It is disappointing when our leaders fail our expectations.

The anger and bewilderment many in our community felt when only 68 out of 207 federal members of Parliament voted in favour of bills granting same-sex couples the right to marry, despite the clear majority of the Australian public supporting the change, is understandable.

Yet we cannot let the defeat of these bills obscure the tremendous strides that have been made in recent years. More federal politicians voted for marriage equality than ever before – only five senators did so in 2010, when there was last a vote on the issue. The vote in the Tasmanian Legislative Council last week was far closer – we were only two votes short of seeing same-sex couples able to marry in at least some part of Australia.

A significant change in the law like this often takes several attempts before it succeeds. We remember that marriage equality laws passed in New York in 2011, but do we also remember that there were two attempts to pass these laws before that which did not succeed?

With same-sex marriage bills due to be introduced in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and the ACT in the near future, there remains a real change that a same-sex marriage bill will pass somewhere in Australia before the end of 2012.

Many in federal Parliament are no doubt hoping that the defeat of the bills will see an end to the marriage equality debate. We need to show them that nothing could be further from the truth. This is a long battle, and there may be disappointments along the way, but it is a battle we will win. We also perhaps need to broaden our view and recognise that there are several other areas of law affecting the LGBTI community on which we are making great progress as we speak.

Very shortly the federal government will release an exposure draft on the consolidation of federal anti-discrimination legislation. The government has committed to including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected attributes with respect to anti-discrimination law for the first time, and we will be in Canberra lobbying for the most comprehensive protections possible.

At a state level, a NSW Legislative Council select committee is conducting an inquiry into the partial defence of provocation (including the notorious “homosexual advance defence”), and there too we will be pressing for reform.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras recently announced their theme for next year’s Mardi Gras season – “Generations of Love”.

Sometimes change seems slow, but looking back a generation to the first Mardi Gras in 1978 – a time when we could still be arrested for expressing our love – it is remarkable how far we have come.

By: JUSTIN KOONIN, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor.

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