THERE are times, sometimes periods of many years, when our best advocacy efforts seem to be getting nowhere. Progress can seem glacial — it took us 25 years to achieve federal anti-discrimination protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, and two decades of work to have the “gay panic” defence abolished in NSW.
Then there are other moments when everything seems to happens at once. It was like this before the 2011 Labor National Conference, when after months of inaction the Labor party dramatically changed its position to support marriage equality.
[showads ad=MREC]Today, we are at another crossroads. As I write, news has come through that a cross party marriage equality bill will be introduced on August 11, and considered within the Coalition party room on August 18. The party room will consider whether to grant a conscience vote to its MPs — a necessary step on the path to the passage of the bill.
The success of the Irish marriage equality referendum in May, followed by the US Supreme Court’s historic decision on June 26 to grant universal marriage rights in that country, have put the spotlight squarely on our lawmakers to act here.
Make no mistake — this is game on.
Despite the Prime Minister’s insistence that Australia makes its own decisions and does not need to look offshore to make its mind up on the issue, coupled with a reassertion of his opposition to marriage equality, there are reasons to be hopeful.
It is extremely significant that the bill has multipartisan support already, being moved by Leichhardt federal Coalition MP Warren Entsch and seconded by Griffith federal Labor MP Terri Butler¸ with support from several over MPs. This is not a partisan issue, and the bill cannot pass without significant support on all sides.
Moreover, moving from ideology to pragmatism, it makes no sense politically for the Coalition to drag this out any longer. Recent polls record that roughly 70 per cent of Australians support marriage equality, and even more support a conscience vote in the Coalition. Were the Coalition’s opposition to remain unchanged by the time of the next election (in 2016), there is little doubt they would lose votes. Perhaps it would only be a couple of per cents, but that may be enough to lose government.
However, even if a Coalition conscience vote is granted it will be no small matter to achieve the votes required to actually pass the bill. As the numbers currently stand, we think there may be enough MPs in the Senate already, while the in the House of Representatives we are probably a handful short. Yet votes can swing quickly, and a number of MPs have not yet declared their position. If the passage of the bill looks at all likely, it is quite conceivable that several MPs would “come out of the closet” in support of it so to speak, whereas they might have been less likely to come forward when marriage equality was a hopeful fantasy.
Overall, there are reasons for cautious optimism, though it would be dangerous to underestimate the resistance we will face from many member of government.
In his majority decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy of the US Supreme Court said plainly: “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.” In fact, he used the word dignity no less than nine times in his judgement. That is the heart of the matter. Our call for equal rights is a call for the recognition of the dignity of our sexuality and the depth of our relationships.
We need this bill to pass so that young same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people can grow up without fear of stigma and discrimination.
We need this bill to pass so the children of same-sex couples can have the comfort and certainty of knowing that their parents’ relationship is valued.
We need this bill to pass so that elderly couples, who have been in loving, committed relationships for decades, can finally have that love recognised.
We need this bill to pass so that the parents of LGBTI children can share the same joy of a wedding day that they have with their other children.
This is a reform which will bring happiness to thousands, and will hurt no one. It represents progress not just for LGBTI people, but for all Australians who believe in the strength of diversity and acceptance.
We’re close. Let’s get it done.
**This was first published in the August edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.