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Topics In the News
Australia Debates Marriage Equality
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 11/26/11
Last updated on: 11/28/11
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Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

At December's Australia Labor Party Conference, marriage equality will be on the agenda. Despite the opposition of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, members of the Labor Party will push for an endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Although polls indicate that more than 60% of Australians--including a larger majority of Labor Party members--support marriage equality, a conservative minority within the Labor Party are committed to blocking same-sex marriage.

Gillard had been opposed to allowing the question of marriage equality to be discussed during the Conference at all, but under pressure from supporters of same-sex marriage she relented to the extent of expressing support for a "conscience vote" on the question, i.e., to allow Labor Members of Parliament to vote their conscience on a private member's bill to amend the marriage laws to permit same-sex marriage.

However, most observers believe that unless the Labor Party requires its members to vote for marriage equality, the attempt to amend the marriage laws will fail, since the opposition Liberal Party will require its members to vote against marriage equality.

The Australian Labor Party has instituted important reforms since gaining power in the federal elections of 2007. In November 2008, the Australian Parliament passed laws that for the first time recognized same-sex couples in federal law, extending to them the same rights as unmarried heterosexual couples in areas such as taxation, social security and health, aged care and employment, as long as they can prove that they are in a de facto relationship. Nevertheless, Australia does not have a national registered partnership or civil unions, though some Australian states do.

The opposition of Prime Minister Gillard, who became Prime Minister in June 2010, to same-sex marriage has led to a revolt from the left-wing of the Labor Party, and may lead to the loss of support from the small Green Party, which has supported her fragile coalition government.

Meanwhile, GetUp, an independent, grass-roots community advocacy organization has adopted marriage equality as a cause and has been prodding Gillard and the Labor Party to amend the marriage laws.

In an attempt to embarrass Gillard, or at least expose her to the views of some of her constituents, GetUp bid $31,000 to win a charity auction's first prize, which was an intimate dinner with the Prime Minister. The organization announced that three same-sex couples were selected to attend the dinner. However, the Prime Minister has reneged on the promise to hold the dinner in a timely fasion.

In this video, the Australian Broadcasting Company reports on the controversy:

GetUp has also issued an emotional video in favor of same-sex marriage entitled "It's Time."

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