Last week was a historic moment for the New South Wales Parliament. Not because the NSW same-sex marriage bill failed, because it had its first opportunity in NSW Parliament to be debated, and Coalition Members had their first conscience vote.
This was the first time in Australia that members of the Coalition (Liberals and Nationals) had an opportunity to exercise their conscience on behalf of their constituents on same-sex marriage policy.
The NSW Parliament had an opportunity to deliver on fundamental changes that signify fairness and equality for same-sex couples in the state of NSW. The groundbreaking bill would have triumphed over all states and territories because it is believed to lawfully survive a high court challenge.
Last week’s result 19 Ayes and 21 Noes is a clear result of how close the bill came to being passed. Understanding why there are 21 noes instead of a majority of ayes will help identify issues at another state, territory or federal bill.
What were the ultimate decisions of MLCs (Members of the Legislative Council)? Their reasoning in Parliament was: religious beliefs, uniformity under the Commonwealth Federal Marriage Act, traditional family values and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s announcement and personal view not to support the NSW bill. Hence, having a conciliatory effect on the upper house members. Simply put, “to pass the buck.” In this case, passing onto Canberra for a federal outcome.
The Coalition MLC’s that explained they supported marriage equality and fairness at a federal level aught to be congratulated for standing up and stating their support.
Though, their support must not come with equivocation. To state their support and only offer it under a federal scheme is a misleading and unfair. MLCs who support marriage equality and fairness must do more.
One who does is Liberal MLC Scot McDonald who stated in the Parliament that he continues to attempt to influence the Prime Minister Tony Abbott to offer a conscience vote and has written to the PM. This is leading by example and all MLCs and MPs who support the Marriage Act to change at a federal level should do the same.
Liberal MLC Catherine Cusack who voted in favour of the same-sex marriage bill provided a fun yet illustrative analogy when describing those members that initially supported the NSW bill to then equivocate:
To back out now is like saying, “Here’s a blank cheque of support, aren’t we good fellows.”
Then, when our citizens try to cash that cheque, we tell them, “Oh dear! Sorry; that cheque can’t be cashed in Sydney; it is only good for Canberra and it’s someone else’s job to honour it.
Well our citizens would be entitled to feel defrauded.”
Arguably, the Labor ACT Government may have had an undesirable, consequential effect on other state governments. The ACT rushed their bill. There were amendments found that could have enhanced their bill to avert a high court challenge. Yet the advice was ignored and a Commonwealth Federal government challenge ensued. Perhaps warning off other States about to read a same-sex marriage bill.
The ACT knew that Tasmania and New South Wales were proposing S-SM bills. There was opportunity in reworking the bill if delayed, as a result the bill passed – is weaker. Rodney Croome Director of the lobby group Australian Marriage Equality was the first voice in the GLBTI community to criticise the bill “According to the legal advice we have received, the current amendments don’t go far enough to protect the ACT bill from being overturned by the High Court,” and explained “the government had not gone ”the full way” to adopting the approach taken by the Tasmanian and NSW same-sex marriage bills to minimise the risk of defeat in the High Court.”
Thus jeopardising the constitution and the federal government having to uphold the law.
Did ACT Labor rush their bill so that they would become the first government to enact the new law, for (in part) symbolism?
However all politicians that support fairness and equality must do more. They must stand up for their friends, families, colleagues who may be in same-sex relationships and lobby their federal counterparts to allow a conscience vote for the federal marriage act to change.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) next meets on the 13th of December. This is an opportunity for all Premiers and Chief Ministers to open up a dialogue on same-sex marriage and have a pertinent conversation around it.
I implore the Premiers and Chief Ministers who believe S-SM is a federal issue. And want to see equality and fairness; uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 7), and believe that all Australians deserve to have the choice to marry the person they love. SS-M will never be a mainstream, majority issue because there are simply not as many homosexual people as there are heterosexual. It is only people with great leadership who are willing to fight for the rights of their associates, friends and families who are unable to cherish what everyone else can.
Love, respect and security are what all families want. These are values that families want. They are not values determined by their sexual orientation. They are values part of humanity that every individual, heterosexual, homosexual is entitled. Same-sex families want fairness and equality like everyone else.
It is time for Liberals and Nationals’ members to make a difference that can change the nation. Every electorate and every city, Liberals and Nationals who want to see same-sex marriage laws enacted have an opportunity to be part of change. Change that will see parts of the greater community included; relationships forever strengthened and the sanctity of marriage fortified forever.
Marriage equality needs leadership across this great land. Without great leadership behind it, what makes contemporary Australia great for most will not be for all.
Carrington Brigham is the Founder of LNProud.