The Howard government’s plan to ban gay marriage will be put on ice in a move which has been welcomed by gay rights activists.

In a compromise spearheaded by Labor MPs Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese, Labor caucus decided this week to oppose the government’s legislation banning gay adoptions and to establish a Senate inquiry into the marriage ban. The Democrats, Greens and independent MP Meg Lees also supported the call for an inquiry.

Somali Cerise, NSW Gay And Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor, welcomed the inquiry, calling it a significant win for the community. Equal Rights Network spokesperson Rodney Croome agreed.
Obviously we are bitterly disappointed that Labor did not oppose entrenching discrimination in the Marriage Act, but we believe that once a Senate inquiry has raised awareness of the issues at stake, support for full legal equality will inevitably grow, Croome said.

Democrats senator Brian Greig said the inquiry was a fantastic opportunity to explore all the issues in a sensible and rational way. Greens leader Bob Brown said the Senate would not allow Prime Minister John Howard to ramrod this through parliament, and would ensure that the public be heard.

However, Howard immediately accused Labor of trying to have two bob each way.

It seems to me that if you are in favour of our legislation regarding gay marriage, it is illogical to be against our legislation regarding overseas adoptions, Howard said.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock emphasised the political importance of the adoption ban.

The government does not wish to leave itself exposed to a situation where a State or Territory, for the purposes of making a political point domestically, would seek to prioritise same-sex couples ahead of heterosexual couples for the purposes of overseas adoption, he said in a statement to Sydney Star Observer.

Moves over the marriage legislation provoked controversy within Labor’s ranks. Frontbencher Anthony Albanese, backbencher Tanya Plibersek and community relationships spokesperson Lindsay Tanner all told the Star they spoke against amending the Marriage Act in the caucus meeting. Albanese said there needs to be more debate about it, while Plibersek called the amendment unnecessary and ugly divisive politics. Tanner pushed for recognition of same-sex civil unions.

However, they reiterated Labor’s platform to remove discrimination from all other pieces of commonwealth legislation. Openly-lesbian senator Penny Wong called this a major step forward for lesbian and gay Australians.

One MP, who wished to remain anonymous, said that as the gay community had never lobbied for gay marriage, it is a bit rich to expect the Labor party by itself, overnight, to bob up and deliver the goods on this issue.

In some respect I think Howard’s done the gay community a favour, the MP said. He’s put the issue on the agenda. He’s created a political context for this that previously wasn’t there. It’s not necessarily totally a bad thing.

Doubt has also been cast on the coalition’s promise of gay-friendly superannuation reform. Shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon said she was very concerned no legislation had been introduced to parliament yet and was suspicious why it hasn’t been.

The government said last week that it will recognise interdependent relationships, including same-sex relationships, which will provide automatic access to a deceased partner’s super. This also means the surviving partner will get the pay-out at the same low tax rate heterosexual couples receive.

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