Australian Labor (Kind Of) Supports Marriage Equality

Gillard2In Australia this morning (which, to folks in America, was actually early yesterday afternoon), at the Labor Party's tri-annual national conference, the Party officially added marriage equality to its platform. Whether that will make any difference to marriage equality's Australian prospects is debatable.

Labor is Australia's ruling party, just barely, and is headed by an arch Jodie Foster lookalike named Julia Gillard. Gillard's an ardent secularist, but, like several others in her party, she doesn't much care for same-sex marriage. "Opposite"-sex marriage, Gillard believes, has a "special status" that ought to be recognized by the civil apparatus. Speaking to the AP, conference attendee and Australian union leader named Joe de Bruyn explained why he agrees with her:

"This issue is one we should decide with our heads, not on the basis of emotion," said Joe de Bruyn, national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, one of the country's largest unions. "The definition of marriage as set out in the legislation is that it is the union of one man and one woman, voluntarily entered into for life. It has always been that way since the dawn of humanity."

De Bruyn ought to brush up on his history, but no matter: Sentiments like his caused Julia Gillard to propose an amendment to make matters of marriage equality subject to a "conscience vote" — which is to say, Labor legislators shall be free to vote on issues of marriage equality according to their consciences, and shall not be forced to toe the pro-equality party line. Gillard's amendment passed, as did the platform change, the former rendering the latter all but toothless.


  1. Steve says

    Well-known Roman writes like Cicero and Juvenal spoke of same-sex marriages or similar contracts in passing like it was no big deal. It also existed in China during various times (with almost a dozen emperors being gay or bi), in most native American tribes, in Pacific island cultures and in various African tribes

  2. Robert in NYC says

    He’s dead wrong, marriage has not always been the domain of one man and one woman since the dawn of time. Where does he get that from?

    Until more Liberals (conservatives in Australia) get on board with marriage equality, this has little chance of passing given the minority status of the Labour Party. That said, I think once the marriage equality consultation in the UK begins in March 2012, it may put the Liberals in Australia in a very embarassing situation since it is the Conservative coalition government od Prime Minister David Cameron that is pushing to introduce same-sex marriage before the end of the current parliament which ends in 2015. The mother of all parliaments still has a lot of influence in the outcome of legislation in some English speaking parts of the world.

  3. Stufromoz says

    Well, while not all is lost, Julia Gillard is in an awkward spot. Her problem is, she became leader of the ALP thanks to support from Joe de Bruyn and others like him on the right of the ALP. But, her normal platform within the party is on the left side. So, while she keeps toeing the line, her role as leader is safe. Her trying to travel this fine balancing act is one of the reasons she has lost as much popularity with the general public.

    Members of the opposition have already come out publicly saying they are sympathetic to any Same Sex Marriage bill to be put forward. I also believe we can count on 2 of the 3 independents and the Green rep, leaving prospects of anything passing becoming tantalisingly close.

    But, having said that, do we really have enough supporters in the (il)Liberal Party (our rightist party) to get us over the line? At the moment, the gay community has a lot of work to do convincing their politicians, even tho the general community consistently sees this as something that should pass. It really is a source of major irritation that the federal leaders of both parties are running against this.

    Yet, again, I can’t help thinking, this ALP conference debate was an amazing thing. All the best speakers to this motion were pro gay marriage. They all clearly articulated the point that refusing us this right is blatant discrimination. I suspect that, come any conscience vote in the parliament, very few ALP members will vote against same sex marriage….

  4. Gregv says

    @Greg: Apparently, an American-born politician lobbied successfully a century ago to have the party’s name spelled the American way, even though the common noun has a “u” everywhere outside the US, including Australia.

    @Trust: Most Australians are not homophobic and support equality. For some strange reason they’ve still elected leaders who lag behind public opinion.

  5. Pete139 says

    How did this become an article about Australia and Labor being homophobic? Please do your research first – this is a huge change in policy for one of Australia’s major parties in support of marriage equality.

    For the record, the Democrats have no such policy. Moreover, most polls conducted in Australia regularly show public support for equality pitching above 60%.

    If a marriage equality bill fails to get up in Australia (the one to be introduced by a Labor MP early next year), the blame will lie with the Liberal Party (Australian conservatives).

  6. Andre says

    It may not be as bad as people are making out. The conservative Liberal party actually does have quite a few people who take libertarian ideas seriously – i.e. individual rights and their precedence over rights of other groups like religious organisations. If legislation is introduced into Parliament, there is possibility of success. .. that said I’m not hopeful.

    That said, part of me is happy with the idea of a conscience vote for Labor members rather than being forced to tow a party line. The issue is that the “conscience” being voted ought to be the conscience of the voters in the MP’s electorate and not their own (representative democracy and all).

    @Trust… come on man. Australians are no more homophobic than Americans. I would have thought that you’d be a little more circumspect about passing judgement on a nation of people based on your small sampling (based on what? Media representations?), especially given that most if not all of us have at some point in our lives been similarly judged. You know – all those “you gays are so fashion conscience and such good decorators” comments. You may be interested to know that, recent polls have put support for same sex marriage laws at somewhere between 62% and 68%. Recent polls have also suggested that there is a clear majority of support even when results are broken down by State and by age group.

    @GregV – I’m pretty sure Americans also voted in politicians who lag behind public opinion.

  7. JWK says

    Writing from down under, this is a pretty big win – and it’s possible that we may even secure marriage equality in 2012.

    It all rests on the individual MPs and Senators, now. Normally, our two major parties, Labor and Liberal, enforce fairly strict party discipline. It would have been much better if Labor had bound its members to support equality – that would have secured 72 votes i the House, at least.

    Because the Labor Party has offered a conscience vote to its members, there is pressure on the Liberals to not punish members who vote against their party’s policy and for marriage equality. They have a history of allowing free votes on some issues, and definitely won’t expel any members in such a closely balanced Parliament, so some strong moderates may come over to vote yes.

    In other words: equality advocates now have to secure every single vote, one by one, before a vote comes on next year at some point.

    The Greens already have a bill before the Senate to remove the man/woman language from the Marriage Act. All of the Greens, most Labor and some independent members of each House will vote for it or a similar bill from another party – the key votes will be moderate Liberals and wavering Labor members who want to see community support from their districts before they publicly commit to vote yes.

    Make no mistake – this is the closest we’ve ever been in Australia to equality. The vote will be close, and the campaign will be tough – the organised opposition will be worse in the next six months than it has been in years – but I reckon it can go over the edge next year. And that’s worth celebrating!

    Anyone online from overseas who wants to contact our politicians and let them know what it means to you to see Australia finally move to equality – please do :)

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