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Parliamentarians should have a conscience vote on gay marriage

By Rodney Croome - posted Monday, 1 November 2010


We are at a turning point in the national debate on marriage equality.

From the moment in 2004 when the Labor Party decided to wholeheartedly support the Howard Government's amendment to the Marriage Act explicitly banning same-sex marriages, the leadership of both major parties has been locked in a kind of strange staring match on the issue in which neither dare blink first for fear of alienating fundamentalist voters.

But there are many people in both major parties who are tiring of this silly game.

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Labor MP, Doug Cameron, has taken the federal Labor caucus to task over same-sex marriage. He declared it "crazy" that the Party was standing in the way of loving couples committing to each other, and said he is over "zombie" MPs being told they cannot speak their minds on the issue.

Cameron is not alone. Recently, I spent three days in Parliament House in back-to-back meetings on marriage equality with both Labor and Coalition MPs.

A majority of the politician we spoke to said they either have an open mind on marriage equality or support reform and are keen to get on with it.

This is a stark contrast to two years ago when almost all the MPs I spoke to feigned indifference, or four years ago when even the most progressive among them found it hard to put the words "gay" and "marriage" in the same sentence.

What's caused this remarkable change?

One possible cause we can discount is shifting public opinion.

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Last week Australian Marriage Equality released an opinion poll which shows 62% of Australians believe same-sex couples should be able to marry. 60% last year but clearly the increase is slow.

Another cause we can discount is the regular rallies that have been held across the nation. Supporters of marriage equality have been rallying in very large numbers for six years but our numbers have not dramatically increased in that time.

What has caused change among politicians is how and by whom support for marriage equality is being communicated.

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This is an edited version of a speech given at Curtin University on October 27, 2010



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About the Author

Rodney Croome is the National Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality and was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003 for his gay rights advocacy. He is co-author of Why vs Why: Gay Marriage.

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