Deep divisions over the best way to approach community law reform have emerged after a same-sex marriage forum last weekend turned into a shouting match.
The forum was intended as an examination of marriage reform, after the NSW Greens announced they would propose same-sex marriage legislation in state parliament this week, following a similar move in Tasmania.
But what began as a low-key discussion at the Newtown Hotel on Sunday night turned to confrontation when the meeting was opened up to questions.
Several forum participants angrily challenged the state-based marriage attempt, claiming it was a symbolic move that would not provide practical benefits.
They also accused the NSW Greens of attempting reform without consultation, by announcing their plans for state marriage before Sunday’s meeting.
They said state marriage laws would reinforce the notion that same-sex relationships were separate and unequal to heterosexual partnerships, and would not bring equal rights in areas such as parenting.
State-based marriage laws may give us the right to marry but they will not give our relationships full equality in the eyes of the law, David Scamell, co-convenor of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL), told the forum prior to question time.
It will make our relationships separate and unequal before the law.
We will still face discrimination in many areas of federal law on a day-to-day basis.
The comments were a challenge to speakers including the Tasmanian Greens’ Nick McKim and gay activist Rodney Croome, who had earlier voiced their support for state same-sex marriage.
Croome said a state-level push for change -“ legislative activism -“ was the best way to stimulate debate after last year’s Marriage Act amendment frustrated efforts at federal reform.
The goal of the legislation is to spark a mature and sensible community debate, Croome told the forum.
But both Croome and NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon -“ who gave notice of the same-sex marriage bill in NSW parliament yesterday -“ conceded state marriage reform would fail at this point.
This bill is not going to get up, Rhiannon told the forum.
NSW premier Bob Carr has said he does not support state marriage legislation, while the Tasmanian parliament has already voted against the principle of same-sex marriage.
The forum ended with clear disagreement over the best way forward.
But, despite its tension, the meeting was a positive development in the struggle for equal rights, according to Rodney Croome.
Croome said the community needed a broad debate over how to achieve equality, and Sunday’s forum contributed to that dialogue.
Even though the forum got rowdy, it’s better that we talk than we don’t, Croome told Sydney Star Observer after the meeting.
While people may have left unsatisfied on both sides -¦ at least we opened up an issue that has remained closed for too long.
We are now talking about exactly what the issues are: what we think about social change, how social change is achieved.
The GLRL’s David Scamell agreed debate was needed. But he expressed concern over lack of consultation prior to the NSW Greens’ marriage initiative.
I think the meeting was good in that it got people talking about the issue again and saying, -˜We need to have a broader community response to this,’ Scamell said.
[But] our community is used to having consultations before we do law reform. I am concerned about the fact that Rodney Croome and the Tasmanian Greens are trying to tell the gay and lesbian community of NSW that this is what they think we should do.