Two attempts to legalise same-sex marriage failed in Australia’s Federal Parliament this week. On Wednesday, a private member’s bill sponsored by a Labor MP, Stephen Jones, was defeated by 98 votes to 42 in the House of Representatives. And today, the Senate defeated another bill sponsored by three Labor Senators by 41 votes to 26.
The governing Labor Party (ALP)allowed its members a conscience vote on the issue – meaning they were not bound to vote as a bloc – but Liberal-National Party coalition did not. Ten of the 17 cabinet ministers in the lower house voted in favour of the bill. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Treasurer Wayne Swan and former PM Kevin Rudd were amongst the ALP members who voted against it. Two Liberal Party Senators were absent to avoid crossing the floor after making passionate pleas for gay marriage in the debate.
One of the most prominent supporters of gay marriage, former Greens Leader, Bob Brown, who recently left the Senate, said that “hearts were broken all over Australia”. “It’s bigotry. It’s saying that if you happen to be gay in this community, you don’t deserve to have your love for your partner recognised,” Dr Brown said. “It’s a pretty poor outcome for a country which has led the world in so many other ways.”
Another bill remains on the table in the Senate, sponsored by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. But she admits that its chances are slim in the current Parliament. “Until we have new leaders at the heads of (the major) parties, then I can’t see how the numbers are going to change significantly between now and the next election,” she told the media.
However, the battle for same-sex marriage is far from over.
Finance Minister Senator Penny Wong, a lesbian whose partner gave birth to a baby girl in December, felt hurt by arguments by other senators that the children of same-sex couples were worse off. “I do not regret that our daughter has Sophie and I as parents,” she said. “I do regret that she lives in a world where some will tell her that her family is not normal. I regret that even in this chamber, elected representatives denigrate the worth of her family. I will not rest in the face of such prejudice. I want for her, for all of us, an Australia which is inclusive and respectful, and this is why this campaign will not end here.”
Even though marriage is a Federal responsibility under the Australian constitution, some states are ignoring the constitutional difficulties. In Tasmania the lower house has already approved a same-sex marriage bill and the upper house votes on it next week. With only two or three members undecided, it will be a nail-biting finish to an exhausting debate.