In preparation for its upcoming National Conference, the Australian Labor Party has released a draft of its National Platform. The platform is the party’s governing document — it is what the party believes in.

Clause 116 of Chapter 9 states that “Labor believes that people are entitled to respect, equality, dignity and the opportunity to participate in society … regardless of their sexuality or gender identity”.

Yet only a few lines down the page, Clause 120 affirms Labor’s “commitment to maintaining the definition of marriage as currently set out in the Marriage Act”. It is difficult to see how the former can be achieved when it is precisely respect, dignity and equality that are denied when Labor clings to the latter.

I was born in apartheid South Africa, at a time when it was illegal for people of different races to marry. While laws in Australia may not have been as strict, we are no strangers to discrimination on the basis of race, with the White Australia policy surviving until the 1970s. Today, such laws would seem unconscionable.

Marriage, like other social institutions, can and should evolve over time in the direction of greater inclusiveness and tolerance. Most Australians can see that, and indeed most of the Labor Party can too.

Marriage is a civil institution governed by secular laws. In the pluralistic society in which we live, it is up to the government of the day to uphold universal human rights. Labor has the opportunity to be on the right side of history and change its platform, and while Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s comments last week were not encouraging, it remains to be seen what the party will do in two weeks’ time.

We should not forget that while the heat is on Labor at the moment, any change to the Marriage Act will require support from across the political spectrum. This is an opportunity to bring people from all sides together on an issue of basic human rights.

One day we will look back and it will seem as preposterous to deny marriage on the basis of the sex or gender of one’s partner as it now does on the basis of race. The tide is turning, and whatever the outcome on December 3, this is a battle we will win.

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