Tasmania could legalise same-sex marriage. Premier Lara Giddings announced last Saturday at the state Labor Party conference that she would support a bill making Tasmania the first state in Australia where gay couples can be legally married.

“Just as we have responded to other forms of discrimination throughout history, there comes a time when no amount of excuses should stand in the way of doing what is right.”

The passage of the bill in the lower house is certain, as the Labor Party and its coalition partner, The Greens, have a majority. But the upper house could still block legislation. Six members of the 15-member Legislative Council support it but five oppose it and four have not disclosed how they will vote.

However, all this could be wishful thinking or a wilful distraction from the island state’s serious economic problems. The Australian constitution clearly states that marriage legislation is reserved to the Federal government.

Nothing daunted, Premier Giddings appears convinced that Tasmania can go it alone. She told the Sunday Tasmanian: “There is nothing that I have received in my legal advice that would preclude the state government from pursuing this matter and legalising marriage here in Tasmania. There’s far more legal advice out there … that will show you there’s in fact strong arguments as to why we can indeed do this.”

Professor Anne Twomey, a constitutional law expert at the University of Sydney, was sceptical:

“A Tasmanian law permitting same-sex marriage, even if operative, would do little more than facilitate holding a ceremony, drinking champagne and taking photos. It might confer on the parties to a same-sex marriage the status of “married” for the purposes of Tasmanian laws, but it is most unlikely that they would be regarded as legally “married” for the purposes of Commonwealth law or under the law of any other state (unless that state legislated to recognise the status conferred by the Tasmanian law). It would therefore not attract any legal benefits or status accorded to a married couple outside of those given under Tasmanian law.”

Campaigners for gay marriage are claiming that the “pink dollar” could be worth as much as A$100 million for the state economy. “There is strong evidence that legislating for same sex marriage will provide a significant economic boost and create jobs for Tasmanians,” says Ms Giddings.  

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.