Tasmania's upper house voted against equal marriage on September 26. The bill, co-sponsored by Labor Premier Lara Giddings and Greens deputy Nick McKim, passed the lower house on August 30.
But after a two-day debate, eight of the upper house's 15 MLCs voted against the bill, mostly fearing a High Court challenge and claiming that it was a federal and not a state issue.
Serious homophobia was also in play. Former Supreme Court chief justice William Cox said allowing same-sex couples to marry could also lead to same-sex surrogacy and adoption.
Same-sex surrogacy was made legal the week before the equal marriage bill. Same-sex adoption has been legal since 2003.
Tasmanian gay rights campaigner Rodney Croome said the idea of a High Court challenge had been highly overstated.
Croome said on October 8 that Australian Family Association lawyer Neville Rochow told Tasmanian politicians that an unsuccessful High Court challenge could cost the government up to $1.25 million. The advice “included a hypothetical case taken by a religious celebrant who refused to celebrate a same-sex marriage, as well as the costs of all the interveners in such a case.”
Under the Tasmanian equal marriage bill, no church or priest could be forced to marry anyone they didn’t want to. They can choose to marry or not marry individually.
Croome said the maximum High Court loss would be tens of thousands of dollars instead, a price worth paying considering the amount of queer couples who said they would travel to Tasmania to get married should the bill pass.
The shame the Tasmanian parliament should be feeling at voting down a bill that would make people of all sexual orientations equal in the eyes of the law, goes hand in hand with an awful history of gay rights abuses.
Tasmania finally legalised same-sex relationships in 1997, the last Australian state to do so. Just 15 years ago, being gay could be “punished” with a prison sentence.
The fact that so soon after that shameful history, the Tasmanian parliament had the opportunity to make same-sex marriage legal speaks volumes to the strength of queer rights activists in Tasmania and Australia.
The struggle for queer equality has been hard and incredibly successful. The issues and prejudice the queer community face have been pushed to the forefront of Australian conscience, thanks to a brilliant campaign that has seen huge advances in the past decade.
But homophobia remains and carries terrible costs. Same-sex attracted youth account for one-third of young people sleeping on the streets on any given night.
Depression and suicide are two to three times more likely for queer youth than straight young people.
Many are discriminated against and bullied because of their sexuality and more than 70% of this bullying goes on in schools.
There is still a lot of work to be done to rid society of homophobia.
The importance of mass mobilisation in stopping legal and social prejudice towards queer people has been made evident by the Tasmanian parliament.
Most people in Tasmania and Australia want equal marriage, yet the upper house still voted the equal marriage bill down, clearly showing an ability to completely ignore what a community wants or needs.
Young people make up a huge reason for why this campaign has come so far, and it is up to us to get active and mobilise, and demand of those in parliament that we will not be ignored, nor will the issues of the queer community.