December 3, 2011
By Jacob Combs
As The Australian reports, the Australian Labor Party’s national conference amended its platform yesterday in support of marriage equality, rejecting Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s position that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Nonetheless, Gillard has succeeded in her bid to have the marriage equality issue come to parliament on a conscience vote, in which individual lawmakers will be allowed to cast their ballot according to personal convictions and not party lines. In the event of a conscience vote in parliament, the marriage equality measure is expected to be voted down.
Although this means that we likely won’t see full federal marriage equality come to Australia in the near future, this development is significant in two ways. First off, it demonstrates that the debate in Australia is shifting in favor of marriage equality. The fact that Labor’s delegates feel strongly enough about the issue to directly challenge the prime minister (who is their party leader) on her position is important enough in its own right, but it also provides the groundwork for a future victory when the measure is brought up on in a non-conscience vote setting.
Second, it’s worth noting that one of the fundamental arguments that has been made against Labor’s decision has been its timing. Opposition politicians have criticized what they see as a Labor obsession with gay marriage when most Australians are more concerned about issues of economic policy and job security.
This argument may be politically expedient, but it is one to which those of us who support marriage equality (in any country) must fervently object. Affording rights to heterosexual couples that are excluded from same-sex couples is discrimination, no matter what the state of the economy is. I stress this because it’s something that could just as easily be argued in the context of our country’s political discourse, where economic issues are certainly at the front of voters’ minds. Nevertheless, equal rights cannot be something we strive for as a nation only in times of prosperity.
In arguing against maintaining the stay on Judge Walker’s decision to strike down Prop 8, attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies argued that gay and lesbian couples’ rights are being infringed upon every day in California while Prop 8 is allowed to remain the law of the land. For those of us who believe that laws and constitutional amendments like Prop 8 are unfair, we must maintain that seeking equal rights for all citizens is something to strive for at all times, and certainly as important as our nation’s economic prosperity. Discrimination of any kind is just as invidious when times are bad as when they are good.