiry is looking into the coalition’s original bill which was introduced in April and coupled the Marriage Act amendment with a ban on same-sex couples adopting children from overseas. It was sent to the inquiry as Labor disagreed with the adoption aspect of the bill and the findings of that inquiry aren’t due until 7 October.

In June the coalition introduced a new bill which dealt with marriage separately and which Labor didn’t oppose. It’s this legislation that Howard hopes to push through next week.

The prime minister sparked speculation he would call an election in a fortnight when he told the forum crowd: If we really want to -¦ divorce this issue from the political debate, let’s put it through, let’s vote in favour of it, let’s put it into law within the next two weeks.

Howard said he feared marriage would be reshaped by judges if government failed to change the law. It is not far-fetched to imagine that if we don’t change the law, there could in the future be some judicial experimentation, he said.

Democrats senator Brian Greig said Labor’s decision was a complete failure of leadership and a shock to gay and lesbian voters.

The Labor Party has scuttled a human rights inquiry in a panicked electoral decision to remove this issue from the federal election campaign, Greig said.

The decision by the major parties to snuff out the potential for same-sex civil marriages will mean that those same-sex couples who have married overseas and who now have their cases before the courts in a bid for legal recognition will have that process stopped dead.

Labor has shown they don’t believe gays and lesbians deserve the same rights as the rest of the population, Greens senator Kerry Nettle said.

The impending passage of John Howard’s bill to ban same-sex marriages is a tragedy for human rights in Australia, Nettle said.

Australian Marriage Equality spokesperson Damien Meyer accused Labor of gutlessness and said the party has abdicated any claim it may have had to being a party of social justice and inclusion.

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Rob McGrory said he was deeply disappointed the ALP wasn’t willing to wait for the outcome of the Senate inquiry, as they had previously agreed, before supporting Howard’s divisive and discriminatory election tactics.

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