Justin-Koonin-webDuring the weekend’s televised leaders’ debate, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that, if elected, the Labor Party would introduce a marriage equality bill within the first 100 days of government.

This is welcome news, and it is exciting to have a Prime Minister willing to stand up in this way and make marriage equality an election issue.

Yet this promise alone is not enough.

For one thing, unless the Coalition also grants its members a free vote on the issue, the bill will not pass.  In fact, the result will not be much different from the failed attempt last September.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has said that the matter of a free vote on marriage equality is one for the party room after the election.  While this is not the promise we are asking for, it does not close the door either, and there is some hope that pressure from diverse quarters – international, local, and even within Abbott’s own family – may convince him to change his mind.

The other possibility is that the Labor Party could insist on a binding vote on marriage equality within the party.  Given the broad spectrum of beliefs within the party, however, this seems unlikely.

Moreover, there are many other ways our politicians could demonstrate their commitment to the welfare of LGBTI people.

They could commit to the ending of discrimination by upholding and extending the recent federal anti-discrimination laws to ensure that no religious organisation is exempt from the laws in the provision of services such as hospital and disability care, and education.

They could provide funding to the Australian Human Rights Commission for a dedicated Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status Commissioner, to ensure that discrimination complaints are handled speedily and rigorously.

They could promote LGBTI rights are a core foreign policy objective, and indicate how they will use their diplomatic influence to argue for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 76 countries which still impose criminal sanctions.

They could show a commitment to same-sex families by guaranteeing that paid parental leave will be inclusive of same-sex parents, and by recognising lesbian co-mothers and gay co-fathers in federal law.

They could commit to ending coerced sterilisation and cosmetic surgery on intersex infants in order to protect these childrens’ rights.

In some circumstances commitments have already been made by some parties; in others we still seek confirmation.

As the government and people of Australia become increasingly aware of our community, the particular needs we have and the gifts we bring, the opportunities for collaboration grow.

We promise to keep our foot on the pedal as we continue to work for recognition and respect.


Justin Koonin is a co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

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