With Australia lagging behind the developed world on same-sex marriage, political campaigners convened last week to champion a federal binding vote on marriage equality.
The Future of Marriage Equality forum at the Beauchamp Hotel on Oxford St saw a variety of politicians and marriage equality campaigners discuss the way forward.
Alex Greenwich, the Independent MP for Sydney, said it was important campaigners were respectful and revealed that less than 20 Coalition MPs were needed to pass gay marriage should the Labor Party hold a binding vote.
“There is a strong push within the Labor Party for a binding vote for marriage equality that ensures there will be maximum number of ALP members supporting it,” he said.
“There are currently 55 of them – that means we only need something like 16 to 20 Coalition MPs to get it across the line. The way we do that is by ensuring we don’t have a divisive debate but that we have a respectful dialogue.
“Teresa Gambaro, Kelly O’Dwyer and Malcolm Turnbull have already come out and supported it and we know that there are other numbers considering it, so we’re really close. This is a really exciting time.”
Liberal City of Sydney Councillor Christine Forster, the gay sister of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, urged supporters of marriage equality to take their family members along to talk to their local MPs.
“It is up to everybody who can influence their Liberal and Labor MPs and anyone who has a voice in this debate to actually get that argument out there and to do it in the most respectful way,” she said.
“From the community in terms of their Liberal Party representatives – go and talk to them, take your mum and dad to talk to them.”
The ACT Government introduced the Marriage Equality Bill last month permitting same-sex marriages. The bill is expected to become law this month with the support of Labor and Greens MPs.
However, the Federal Government could threaten the bill with a High Court challenge following Tony Abbott’s decision to seek legal advice. The Commonwealth Solicitor-General last weekend found that the ACT’s gay marriage laws are unconstitutional.
Ivan Hinton, Deputy National Director for Australian Marriage Equality, emphasised the importance of encouraging federal members to acknowledge the democratic rights of the ACT population.
“There’s a couple of ways the bill could be under threat: one is a High Court challenge and that’s a distinct possibility,” he said.
“We need support and influence with our federal members, particularly in the Senate. We need to encourage them to leave the ACT alone. We need to encourage them to recognise the democratic rights of the ACT population to choose their own laws.”
Sarah Hanson-Young, the South Australian Greens Senator, said the ACT bill was critical to Australia’s wider debate because it involved the rights of the country’s jurisdictions to govern for their citizens.
“The ACT legislation is really crucial in this because the debate should be about the rights of states and territories to govern for their own constituents and their own communities,” she said.
“I think in a lot of ways it helps build a bridge between those in Labor and those in the Liberal Party, but particularly those in Labor who feel like they can take advantage of the caveat of the conscience vote.
“You can’t have caveats on ending discrimination – you either believe it needs to end or you believe that it can continue.”
Paul Howes, a Labor Party member and chief of the Australian Workers’ Union, called on his party to reject a conscience vote and hold a binding vote.
“I want to urge my party to finally disown this phoney notion that we should be affording equal respect to both sides of the gay marriage debate as if it was some increasingly balanced moral quandary,” he said.
“It is the very basic question of equality and every moment that we fail to recognise it as such is a moment we are denying our true Labor values.”