Marriage campaigners condemn Rudd

A rally for marriage equality in Perth in May. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Liberal leader Tony Abbott's statement that marriage equality was a passing “fashion of the moment,” has galvanised anger in the lead up to nation-wide marriage equality rallies.

It follows Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s promise to introduce a bill for marriage equality within 100 days of being re-elected.

During the August 11 debate between Rudd and Abbott, instead of committing Labor to passing the bill, Rudd said his party would have a conscience vote, and called on the Liberal Party to do the same.

Labor changed its stance in favour of marriage equality in 2010 under big popular pressure. But it also allowed a conscience vote, which means homophobic MPs could still vote against. They did this when they voted down a Greens-initiated bill last year.

Yet Rudd's announcement that he personally supports marriage equality and his promise to introduce the marriage bill to parliament shows the strength of the almost decade-long campaign.

However, putting the bill doesn't mean it will pass.

Community Action Against Homophobia, the group that initiated national mobilisations when same-sex marriage was banned in 2006, has organised a pre-election rally in Sydney.

CAAH’s three co-conveners, Evan Van Zijl, Karl Hand and Cat Rose, spoke to Green Left Weekly about Rudd’s pledge and the campaign’s goals.

Van Zijl said: "It is always important for our community to reflect on when we win, no matter how small that win is, but equally it is important to see these things for what they are.

“Leading up to his debate with Abbott, rumours spread that Rudd would make a 'surprise' announcement on marriage equality that caught people up in hope of action or change.

"Instead, Rudd's announcement was in a reiteration of his previous position and demonstrated no further commitment from his party who have frequently voted down equal marriage bills from the Greens and independents.

“These announcements are simply attempts to placate our community with non-actions on marriage equality and win back the progressive credentials that Rudd lost when he sent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers to a place where they are going to be persecuted.”

Hand said: "Kevin Rudd announced a bill will be put for marriage equality soon after parliament resumes. To many of us in the campaign, this may be a light at the end of a very long tunnel.

"However, it is absolutely essential that this reform not be used as a pink wash to excuse Rudd's brutal and homophobic refugee policy, and that the bill be formulated so that it does not exclude anyone such as intersex, transgender and gender-non-conforming people."

Rose said: "Rudd used his announcements to say he ‘won't force this on anyone’. But these laws have been forced on us for too long. It's not good enough to promise us his one vote and leave the rest to chance. He needs to use his position as party leader to demand that MPs vote with him. We want all politicians to commit to marriage equality before the election."

Van Zijl said: "So long as Rudd and the ALP keep deferring their responsibility for equal rights to Tony Abbott then they are not truly supporters of our community.

“Let's show these politicians that we will not be bought by empty political promises and take to the streets on September 1 for the pre-election marriage equality rally.”

University of Technology Sydney queer officer Andy Zephyr told GLW: “Rudd — in allowing his backbenchers to cross the floor to sit alongside the staunchly homophobic leader of the opposition — has shown that Labor's support is all for show."

In the next three weeks, rallies are taking place all over Australia for marriage equality.

[Rallies for marriage equality will be held in Newcastle on August 24 at 1pm in Civic Park; in Perth on August 31 at 1pm at Stirling Gardens; in Adelaide on August 31 at 1pm at Parliament House and in Sydney on September 1 at noon at Sydney Town Hall.]

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