Federal Finance Minister Penny Wong has this morning rejected Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s call for a conscience vote on marriage equality.

In an opinion piece inMelbourne’s The Age newspaper this morning Senator Wong – whose partner Sophie Allouache is expecting the couple’s first child next month – used America’s pre-1967 laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage to argue for the granting of full marriage equality in Australia.

“In today’s Australia it seems extraordinary such prejudice was once widely accepted. But these references are less important for what they convey about the past, than what they tell us about today. They remind us how much change is possible, that prejudice dissipates. Most of all they remind us how powerful the principle of equality is,” the senator wrote.

“Like many, my belief in equality led me to join the ALP. It is this belief that drives my advocacy for equality in relation to marriage for same-sex couples, and for a change to the party platform at next month’s national conference.

“Our platform is the statement of Labor’s principles. In its current form it perpetuates unequal treatment of some Australians solely on the grounds of their sexual orientation. In this, it makes clear not all Australians are equal. I believe change is needed.”

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Australian Marriage Equality national convenor Alex Greenwich said Senator Wong’s statement showed how important the issue is to many within the Labor Party.

“Senator Wong’s opinion is reflective of the majority view within Labor. From grassroots members to senior ministers, it is clear that that they want their party to deliver this historic reform,” he said.

“Not only is marriage equality widely supported with Labor, it is also an issue that impacts daily on the lives of many Labor families, such as Senator Wong’s, who want to see an end to discrimination in the Marriage Act.”

In her column Senator Wong said the debate “comes back to a simple proposition of equality”.

“Is it reasonable to deny rights to some Australians only on the basis they are not heterosexual? Can we justify valuing a relationship less, in law and in practice, solely on the basis of the genders of the partners?” she asks.

“Surely Australia has reached a point where we can value relationships by markers such as respect, commitment and love. I have no doubt our laws will one day reflect this.

“Equality should not be a matter of conscience; it should be reflected in Labor policy.
A conscience vote in the Parliament does not change ALP policy, and it is the party’s platform which needs to change. A conscience vote is not a substitute for reforms to the platform which are long overdue.”

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Greenwich said Senator Wong’s perspective displayed “important foresight”.

“Senator Wong knows Labor must solve this issue once and for all and deliver equality. She has the foresight to see the negative and divisive impact the debate will have on Labor if the issue lingers and remains unresolved by the next election,” he said.

“If it does remain unresolved by then it will be due to the far-right of Labor, especially SDA leader Joe De Bruyn (who is) holding Labor’s core values to ransom in order to push their own out of touch ideology.

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