In the lead up to the ALP National Conference next month, marriage equality is shaping up to be the biggest test yet to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s leadership.
Gillard has moved from her position that she would override a pro-equality decision at the conference, to hinting she will allow Labor MPs a conscience vote.
However, she now also holds the dubious honour of being the only remaining Labor leader supporting the marriage ban.
Every current Labor state premier or state opposition leader supports an end to second-class citizenship for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people.
The public pressure for equality is too great for the ALP to ignore.
Sydney City Council passed a motion supporting marriage equality on November 7. It will fly rainbow flags in the lead up to the December 3 marriage rally outside the ALP national conference.
Only a week after evicting “Occupy Sydney” activists from their Martin Place protest site, this move may reclaim some political credibility for independent mayor Clover Moore.
With so much popular support for equality, the ALP has had to scrape the barrel for arguments justifying its conservative position.
The religious arguments no longer hold water — 53% of Christians support equality.
Polls have said up to 68% of Australians think it’s time for marriage equality. One poll found three quarters of Australians think it’s “inevitable”.
Unlike Gillard, this broad cross section of the community has a social conscience. They are aware of the ramifications of legislated homophobia, tragically revealed by the recent suicide of openly gay 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer of Buffalo, New York.
A September IBTimes article said Rodemeyer placed an “It Gets Better (you can survive queer bullying)” clip on YouTube in May this year and assured "himself that it gets better … and … that Lady Gaga always made him happy”.
On November 7, students at Essex High School in Vermont, inspired by Occupy Wall Street, led a mass sit-in to protest repeated bullying of bisexual 15-year-old Cole Peterson. TruthWinsOut.com said at least 300 students took to the streets in protest, and met a local LGBTIQ group.
Given high levels of support for the campaign, and the fact the PM is a publicly proclaimed atheist living with her de-facto partner, in opposition to conservative Christian morals, why doesn’t Australia have marriage equality?
If queers in Spain, Argentina and the capital of Mexico can do it, why can’t Australia? The heterosexual family unit hasn’t imploded after the love that dared speak its name got megaphoned into history’s tabulates.
Gillard is now indicating ALP members will be given a conscience vote. This vote would allow individual MPs to ignore ALP policy and vote “according to their conscience”.
Greens MP Sarah Hanson-Young has been calling for both political parties to allow a conscience vote since mid 2010.
But marriage activist groups Community Action Against Homophobia, Equal Love groups, Australian Marriage Equality (AME) and Rainbow Labor oppose having a conscience vote.
AME spokesperson Alex Greenwich told Green Left Weekly: “It is a shame Gillard hasn't opened her heart, but I am ever hopeful we will see a change at the ALP conference. If we get a conscience vote instead of the ALP changing their position, it means more challenges for the campaign. But we have shown we're up for challenges, and we will continue."
AME’s campaign manager Rodney Croome said “a conscience vote can never be a substitute for a party policy in favour of equality … The ALP rank and file has made it clear it wants to overturn the party’s existing discriminatory marriage policy. It has passed motions calling on a new national policy at almost every state and territory party conference.”
Minister for mental health and ageing and member of the ALP national executive Mark Butler is the first high-profile ALP member to come out against the conscience vote.
In the November 9 Sydney Morning Herald, Butler said: “Within the ALP, there is strong support and strong opposition to changing the federal Marriage Act, as well as a middle view that this matter should be subject to a ‘conscience vote’. I support a change to the Marriage Act and will oppose the granting of a conscience vote.”
Given all this pressure, why does Gillard refuse to support equality and move to abolish the marriage ban? One theory is that Gillard owes NSW Christian right faction leaders some payback after they helped her knife former PM Kevin Rudd for the top job.
Another theory is that the ALP won’t concede because it is so focused on marginal seats dominated by the Christian right.
Either way, the momentum continues to build. On December 3, thousands of people are expected to rally around the national conference of the ALP to demand change.
The 1love conference on December 4 will also take place, as well as the first Australasian Sex and Gender Diverse Conference on December 2. At these conferences, the broader community will be consulted about the future of the campaign for equality and freedom.
Now seven years into this battle for human rights and equality the campaign just keeps getting stronger, and the marriage ban is in serious danger of being overturned. History is going to leave homophobia in the dust.
[Rachel Evans has been campaigning for marriage rights since 2004, and is Community Action Against Homophobia’s secretary. Pastor Karl Hand is an ordained minister in the Metropolitan Community Church, and pastors CRAVE MCC.]