Guest column

NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby Co-convenor Justin Koonin

Justin-Koonin-webWith the federal political landscape shifting like quicksand at the moment, it is easy to lose sight of what it will all mean for the LGBTI community.  With a federal election at most a few months away, we need to look forward to what the new world might look like for us, and what issues will be at stake.

But first, we need to recognise the victories we have achieved in the current term of government.  Foremost among these was the passage last month of federal anti-discrimination legislation which protects people from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status for the first time at federal level.

Given that the first attempt to put such a Bill before Parliament came as early as 1995, this is a historic victory.  Importantly, support for these protections was bipartisan, and we can therefore expect them to remain in place whomever wins the election.

The exception to this that the Opposition did not support the Government’s aged care amendments which removed the right of religious organisations to discriminate in the provision of service to elderly people.  We will be seeking assurances that, should the Coalition win government, these amendments will not be rolled back.

There have been other important legislative and policy reforms – notably the LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care strategy – and our first task must be to preserve what we have won.

Beyond that, the issue of religious exemptions across service provision more generally remains key. If we can and should pass laws to protect elderly LGBTI people from discrimination, then we also need laws to protect our young people, or those in hospital or without homes, to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.  With opposition from the Coalition, and ambivalence from the current Government over these issues this will be a tough task, but one we need to pursue vigilantly.

Then there is the issue of marriage equality.  For the first time we have a Prime Minister who supports our right to marry the partner of our choice.  A recent Galaxy Poll commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality suggests that the Prime Minister’s change of heart on the issue is likely to be a vote-winner.

Moreover,  comments by Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese suggested that marriage equality “will happen” under a Labor government.  What this means is unclear, however, since unless Labor members are forced to support the change rather than offered a conscience vote (which is unlikely), a Coalition conscience vote will still be necessary for the reform to pass.  Given the Prime Minster’s stance and recent developments in countries including the US, UK, New Zealand and France, the pressure for this to happen in the Coalition is increasing.

There are several other issues on the agenda, and we would like to hear what is important to you.  There’s still time to fill in our election survey, which can be found here.

Whatever the outcome of the election, we can take great pride in the momentum the campaign for our rights has developed, and feel confident that we are not just changing laws, but winning the hearts and minds of the people of Australia as we do.

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