On July 25, climate change minister Penny Wong, Australia’s first openly queer government minister, came out against equal marriage rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people.
“On the issue of marriage I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious, historical view around that which we have to respect”, she told Channel 10.
Wong’s statement dramatically shows the utter moral bankruptcy of the Labor Party on the issue.
Cat Rose, co-convenor of Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), said: “A few weeks ago, [Prime Minister Julia] Gillard showed us that an unmarried woman — and an atheist — could defend institutionalised homophobia as stridently as anyone else.
“Now Wong has shown us that a lesbian woman can do it too.
“It's a disgrace that Labor politicians are using ‘historical’ reasons as an excuse to discriminate while their catch-phrase for this election is ‘let’s move Australia forward’.
The refusal of both the major parties to end homophobic marriage laws makes it important to take a stand and protest against their discrimination.”
The issue of equal marriage rights is certainly one that strikes a nerve among the Australian people. Polls repeatedly show that a large majority of Australians support the right of LGBTI people to marry.
On top of this, we have seen the biggest demonstrations for LGBTI rights in Australian history over the past two years. It is curious that neither of the major parties is particularly keen to adopt this issue — even though it is an issue that resonates so deeply with voters.
Both major parties have political alliances with the Christian right, which they do not want to jeopardise.
The “cultural, religious, historical view” that Wong insists must be respected to deny queer couples equal rights is not the view of majority, but an out-of-touch minority. But it is an organised minority with political clout.
Seeking support from this sector to win power, both the Labor Party and Liberal Party stubbornly oppose LGBTI marriage rights. Both parties joined forces in the lead up to the 2004 election to ban it.
They are hesitant to trumpet this as an election issue this time around because they are not in a position to use queers as a political football, as they are doing with refugees. Public sentiment in favour of gay rights is too strong.
If either major party were to try to campaign on fear of gay marriage to score points, most people would be horrified.
It goes to show protest makes a difference. This important lesson points to the need for a powerful protest movement for refugee rights. It is the only defence that desperate people fleeing from persecution have against the policies of Labor and Liberal.
It is also up to us to put queer marriage on the table as an election issue, regardless of how embarrassing that might be for the major parties. This is the aim of a national day of action to be held on August 14 around the country.
There are parties that take a principled position on equal marriage rights. The Greens have repeatedly attempted to introduce federal legislation for LGBTI marriage, only to have been voted down by the major parties.
The Socialist Alliance is an activist party whose members have been heavily involved in building the equal marriage rights movement. Leading CAAH activist, Rachel Evans, is running for the NSW Senate for SA.
Also, more than one third of the Australian Sex Party’s candidates are queer, including prominent equal marriage activist Jason Virgo, who is running for the Senate in South Australia.