It is hard to remember a federal election where so much attention has been given to the issue of gay and lesbian rights.
All it took was the now-marginal seat of Wentworth, with its significant population of gay and lesbian voters, a high-profile Liberal member with ambitions for the Lodge, a tightly-run ALP campaign and a Greens preference deal that may well determine the outcome of the formerly safe conservative seat.
This combination has created an unprecedented election opportunity for our community to have our voices heard on issues that are important to us. And the sorts of issues that are important to us today are not just the things that in the past we would have considered as “gay or lesbian” – they include every aspect of our lives.
We are more than the sum total of our sexuality – as important as that is to us. We work, study, have children, get sick, pay taxes and care about the environment. But when we go to work, we are often ineligible for carer’s leave, parental leave, compassionate leave and travel entitlements. When we have children, we are not recognised as parents. When we get sick, we pay twice the amount as heterosexual couples to access the Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme safety nets.
When we pay tax, we can’t access the dependent spouse tax offset, capital gains tax concessions, or fringe benefits tax exemptions for our partners.
When we want our relationships recognised, we have few options and, in federal law, virtually none. And when we get old, we pay much more for our residential aged care than our heterosexual counterparts.
More than 70 percent of the Australians now support equality for gays and lesbians – it’s time for our laws to catch up.
The Government’s own Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has identified 58 laws that need reform and provided a simple means by which they can be remedied and yet still they have failed to act.
As we do in each state and federal election, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby has joined with ACON to compile a scorecard that rates the policies of parties and candidates on issues that are important to our community. We do this both to inform the community about the views of the parties and to get our issues on their agenda.
As usual, the Democrats and the Greens received consistently high scores, committing to remove discrimination and to embrace the idea of same-sex marriage and civil unions.
In deciding your vote, however, you need to remember that neither of these parties will win enough seats to form government – their real power comes when they hold the balance of power in the Senate and from their preference flow in marginal seats.
So what about the major parties?
For the last 11 years, the Coalition has consistently dragged its feet on much-needed reform and yet still found the time to implement the appalling “Marriage Act” in 2004 – a move that was supported by the ALP.
Fast-forward to November 2007 and we see both sides in a fight to win our votes.
The Coalition scored points for its limited commitment to extend superannuation death benefits for Commonwealth employees.
Yet its determination to force people to prove “interdependency” rather than relying on the established definition of de facto relationship and its lack of other reforms on offer prevented the Coalition from being rated more highly.
The ALP scored highly for embracing the recognition of same-sex couples as equal to heterosexual de facto couples, recognising gay and lesbian families, addressing homophobia in education and for committing to reform all 58 pieces of discriminatory legislation as recommended by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
The time for excuses is over. The politicians are listening, so let’s make our voice heard.
Emily Gray and Peter Johnson are the co-convenors of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

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