Australia’s largest union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), has used the Senate inquiry into same-sex marriage to claim that same-sex couples face no discrimination in Australia.

The SDA has more than 210,000 members — including in the retail sector, pastry cooks, hairdressers, beauticians, models, and employees in the cosmetic and footwear industries — and has the largest youth and female membership of any union.

Yet SDA national secretary Joe de Bruyn used his union’s official submission to claim that his members oppose marriage equality.

De Bruyn wrote that arguments that the ban on same-sex marriage violated people’s human rights were “false and … merely a propaganda aid”.

“Human rights attach to the individual and do not apply to a couple as if that is a single unit.

“Those reverting to human rights in support of same-sex marriage are elitist. These people are generally in well paid and secure jobs, removed from the daily travails of working families.

“No person of homosexual orientation suffers a denial of human rights on the grounds that marriage is an institution for opposite-sex couples … The issue of sexuality has never defined the boundaries for the application of human rights. To do so would institutionalise prejudice and inequality.

“An attempt to change the essence of what is in fact the basic unit of society is ill-conceived and derives from a motivation alien to the best interests of the child and the common good of society.”

De Bruyn claimed there was no evidence that people were born gay.

“A person born with a disability or born with dwarfism is entitled, simply because of their humanness, to equal treatment … There is no scientific, medical or psychiatric authority that claims sexual orientation to be a birth mark,” he wrote.

However, de Bruyn’s claims were contradicted by a submission by marriage equality supporters from within his own union.

SDA Members for Equality national convenor Duncan Hart wrote that de Bruyn did not represent the SDA membership on this issue.

“We wish to make it clear that the SDA leadership — and in particular, its national secretary Joe de Bruyn — is not representing the majority of SDA members by speaking out against same-sex marriage,” Hart wrote.

“Despite repeated requests, the SDA has refused to survey its membership to ascertain their views on marriage equality. We know that many SDA members support the issue because we have received tremendous support and encouragement from them.

“This is a betrayal of those many members who support the issue, and an even greater betrayal of those members who are LGBTI. Unions are meant to advocate for the rights of their workers, not against them — but this is exactly what the SDA does.

“We urge the committee to support the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010, and to be mindful that any representations by the SDA against marriage equality are not true reflections of the views of the union’s membership.”

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