Campaign for state equal marriage rights heats up

Across Australia, moves are afoot to pass bills to legalise same-sex marriage.

The Tasmanian Greens were first to introduce such a bill in 2008. Greens leader Nick McKim introduced the bill again in November.

The Tasmanian ALP was the first state Labor branch to announce its support for same-sex marriage, but this has not led it to support the Greens’ bill.

ABC news reported on November 7 that former Tasmanian Labor premier David Bartlett said: “I have personally no opposition to same-sex marriage in Australia, but I see it as a purview of the federal parliament.”

MPs in the South Australian parliament have also recently tabled a same-sex marriage bill.

Greens MP Tanya Franks and openly gay ALP MP Ian Hunter announced they would jointly sponsor the bill in November.

The SA Labor branch voted to support legalising same-sex marriage at its state conference in November 2010. Lesbian federal MP Penny Wong broke ranks with the federal ALP’s anti-equality policy and came out in favour of equal marriage rights.

At the conference, Labor right faction leader Senator Don Farrell strongly argued against supporting same-sex marriage. The motion was passed by two votes.

The Victorian Greens announced in January that it would seek submissions to help draft a same-sex marriage bill. Liberal Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu has already stated his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Australian Marriage Equality's submission to the Victorian Greens said it “strongly endorses the Victorian Greens’ proposed state same-sex marriage legislation”. It said the bill “will ensure Victorians in same-sex relationships have the right to marry, providing them with the legal, social and cultural benefits that come with [the right to marry]”.

In November, New South Wales Greens MP Cate Faehrmann gave notice that she will introduce a same-sex marriage bill. Her proposed bill will call on the government to make same-sex marriage legal under NSW law if the federal parliament fails to do so by 2012.

The November 30 Sydney Star Observer said: “Independent Sydney MP Clover Moore has also indicated she will introduce a state-based same-sex marriage bill into the lower house if re-elected in the NSW March state elections.”

NSW Labor Premier Kristina Keneally has spoken in favour of same-sex marriage, but has not commented on state marriage equality.

George Williams, professor of law at the University of NSW, told Green Left Weekly that state same-sex marriage bills do not contradict the Australian constitution.

He said: “As with every other power listed in section 51 of the constitution, the federal parliament's power over ‘marriage’ is held concurrently with the states.

“This means that both the federal parliament and state parliaments can pass laws on this topic. However, the states could still do so because they also have a general power to pass laws on topics that fall outside of section 51.”

Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Keira in the March NSW elections and Equal Love Wollongong activist Paola Harvey said she was confident the campaign for equal marriage could be won.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy to have state premiers come out and oppose state marriage bills,” she said. “They are hiding behind the 'federal issue' argument, which falsely says the states do not have the constitutional right to pass laws to legalise same-sex marriage. But constitutional law experts have refuted this argument.

“Socialist Alliance is campaigning on the streets for state and federal marriage equality bills to be enacted. We call on the Greens and other supporters of the bill to also make the bill trans, intersex and sex and gender diverse inclusive.”

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