Labor, not the Greens, Engineered the Defeat of Marriage Equality

4673830515_9e4f2e8e28_bOn 29 September 2010, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young presented a Private Member’s Bill, the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 [Hansard]. It was the first of many.

From the start the Greens have led on the issue of Marriage Equality, while Labor has played a very reluctant game of catchup.

Pressure for Labor to be seen to be doing something led to the Labor Party Conference Dec 2011 stitching up a compromise: marriage equality became party policy, but the policy would not be binding on MPs. They got a conscience vote, thus ensuring that any marriage bill would be certain to fail.

Which is exactly what happened. An obscure backbencher no-one had ever heard of before, Mr Stephen Jones [Labor, Throsby] moved an equal marriage private member’s bill in the first half of 2012. He admitted he was a late arrival to the marriage equality debate.

In fact, there was no need for the Jones bill; Labor could have got behind the Greens and supported any of their pre-existing bills. The Jones bill was nothing but a spoiler.

Labor forced the issue by introducing the Jones bill. The Greens would have preferred to wait and continue to build support, but Labor wanted the issue killed off for the rest of this parliament and as an election issue. They were – and still are – more interested in owning marriage equality as an issue, than in actually seeing it come to pass.

For Rainbow Labor to now attempt to rewrite history and cast the Greens as the spoilers beggars belief. What next? Doctoring photographs of marriage equality rallies, replacing Sarah Hanson-Young with a pot-plant and Adam Bandt with a cactus?

Labor’s fumbled, compromised attempts at legislating equality have had, to say the least, mixed results. The much vaunted “85 laws” that Labor changed actually made life worse for many gay couples, especially where one or both partners were in receipt of any kind of government benefit. Benefit for the ‘dependent’ partner was cut or lost altogether.

In the past, when such changes were made, arrangements for existing recipients were ‘grandfathered’: only new recipients would be subject to the new rules. No such mercy was extended to same sex couples, who suddenly found themselves treated as if they were married, but not allowed to marry.

The government resolutely refused to countenance any grandfathering arrangements – such as had been made in the past for widows –  for same-sex couples, condemning many to separation or poverty.

Let’s be quite clear: if Labor had a real commitment to LGBTI equality, it would root out the lingering prejudice and homophobia in it’s own ranks. Instead of which, it panders to it. And this latest piece of revisionism only strengthens the LGBTI community’s gut feeling that when it comes to our rights, neither major party can be trusted not to sell us down the river.


Sarah Hanson-Young posted a reply on New Matilda. However, due to technical difficulties it is only intermittently available. Here follows the full text.

Labor The True Opponents Of Gay Marriage

By Sarah Hanson-Young

Marriage equality has found its time but, unfortunately, there is only one political party in Australia genuinely fighting for this essential social reform.

The Greens have been a strong voice for gay and lesbian Australians since we first formed. It was Bob Brown and Christine Milne who led the fight to legalise homosexuality in Tasmania over two decades ago and the first bill I ever introduced into the Senate, back in 2009, was a marriage equality bill. That was the first time marriage equality had been put before the Parliament.

Since then my colleague Adam Bandt and I have relentlessly pursued same-sex marriage reform, in both houses of parliament, and we will continue to do so until we win this fight. If it were up to the Greens, gay and lesbian Australians would have been able to marry the person they love many years ago but unfortunately, without support from either of the old parties, that hasn’t happened.

I have regularly called for a cross-partisan approach towards marriage equality and have consistently offered to co-sponsor bills with members of the ALP and the coalition since 2010. These overtures were rejected by Labor, who wanted to rush to an early vote on their own bill to get marriage equality off the agenda, despite the marriage equality movement’s wishes.

I worked closely with Australian Marriage Equality and the Coalition to establish a Senate inquiry into my marriage bill. The Labor Party was opposed to that inquiry but as a result of it we saw – for the first time – Greens, Liberal and Labor MPs working together towards the goal of marriage equality. I, again in conjunction with the advocates, sought cross-party sponsorship of a bill in the Senate, where it had the best chance of passing a vote. Again I encountered nothing but opposition from the Labor Party.

Yesterday’s vague allegations about Adam Bandt are the outpourings of a Labor apparatchik’s feverish imagination. The central claim – that Bandt “discovered” something, then acted in a certain way – is laughable. So devoid is the “allegation” of one shred of supporting evidence that even the Labor hack responsible for it felt compelled to put it in inverted commas. The record at the time showed that Bandt repeatedly and publicly called for co-sponsorship of the bill in the House and urged Labor not to fast-track the bill to a vote until there was more time to prevail upon Coalition MPs.

Because our bill remains alive and was debated again in the House yesterday, Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer could announce she personally felt comfortable with equal marriage. Labor MP Graham Perrett, who chaired the inquiry into the equal marriage bills, said yesterday he was pleased for the chance of further debate. Things are changing.

Being able to marry the person you want to spend the rest of your life with should be a universal right and should not be controlled by party politics. It has been disappointing to watch the Labor Party, so beholden to its bully boy factions, fail at every turn to take up the offers of a cross-party approach and genuinely support marriage equality in Australia. They are continuing to play politics, both internally and externally, and it is the LGBTI community of Australia who are continuing to suffer.

Often this sort of political maneuvering is done behind the closed doors of ALP factional bosses’ offices but in 2011 Joe de Bruyn, who is on the ALP national executive, placed his cards on the table for all to see. He told a meeting of the Australian Christian Lobby exactly how the right wing Labor factions would kill the party’s own marriage equality bill by making the Prime Minister vote against it, scaring other MPs into toeing the line. He said that the fight against same-sex marriage was an “ongoing battle that we can’t afford to lose”.

Well, because of the excessive power the Right has inside of the ALP, they didn’t lose. The Prime Minster voted against her own party’s bill, going against the party’s official policy position, and as the backbenchers lined up to fall in behind her the bill was defeated. It is so sad that such an important debate for so many Australians was killed off by the Labor factions at such a crucial time.

The Prime Minister has never explained to the Australian people why she opposes same-sex marriage and that has left a lot of people wondering what her actual position would be if it weren’t for the factions. Julia Gillard has failed to show any leadership on this issue while Tony Abbott is continuing to block coalition MPs from voting with their conscience.

Australia is becoming more and more isolated in the international community as it fails to act on same-sex marriage, but there is light on the horizon. This campaign has come such a long way because of the hard work of advocates in the community and while the politicians of the old parties have failed them up until now, it is inevitable that they will soon prevail.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)