The focus of the same sex marriage debate has shifted to the Liberal Party with a senior member changing his stance on the issue.
New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell, who had previously opposed same sex marriage, says he’s changed his mind.
Same sex marriage campaigners have welcomed the development, saying they hope the comments will put pressure on the federal Liberals.
Biwa Kwan reports.
An attempt to legalise same sex marriage failed in federal parliament last year.
During the debate, Coalition members were denied a conscience vote on the issue, although Labor politicians were given one.
New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell says he’s changed his mind about gay marriage and is now in favour of it.
Mr O’Farrell says it’s probably time to accept that it’s really an issue of fairness.
He says Opposition Leader Tony Abbott should allow his party a conscience vote on the issue if it comes before federal parliament again.
“Governments shouldn’t deny to one section of the community recognition of the commitment and loving relationships they extend to to others. It would be best if it were legislated at a federal level. That’s why we have the Marriage Act 1961 that sets the rules around marriages in the states and territories. Of course given the widespread views on this issue- that if it was to be discussed and debated federally, there should be a conscience vote.”
West Australian Premier Colin Barnett says while he remains opposed to gay marriage, he agrees it should be an issue for a conscience vote.
“I think it’s a conscience issue for most parliaments. I don’t happen to support gay marriage, but I readily acknowledge that increasingly more Australians are. So we’re probably changing our view as a nation on that. I don’t think most Australians are at that point yet, but they will probably get there. But if it’s an issue that comes before Parliament it is a conscience vote issue.”
Rodney Croome, from the group, Australian Marriage Equality, has welcomed Mr O’Farrell’s changed stance.
Mr Croome says he hopes it’s a sign of a broader change in views in support of same sex marriage among conservative politicians.
“What’s really important about Barry O’Farrell’s announcement is that he is supporting marriage equality for conservative reasons. He’s sending the message that this is no longer a left-right issue. This is about equality. This is about family values. It’s about individual freedoms. All things which conservatives can support. And the fact that Barry O’Farrell is right behind this reform I think will encourage other people on the right of Australian politics to do the same.”
Mr Croome says the key reason why New Zealand has successfully legislated same sex marriage when the Australian government failed in its attempt last year is due to the support from the conservative politicians.
“The key reason why marriage equality passed in New Zealand and hasn’t passed yet in Australia is because the conservative party in New Zealand had a conscience vote and that allowed conservatives to vote for marriage equality based no conservative principles like individual freedom, like family values. In Australia, Liberal and National Party MPs don’t have that freedom. And at the very least we’re saying to Tony Abbott, allow that conscience vote so that this reform has a fighting chance.”
A parliamentary inquiry in New South Wales is examining a proposed same sex marriage law.
Mr O’Farrell says he would consider legislating same sex marriage laws in the state if the inquiry finds it possible under the constitution.
But says he would prefer the federal parliament to change the Marriage Act.
Anne Twomey is a professor in constitutional law at the University of Sydney,
She says complex issues would be raised by any move by New South Wales to legalise same sex marriages.
“We don’t know whether the state law would be inoperative because it conflicts with the Commonwealth Marriage Act. And that would depend very much on how the High Court interpreted the Commonwealth Act and whether it was intended to cover the entire field of all kinds of marriage or whether it was just confined to marriage between members of the opposite sex. So that’s one problem. And the second problem is how the New South Wales legislation would fit in with existing regimes in relation to same sex relationships. So at the moment you’ve got de facto legislation at the Commonwealth level that deals with, for example, property issues when relationships break down. So how would New South Wales legislation fit in with that?”
The New South Wales Council of Churches says Mr O’Farrell’s support of same sex marriage is wrong,
It’s urging the federal Opposition leader to stand firm on his refusal to support a change to the Marriage Act.
Tony Abbott says he has not changed his personal views on marriage as being between a man and a woman.
He has hinted at the possibility of a new Coalition approach to same-sex marriage – but only after the September election.
“I know that there are many people who don’t have my view. But my view is the same as John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Kim Beazley and that is the orthodox definition of a marriage as between a man and a woman should continue. Our position, my position, going into the next election, is that what our policy is … will be a matter for the post-election party room.”