COMMENT
Sarah Hanson-Young

Our climate change minister Penny Wong says she agrees with the federal Government’s ban on same-sex marriage, citing “cultural, religious and historical views” as the justification for discrimination.

There’s just one problem, Penny. By that flawed argument, women would never have got the vote, Aboriginal people would never have been recognised as citizens in their own country, and Australia would never have had women in the ministry, never mind a female PM.

This reflects the lack of political courage displayed by the old parties in this election.

The real question is not why Penny Wong accepts this position on marriage equality, but why Kevin Rudd accepted it, why Julia Gillard accepts it and why Tony Abbott accepts it.

The reality is that same-sex marriage is a human rights issue.

Laws have two purposes — to protect people’s rights, and set out their responsibilities to live within certain lines of acceptable behaviour.

Gay and lesbian couples in de facto relationships now have a responsibility to declare that relationship to Centrelink so they are treated officially as a couple, they have the same responsibility to pay taxes as anybody else, they are bound by compulsory voting laws, they are not exempt from jury duty or other responsibilities because they love people of the same sex rather than the opposite sex.

So why, in 2010, do they not have the right, like every other adult Australian, to choose to marry the one they love?

How can we condone laws which create a group of second-class citizens, people who have fewer rights than their brothers or sisters, their mothers or fathers, or in some cases their sons or daughters?

If there are cultural, religious or historical views arguing against legislating for same-sex marriage, then they should be challenged and overcome, not allowed to be used as an excuse for discrimination.

It’s disappointing that we still hear the same old lines to avoid legislating for true equality, but it is devastating that the old parties are not even willing to allow an honest, open debate.

My Marriage Equality Amendment Bill was debated in the Senate earlier this year, but both Labor and the Coalition refused to allow a conscience vote for their members.

More than one-third of the Senate was absent for the final vote — while some may have had a legitimate excuse, others may well have gone missing because they did not support their parties’ narrow view. The Greens were the only party to vote in favour.

Public opinion is far ahead of our parliament, however. Galaxy polling shows that 60 percent of people support the idea of equal marriage — whereas the two old parties are hard-pressed to get 60 percent of their members into the chamber to vote for their hard-hearted party line.

I will bring back the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill in the new parliament to achieve a freer, fairer debate and true equality.

The question remains, why are the Labor and Liberal parties and their leaders so scared of people celebrating their love? Australia is a big enough country, a big-hearted enough country to deliver equality for all.

info: Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is the Greens’ spokeswoman on sexuality and gender identity.

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