Greens to put marriage equality bill, Tas to go it alone

March for equal marriage rights, April. Photo by Peter Boyle.

The campaign for marriage equality in Australia has been waged for almost a decade. That federal parliament, despite repeated polls showing support for equal marriage rights regardless of sexuality, has failed to legislate for marriage equality has caused widespread anger.

A sign of the growing momentum for marriage equality came with the announcement at the Tasmanian state Labor conference on August 4 that the Labor-led Tasmanian government would aim to pass legislation this year to legalise same-sex marriage in the state, should federal parliament fail to do so.

The anger at federal parliament for failing to heed the wishes of the majority for equality will not abate until equal marriage rights are won. Significant concessions wrested out of ALP state governments by the grassroots — civil unions in the ACT, registration schemes in three states, marriage equality motions in two state parliaments — have not appeased this movement.

As 10,000 people protested for marriage equality, its national conference last December, the Labor Party changed its platform to support equal marriage. But it also voted to give members a “conscience vote”, allowing MPs that oppose marriage equality to still vote for bigotry.

A joint bill sponsored by Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MP Andrew Wilkie has been prepared for the House of Representatives. Labor MP Stephen Jones has a similar bill waiting in the wings.

A Greens Senate marriage bill promoted by Sarah Hanson Young is also waiting to be put. So far, neither the House of Representative or Senate bills have been put. The argument put by those in parliament who support marriage equality as to why the bills have not been put is they would likely fail to pass.

If the Labor Party bound MPs to support its official policy of marriage equality, it would already be law.

Bandt said on June 18 he won't put his bill to vote, but instead try to persuade opposition leader Tony Abbott to allow the Liberals a conscience vote. If Abbott gave the Liberal MPs a conscience vote, an equal marriage bill would have a better chance to pass.

The Greens have since reconsidered their decision to focus on lobbying the Liberals. The Greens will push ahead with the marriage equality bill in the Senate.

Australian Marriage Equality spokesperson Alex Greenwich said Hanson Young aims to put the bill in the Senate by “as early as August 21”.

The bill, said Greenwich, “has more of a chance passing in the Senate than in the House of Representatives. It could be a close as six votes, and it depends who turns up for the vote.”

“Even if it goes down,” noted Greenwich, “it would be a call to action. If you want to value freedom and equality then need to rally. Also, the election is coming up and we will make ourselves heard at rallies and in the ballot box.”

If a bill gets defeated federally, states can pass marriage laws — as Tasmania has indicated it will do.

One thing is for sure, if the marriage equality bills are put in parliament and lost this time, it will expose exactly who stands where. It will fuel anger and determination outside parliament to denounce the bigots and push harder for marriage equality.

The battle for marriage equality is a battle that will be won.

[Rachel Evans and Farida Iqbal are long-time campaigners for marriage equality and members of the Socialist Alliance.]