June 2009 may be remembered as the month same-sex marriage became an issue of genuine concern for mainstream Australia, starting with the release of Australian Marriage Equality’s Galaxy poll showing close to three in five Australians now support marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

Outside Melbourne’s The Age newspaper and The Canberra Times, interest had previously been lukewarm at best, with few SMH columnists taking up the issue and News Ltd relying largely on homosexual Catholics like Christopher Pearson and John Heard to provide both a religious and -˜gay’ opposition to the idea.

However a column by Fairfax’s Lisa Pryor opened a floodgate in Sydney, with discussion of the issue dominating the Sydney Morning Herald’s letters page for almost a week, while a blog on the subject by The West Australian’s Tiffany Fox attracted 177 comments.

The change in tone of the debate shows the Government’s refusal to defend its own policy is backfiring by leaving only religious groups to speak for it.

And being religious, they do so in religious terms, dredging up the sort of 1950s notions of marriage and family that alienate and offend large sections of Australian society -” atheists and agnostics, couples who are childless by choice, feminists, divorcees, adoptive parents and those who have or have grown up in blended families.

Mainstream Australia does not like having morality dictated to it by the churches, let alone in law, so what’s holding progress back?

According to The Times of London, support for same-sex marriage in the UK, which has had civil partnerships for close to four years, is running at 61 percent -” nearly neck and neck with us.
Yet Australia remains at least a decade behind Old Blighty, which is in the process of stripping public funding from church adoption agencies that refuse gay couples, and will soon remove religious groups’ ability to refuse to hire gay staff in all but priestly positions.

Historically, Britain’s Labour Party has had far less of a Papist streak than ours, and the UK’s Protestant churches have moved ahead on gay issues in leaps and bounds, making these changes possible.
Here a much larger and powerful Catholic lobby has a hold on the party, although more and more Labor MPs at a state level are speaking out on the issue.

For us, now that they’re interested, the next step is getting straights involved in the campaign. That means explicitly telling them they’re welcome -” and I don’t just mean the Green Left Weekly crowd.
This year’s National Day of Action, marching to the Labor Party’s National Conference in Darling Harbour, would be the perfect opportunity to have that happen.

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