Prominent politicians have joined gay rights activists in condemning Prime Minister John Howard’s plan to block legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Australia.

Howard went public this week with his intention to overhaul the 1961 Marriage Act to define marriage as between a man and a woman, effectively pre-empting any attempts by same-sex couples married overseas to have their unions recognised here.

The following day Howard denied the amendment was targeting the gay and lesbian community and said he was just stating what most Australians thought. This is not directed at gay people, he said on Southern Cross Radio. It’s directed at reaffirming a bedrock understanding of our society.

His announcement came a week after Sydney Star Observer reported three same-sex couples married in Canada were preparing to challenge Australian courts to have their unions legally recognised.

The federal Labor Party is not expected to oppose the ban. Calls to Mark Latham’s office by the Star were not returned by time of print. However, the opposition attorney-general spokesperson Nicola Roxon said Labor would consider closing off Australian recognition of overseas same-sex marriage, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Democrats sexuality spokesperson Senator Brian Greig said it was nonsense to claim that same-sex marriages were a threat to heterosexual people or to traditional families. Marriages are based on love, trust and commitment, and are often the framework within which to raise children. Heterosexual people do not have a monopoly on these qualities, he said.

It is a disgrace that those who oppose gay marriage because they believe it is not good for children are willing to condemn thousands of Australian children living in gay and lesbian families to legal limbo and ongoing disadvantage and discrimination.

Rob McGrory, co-convenor of the NSW Gay And Lesbian Rights Lobby, condemned the Howard government’s plans to wind back our rights.

We think it’s very obvious this is an election tactic designed to create division and to distract attention away from some of the other issues that affect gay men and women, McGrory said.

The ban would set in concrete the second-class status of same-sex relationships for years to come, said Rodney Croome of the Equal Rights Network. He also expressed his disappointment that a Tasmanian senator, the Liberals’ Guy Barnett, was the man who persuaded the Howard government to make the amendment.

The job of Tasmanian senators is to get a better deal for the state, not persecute minorities, Croome said.
Greens Senator Bob Brown said he believed Howard was wasting his time. Like women getting the vote and Britain giving up its empire, gay marriage is inevitable. It’s logical. It’s part of the future, he said.

In related news, federal cabinet decided not to overturn new ACT laws which allowed same-sex couples to adopt children, despite Howard’s condemnation of the proposal in March. It was decided a ban would put the ACT at odds with Western Australia -“ which amended legislation to allow gay couples to adopt -“ and could jeopardise the interests of children in certain circumstances, The Age reported.

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