Marriage battle lines drawn as Gillard hedges bets on conscience
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has today called for Labor members to support a conscience vote on the issue of marriage equality while maintaining her opposition to same-sex marriage rights, arguing that “the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation and that should continue unchanged”.
It comes as the ACT Parliament will see a Greens motion introduced tomorrow seeking an endorsement of marriage equality, while grassroots lobby group GetUp! is also ramping up the pressure on Gillard with a petition in support of marriage equality it hopes to present at Labor’s National Conference early next month.
Writing in The Age today, Gillard (pictured) said it was only appropriate that a conscience vote be allowed for federal Labor MPs as there were “deeply held convictions in society on the questions of marriage”.
“This diversity of public opinion is reflected in the passionate debate inside the Labor Party,” Gillard wrote.
“Given the personal nature of the issue and the deeply held beliefs, I believe that in future it is appropriate that a conscience vote flow to Labor parliamentarians. They should be free to vote in the Parliament according to their own values and beliefs.”
Gillard’s comments have drawn a string of criticism from across the spectrum of the debate, with activists, lobbyists, The Greens and even Labor MPs lining up to point out the wide, and growing, community support for marriage equality.
A Herald/Nielsen poll released today shows that 71 per cent of Labor members back same-sex marriage, while support for marriage equality across the general community has increased to 62 per cent, up five per cent from Nielsen’s 2010 poll.
Alex Greenwich, convener for Australian Marriage Equality, said Gillard seemed to be out of synch with the attitudes prevalent within everyday families as well as within her own party.
“A majority of Australians, and Labor members and voters, want the Prime Minister to lead the country towards equality, not support outcomes designed to scuttle progress,” Greenwich said.
“The families and friends of gay and lesbian Australians are demanding the Prime Minister act in accordance with public opinion, human rights and Labor principles, but the only people she's paying attention to are conservative union boss, Joe De Bruyn, and the tiny Labor faction he speaks for.”
De Bruyn, the president of the powerful Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA), and from Labor’s Catholic Right, is known to be a major opponent of altering the Marriage Act from its current form.
The ACT’s Deputy Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, said in a joint statement with fellow Rainbow Labor convener, WA Senator Louise Pratt, that they will remain committed to the ALP adopting a binding policy on marriage equality at the National Conference in December.
“This is about drawing a line in the sand. It is about standing up for Labor principles. The final test on marriage equality is not: are you on the right side of the politics of the week or the right side of the retail union. The final test is this: are you on the right side of history?” Barr said.
Activists from Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), have also voiced their outrage, pointing out that Gillard can not claim to support equality on one hand, while denying marriage rights with the other.
With a mass demonstration in support of marriage equality to take place at Sydney’s Hyde Park on December 3 with the official support of City of Sydney Council, CAAH co-convener Cat Rose said the community needed to maintain its strength in the weeks ahead while continuing to forge alliances with Labor members and federal MPs.
“It has become crystal clear that a conscience vote has become the weapon of choice for those within the ALP who prefer to maintain discrimination.
“Because Mark Butler has made public statements arguing for the ALP to adopt wholesale support for equal rights, we have recently asked him to speak at our rally outside the ALP Conference,” Rose said.
“We hope to find more allies in the ALP willing to argue in support of this common-sense issue of civil rights and who will reject this conscience vote sellout.”
Minority Government partners The Greens have also voiced their disappointment in Gillard’s actions today.
“It is disappointing that the Prime Minister is not willing to see the ALP change its platform to support true equality.
"It seems that after years of blocking a conscience vote on the issue, in the absence of a progressive party platform, the PM is now willing to use a conscience vote to block reform itself,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
In related developments, ACT Greens’ Justice spokesperson, Shane Rattenbury, will table a motion tomorrow in the Territory Assembly calling on the federal parliament to amend the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry.
In September the Tasmanian Parliament became the first in the nation to endorse marriage equality.
Meanwhile, GetUp! will present a petition to Labor members at the National Conference in December in an attempt to show the wide support across the entire community for the changes.
“Not allowing same-sex couples to marry denies them and their families legal equality and perpetuates discrimination and prejudice,” the petition reads.