British vote on same-sex marriage sparks fresh debate in Australia
There are fresh calls for Australia’s political leaders to support gay marriage after Britain took a major step towards legalisation.
BRITAIN’S move to legalise gay marriage has sparked fresh calls for Australia to follow suit.
A same-sex marriage bill passed its first hurdle in the British House of Commons by 400 votes to 175. The bill must now pass the House of Lords – the equivalent of the Senate – before becoming law.
The breakthrough on Wednesday quickly reignited the gay marriage debate in Australia.
Australian Greens MP Adam Bandt said Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott – both of whom oppose gay marriage – risked being on the wrong side of history.
“If Catholic Spain can allow people to marry each other regardless of their gender, if Britain can do it, if the president of the United States of America thinks it is time to change, then Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott should back it as well,” Mr Bandt said.
“This is a matter of not if, but when.”
Australian gay rights activistPeter Tatchell wants Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to follow the lead of British Prime Minister David Cameron who is one of the driving forces behind the change.
“If the British conservatives can support same-sex marriage why can’t Tony Abbott and the Liberals,” Mr Tatchell told AAP.
“I’m hoping the legislation of gay marriage in Britain will embolden more Australian politicians to take a stand for marriage equality.
“Discrimination is not an Australian value.”
The same-sex marriage bill passed its first hurdle in the House of Commons on Monday by 400 votes to 175.
But conservatives were split down the middle with more than 100 Tory MPs voting against the bill after Mr Cameron allowed a free vote.
The legislation passed the second reading stage with the support of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
A push for same-sex marriage in Australia was defeated in 2012 when Mr Abbott, opposed to change, refused to allow coalition MPs a conscience vote.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is against gay marriage although her Labor party supports changing the Marriage Act.
She allowed caucus a conscience vote.
In a televised statement before Monday’s vote, Mr Cameron said allowing same-sex marriage would “make our society stronger”.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller insisted the government’s proposals would protect freedom of faith and extend equality.
But Tory MP Matthew Offord said he was concerned about “where the legislation may lead”.
“The evidence from around the world is that once marriage is redefined with a flexible definition pressure always grows for re-definition,” he told the Commons.
Dr Offord said in Holland three-way relationships had been given legal recognition and in Canada there’d been attempts to legalise polygamy through the courts using same-sex legislation.
During the Australian debate last year, Liberal senator Cory Bernardi was forced to resign as Mr Abbott’s parliamentary secretary after suggesting same-sex marriage could lead to the legalisation of polygamy and bestiality.
Immediately after the vote, Conservative rebels said the battle was far from over with the bill yet to go to the House of Lords.
The legislation would allow couples who are the same sex to get married in England and Wales.
Currently they only have the option of a civil partnership.
Australian Marriage Equality national convener Rodney Croome said the majority of Australians would be pleased to see such resounding support for gay marriage from a country like Britain.
“But this will be tinged with embarrassment that Australia is falling further behind and may soon be the only developed, English-speaking country without marriage equality,” he said.
Mr Croome predicted many Australian couples would travel to Britain, or even use UK consulates at home, to marry if the British bill became law.
“It is sad that these couples will not have their marriages recognised under the law of the country they live in,” he said. - AAP