After May 22nd’s historic vote in Ireland to allow same sex marriage The Hook is investigating marriage equality debates in different countries. In a three-part series we will look at the issue in Germany, Australia and Italy, where the Irish vote has sparked wider public debate.
Australia’s debate over Marriage Equality continued to rumble on after the vote in favour in Ireland. The days following events in Dublin saw the Australian Labour party Leader Bill Shorten move to introduce a bill which would pave the way for Australia to follow Ireland’s example.
Opponents from the governing Liberal party and the right-wing media were quick to criticise Mr. Shorten: both as an opportunist for politicising the issue, and for distracting voters from more pressing national issues.
In the week since, both sides of the debate have published thousands of words in columns, advertising and campaigning. But what do advocates want to change, and what are opponents actually objecting to? The Hook spoke to campaigners from both sides of the divide to find out
Jason Tuazon-McCheyne (JTC) is the chairman and Senate candidate, for the Australian Equality Party, which is strongly supportive of Marriage Equality reform and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) issues.
‘Australians Against Gay Marriage’ (AAGM) is a social media campaign group that actively opposes reform to the Marriage Act. Its spokesperson did not wish to be named in this exchange.
Can you summarise the current state of the debate in a word or phrase?
JTC – “Depressing”
AAGM – “Muted and one-sided”
Why so little optimism on either side? What’s caused the debate to be characterised like this?
JTC – “The majority of the leadership, including the prime Minister of the current federal government, are Christians who believe marriage is between a man and a woman as God intended. Also the major churches lobby the government and their parishioners directly to fight to keep the law as it is. Even though over 70% of Australians want the change to happen”.
AAGM – “There is a real fear that people who wish to speak up and contribute are victimized and labelled homophobic and bigots. This is a tactic I have seen play out, where expressing a view toward traditional marriage and family values has resulted in threats, abuse and in the extreme, has cost people their jobs. This is an attempt to silence the majority of Australians”.
What part of the law is specifically being called into question?
AAGM – “The Marriage Act 1961 provides that a marriage can be solemnised in Australia only between a man and a woman”.
JTC – “So my Canadian marriage is not recognized, but if I’d married a woman it would be”.
What worries you about the outcome of the debate?
JTC – “Australian society wants the change yet the government chooses to not represent its people. Unfortunately, religious people are keeping the state of play as it has been”.
AAGM – “The concern here is that it will open the door for other small interest groups to demand further changes e.g. Bigamist marriage etc. Not to mention the implications for children whose fundamental right to know a mother and father will be overridden”.
If this must be voted on by Parliament, who has taken the initiative in the two houses?
AAGM – “Changes to the marriage act have been rejected time and time again at all levels of parliament. But a push by the Australian Labor Party is placing it back on the agenda which many believe is political point scoring”.
JTC – “Neither is leading the way. The people are. Neither will force a binding vote on its party members and the liberal Party refuses to allow any vote. It’s disgraceful”.
What do you want for the future of Marriage in Australia?
AAGM – “I don’t believe blindly following Ireland, the UK or any other nation is the answer. We must make our own decisions as an independent nation and this must be respected; not used as political ammunition”.
JTC – “I just want to be an equal citizen and be treated fairly and have the same legal support as any other family. LGBTI people are not second-class citizens”.