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Topics In the News
"Watershed Moment" in Australian Marriage Debate
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/18/12
Last updated on: 05/18/12
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Senator Penny Wong: "I know what my family is worth."

An exchange between Australian politicians Penny Wong and Joe Hockey is being described as a watershed moment in the nation's marriage equality debate. Senator Penny Wong, who serves in the ruling Labor Party government as Commonwealth Minister for Finance and Deregulation, and Representative Joe Hockey, who serves as Treasurer in the opposition Labor Party's shadow cabinet, appeared on the national television talk show Q&A on May 14, 2012 to discuss public issues. In an exchange triggered by an audience member's question, Wong, the country's first lesbian and Asian-born cabinet member, affirmed gay families and electrified the marriage equality movement.

As Judith Ireland explains in the Sydney Morning Herald, the exchange was prompted by an audience member who asked why Hockey thinks he and his wife make better parents than Wong and her partner Sophie Allouache, who are parents of a daughter. At the end of the brief exchange, during which Hockey defends his position opposing same-sex marriage on the grounds that children need both a male and female parent, Wong quietly says, "I know what my family is worth."

As Ireland points out, the exchange prompted an overwhelming reaction across Australia and activists are calling the exchange a ''watershed moment'' in their campaign for same-sex marriage. A company has even begun selling "I know what my family is worth" t-shirts and bumper stickers.

Wong does not generally campaign on the marriage equality issue as it is beyond her purview as Finance Minister, but she was asked a personal question and could hardly fail to respond.

When Hockey said that he thought that children did best when raised by a male and a female, Wong responded: "When you say those things, Joe, what you're saying to not just me but people like me is that the most important thing in our lives, which is the people we love, is somehow less good, less valued,''

She went on to acknowledge that comments like Hockey's were hurtful, but concluded by saying: ''I know what my family is worth.''

Australian Marriage Equality campaign co-ordinator Rodney Croome, who has been a gay rights activist for more than 20 years, described Wong's response as a "watershed moment" that will change hearts and minds.

Croome said that Wong's ''gentle, quiet, self-confidence'' also illustrates the importance of personal stories for making a difference in the same-sex marriage debate.

"People saw beyond the politics to how it actually affects people," he said.

Although more than 60% of Australians are in favor of marriage equality, same-sex marriage legislation is not expected to pass any time soon.

Although Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard opposes same-sex marriage, Labor MPs will be allowed to vote their consciences, and it is expected that a large majority of them will vote in favor of marriage equality. But with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott opposed to both gay marriage and allowing a conscience vote for Liberal MPs, it is highly unlikely the bill will succeed.

The video below captures the exchange between Hockey and Wong.

As the marriage equality video released by GetUp in 2011 insists, "It's Time."

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