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Australia’s Labor party amends platform in support of marriage equality

Community/Meta Marriage equality

By Jacob Combs

As The Australian reports, the Australian Labor Party’s national conference amended its platform yesterday in support of marriage equality, rejecting Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s position that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Nonetheless, Gillard has succeeded in her bid to have the marriage equality issue come to parliament on a conscience vote, in which individual lawmakers will be allowed to cast their ballot according to personal convictions and not party lines.  In the event of a conscience vote in parliament, the marriage equality measure is expected to be voted down.

Although this means that we likely won’t see full federal marriage equality come to Australia in the near future, this development is significant in two ways.  First off, it demonstrates that the debate in Australia is shifting in favor of marriage equality.  The fact that Labor’s delegates feel strongly enough about the issue to directly challenge the prime minister (who is their party leader) on her position is important enough in its own right, but it also provides the groundwork for a future victory when the measure is brought up on in a non-conscience vote setting.

Second, it’s worth noting that one of the fundamental arguments that has been made against Labor’s decision has been its timing.  Opposition politicians have criticized what they see as a Labor obsession with gay marriage when most Australians are more concerned about issues of economic policy and job security.

This argument may be politically expedient, but it is one to which those of us who support marriage equality (in any country) must fervently object.  Affording rights to heterosexual couples that are excluded from same-sex couples is discrimination, no matter what the state of the economy is.  I stress this because it’s something that could just as easily be argued in the context of our country’s political discourse, where economic issues are certainly at the front of voters’ minds.  Nevertheless, equal rights cannot be something we strive for as a nation only in times of prosperity.

In arguing against maintaining the stay on Judge Walker’s decision to strike down Prop 8, attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies argued that gay and lesbian couples’ rights are being infringed upon every day in California while Prop 8 is allowed to remain the law of the land.  For those of us who believe that laws and constitutional amendments like Prop 8 are unfair, we must maintain that seeking equal rights for all citizens is something to strive for at all times, and certainly as important as our nation’s economic prosperity.  Discrimination of any kind is just as invidious when times are bad as when they are good.


  • 1. Bob  |  December 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    EQUALITY NOW !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 2. grod  |  December 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Votes that are free of party discipline in the Canadian and Australian’s lower houses, create the possibility of a bill’s passing without creating divisiveness within a party. Members typically votes along party line. In minority parliaments, currently in Australia and in 2005 in Canada, when civil marriage equality passed on a free vote, free votes create opportunities for passage. As the Australian government is comprised of a coalition, all the more reason for a controversial bill being voted by a vote of conscience. A vote, free of party discipline also creates the possibility of some members not voting as occurred in the 2005 vote, when thirteen member abstained in a parliament of 306 votes. It could have been a squeaker had all those members vote against equality. Free votes also create real opportunities to influence particular members.
    The American system, as seen from afar, is not as strict as a parliamentary one where typically member attendance and votes are “whipped” – controlled.

  • 3. Tasty Salamanders  |  December 4, 2011 at 4:30 am

    I don't see how the Labor Government being in a coalition has anything to do with the conscience vote. The coalition is what is giving the government power but it has independents and other parties that the Party has no control over and could easily vote against it even without a conscience because they aren't members of that party.
    That being said conscience votes mean nothing to independents since they aren't in a party anyhow and the other Party that Labor is in a coalition with, The Greens, their view on marriage equality has been clear cut for ages so I doubt they would even need or want a conscience vote.

  • 4. Jimmy Jones  |  December 4, 2011 at 5:43 am

    In the event of a conscience vote in parliament, the marriage equality measure is expected to be voted down.

    Breaking news!

    5 opposition MPs now urge their leader (Abbott) to afford a conscience vote, rather than voting en bloc to oppose equality, increasing the chances the bill will pass…

  • 5. _BK_  |  December 4, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Three quick questions. I'd really appreciate knowing the answers!

    1. How many votes are needed to pass this legislation in both houses in Australia?

    2. Will the other parties be having a conscience vote as well?

    3. How many non-Labor politicians can be expected to vote for this?


  • 6. nkitty  |  December 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    1. It would need 75 in the house of reps and 39 in the senate (I think)

    2. Not a chance in hell.

    3. Very few, the conscience vote is almost certainly guaranteed to fail.

  • 7. Ron  |  December 4, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    I disagree with the argument about timing presented in the post. Australia hasn't had the down turn or unemployment the US or Europe have had and there isn't pressure there around the economy. There just isn't a real position there that "oh this is a bad time, people want us to focus on the economy." Also, it isn't that big a deal to challenge Julia, she is generally disliked within her party and viewed as ineffectual. She weakened the party and that is why there is a coalition government. The gay marriage supports jumped to the Greens. She is an unmarried athiest against gay marriage. She has reason to be against it and just says it is tradition.

  • 8. Bill S.  |  December 5, 2011 at 1:09 am

    Not to mention that gay people are living in this economy too. Without marriage, they are harder hit than their straight counterparts, by having to pay for separate health insurance plans and higher taxes by filing singly (as just two of many, many examples).

    So the answer should be, "Yes, the economy is bad, all the better reason to legalize equal marriage now!"

  • 9. Tasty Salamanders  |  December 5, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Actually 76 in the House of Reps, though you were right on 39 for the Senate.

    But discounting the Labor and Liberal Parties there are 5 other parties + Independents holding seats in both houses. Overall they hold 34 of the 150 House of Rep seats and 21 of the 76 Senate seats.
    Of course it's worth noting that 3 of those 5 parties 1 is the National Party who have been in a coalition with the Liberal Party for like, forever. And the from states and territories where the Liberal and National Party merged together.

    The other 2 parties differ between the houses with only the Greens being in both the other in the House of Reps is yet another branch of the National Party and in the Senate it is the Democratic Labor Party which is just ugh.

  • 10. Prop 8 Trial Tracker &raq&hellip  |  January 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

    […] marriage is most likely still a ways off in Australia (even though the ruling Labor party amended its platform in support of marriage equality in December), but a new government policy will make […]

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