The 2010 Federal Election campaign is in full swing, but Australians will not see legalisation of same-sex marriage come onto the policy agendas of mainstream political parties any time soon. On 30 June 2010, Australia's first female Prime Minister announced the Labor Party's stance on same-sex marriage, echoing the views of the Liberal Party and former Prime Minister John Howard.
"We've got a very clear Labor Party policy on [same-sex marriage] and [it] won't be changing: that we believe the Marriage Act is appropriate in its current form, that it's recognising that marriage is between a man and a woman," Prime Minister Julia Gillard told 2Day FM. "But we have as a Government, taken steps to equalise treatment for gay couples in things that [the] Government does like social security benefits and the like."
To the disappointment of those who hoped that Gillard, an atheist who is in a committed de-facto relationship, would take a more progressive approach on issues such as marriage equality, the Prime Minister confirmed that the Labor Government's view on marriage was also her personal view. "That's where we're at as a community," she said.
Following her announcement, Gillard's position on same-sex marriage was quickly slammed by Greens' Senator Bob Brown and the Greens' spokesperson for sexuality and gender identity, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who fears Labor is ignoring the level of public concern at Australia's restrictive definition of marriage.
"It's disappointing to hear that Prime Minister Julia Gillard will maintain Labor's out-of-date policy on gay marriage," said Hanson-Young. "Under Kevin Rudd, Labor lacked the courage to give its Senators a conscience vote on my Marriage Equality Bill. We hoped that a new leader would lead to a change of thinking, but sadly Ms Gillard's comments show she and her Government remain willing to stifle debate."
Following Gillard's announcement, Senator Bob Brown told reporters in Perth that her views were behind the times. "Julia Gillard is wrong on that issue. She is last century. She needs to catch up," he said. "The Gillard government is very conservative and is out of touch with the majority of Australians."
Although Gillard suggests that the Labor Party's policy reflects the views of the Australian community, this is at odds with the results of a recent survey. The latest national opinion poll by Australian Marriage Equality conducted in 2009 revealed 60 per cent of Australians believe same-sex couples should have the right to marry and 85 per cent support the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation.
National convenor of Australian Marriage Equality, Peter Furness, said that almost twice as many Australians now support equal marriage compared to those that oppose it. "This poll scuttles the only rationale put forward by the [Labor] Government for opposing equality, namely that a majority of Australians believe marriage should only be between a man and woman," Furness said.
While parts of the Australian community will be disappointed with Gillard's unwillingness to tackle the issue of same-sex marriage, opposition leader Tony Abbott - who recently revealed he feels "threatened" by homosexuality - also fails to offer a departure from the status quo.
"The relationship between two people of the same sex cannot be a marriage because a marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman," Abbott told the ABC in 2008. "I am not against gay people having solid lasting relationships. I just don't think these can be called "marriage" any more than a rose could be called a gardenia or vice versa, notwithstanding that they're both beautiful and sweet scented."
The push for equality - beyond marriage
Although any hope for marriage equality has disappeared with either Gillard or Abbott as Prime Minister, there are issues beyond marriage which the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community are pushing the Government to address, including the introduction of anti-discrimination laws and better access to health services.
The National LGBT Health Alliance recently announced the release of its 2010 Federal Election National Survey, sent to Australia's main political parties requesting a response by mid-August.
While marriage is a high priority, the LGBT Health Alliance is calling on all major parties to commit to developing a joint national plan to address the health and wellbeing needs of LGBTI Australians and to fund the LGBT Health Alliance as the non-government national peak body for LGBT health and community services.
"While we agree that marriage is an important issue, we wanted to highlight that there are a range of other health and wellbeing issues affecting LGBTI on a daily basis that also need to be addressed," said chair of the National LGBT Health Alliance, Paul Martin.
"The government responds to the needs of other equity groups in Australia with a national plan and a funded national NGO peak body, along with a named Minister/Parliamentary Secretary, national advisory group and a funded departmental unit," he said. "The LGBTI community has none of this, yet we face higher health risk factors, less access to health services and poorer health outcomes."
In addition to achieving government support for the LGBTI community in the same way other equity groups receive support, the LGBT Health Alliance is also calling for the introduction of federal anti-discrimination laws to protect Australians from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
"LGBTI and other sexuality, sex and gender diverse Australians have for decades experienced inequality and exclusion," said executive director of the Health Alliance, Gabi Rosenstreich. "We call on all political parties to continue the process of achieving full equality for LGBTI Australians and to support us to repair the harms done by stigma and discrimination and achieve health for all."
Discussing the Alliance's push for equality, Martin said with the current laws in Australia, the LGBTI community are not equal to other Australian citizens. "We don't have equality yet so we need to continue to push for equality - not special treatment, not additional treatment - just equality before the law that other Australians hold."
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