Over the July 9-10 weekend, the New South Wales Labor conference failed to produce a motion in support of equal marriage rights. The conference instead voted to send the decision to the ALP national conference that is to be held in December.
This motion passed despite the fact that all other ALP state conferences have passed motions in support of reforming the law to grant equal marriage rights. It also came two weeks after New York legalised same-sex marriage on June 24.
NSW Labor general secretary Sam Dastiyari introduced the motion to the conference. The motion read: “The conference welcomes the removal of discrimination against same-sex couples in state and federal law. Conference notes the branches motions about same-sex marriage. Conference refers the issue of same sex marriage to national conference.”
It was seconded by openly lesbian MLC Penny Sharpe, who also said it was not the motion she personally wanted.
The equal marriage rights movement urges supporters of same-sex marriage in all political parties, including the ALP and the Liberal Party, to openly declare their support, despite the position of their political parties.
The open support of members of parliament plays an important role in the push for reform and also drives other members of such parties to change their views.
During the past year, many members of the Labor Party have declared their support for equal marriage rights, including MPs Tanya Plibersek, Anthony Albanese and union leader Paul Howes.
These declarations of support were largely due to the push of the equal marriage rights movement throughout 2010, reflected in the large numbers in attendance at rallies and media stunts.
At the South Australian Labor conference in November, openly lesbian Senator Penny Wong seconded a strong motion of support for equal marriage. The motion also addressed the sex and gender diverse community.
It said the South Australian ALP called on “the ALP national conference … to support the legal right of all adult couples in Australia to be married if they so choose, and for that marriage to be recognised and registered by law in Australia, regardless of the sexual orientation, or gender, of the parties to the marriage”.
Wong broke her silence on the issue, vowing to support equal marriage rights at the next ALP national conference.
Similar motions of support came out of other ALP state conferences. The Victorian ALP conference in May did not debate the issue of same-sex marriage because it did not have the numbers to form a quorum. But the branch has a standing motion of support for equal marriage.
NSW’s failure to support marriage equality is not in touch with the general Australian public, 75% of which expect same-sex marriage to be legalized, according to a recent Galaxy poll.
The same poll said 62% of Australians support marriage equality — the number among young people is 80%. Seventy-eight percent of Australians believe there should be a conscience vote on the issue.
More and more countries are legalising same-sex marriage, and the pressure must be kept on the Australian government to follow suit.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has previously said that she does not support marriage equality and reiterated this earlier this month.
On July 7, Prime Minister Julia Gillard also told Sky News: “What the national conference does is it sets the platform, the aspirations for our political party. But always Labor caucus in government makes decisions on government policy.”
This implied she may ignore a national conference decision to change ALP same-sex marriage policy.
With Australians overwhelmingly in support of marriage equality and a looming national conference decision to overturn ALP policy on the issue possible, the Gillard government should recognise this shift in public sentiment.
If the aspirations of Gillard’s own political party and the clear support of the public are not enough to incite reform, then this highlights a shameful and dangerous situation for Australia’s democracy.
The next National Day of Action for equal marriage rights is on August 13, with rallies across the country.
Supporters are urged to take to the streets to continue to show their support. Rallies in August 2010 reached numbers of more than 2000 people in some cities.
At the South Australian ALP conference, Wong criticised the Greens, and in turn presumably others, for “shouting about” equal marriage, rather than advocating for change in different ways.
However, the reality is these rallies, and the open and public presence of supporters, have largely been responsible for the mounting pressure on the government to reform the Marriage Act.
Australian Marriage Equality national convener Alex Greenwich also encourages same-sex marriage supporters to “email, phone, and meet with our parliamentarians”.
There will also be a convergence on the national ALP conference on December 3, which aims to show Labor exactly what the public thinks on the issue.
There will be a rally and march outside the conference at midday and supporters of equal marriage rights from all over the country are urged to attend.