Labor backs ban on gay marriage

By Meaghan Shaw

August 5, 2004


Gay marriage will be made illegal in Australia before the federal election after Labor yesterday said that it would support the Government's proposed ban.

While Labor has stated previously that it is opposed to gay marriage, it had referred the original legislation to a Senate committee to examine the legal, constitutional and social impacts of the legislation.

Opposition attorney-general Nicola Roxon told the National Marriage Coalition forum in Canberra that Labor would now pass the bill.

"We understand how strongly many people feel about retaining and promoting the institution of marriage between men and women and as a bedrock institution for families," she said.

Prime Minister John Howard told the forum that he would reintroduce legislation within a fortnight, saying he wanted the issue dealt with before the election.

While gay marriage is not recognised in Australia, Mr Howard has expressed concern that the courts could adopt a more liberal interpretation. He said he wanted to enshrine in law the notion that marriage was a union between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others.

"It would be a great pity if this issue were left hanging in an election campaign," he said.

"In putting it into law in the next two weeks nobody can say it's being used as a wedge, nobody can say it's a diversion, everybody can say it's a united expression of the national parliament and therefore of the will of the Australian people."

Labor's move was condemned by gay groups and the minor parties.

Equal Rights Network spokesman Rodney Croome said that by breaking its promise to send the bill to be examined by a committee, "they have shown themselves to be completely untrustworthy on gay and lesbian rights".

Australian Marriage Equality spokesman Damien Meyer said Labor had abdicated any claim it may have had to being a party of social justice and inclusion after its "gutless" decision.

Australian Democrats justice spokesman Brian Greig said Labor had made a panicked decision to remove the issue from the election. He said both the Government and ALP were pandering to conservative religious organisations.

The National Marriage Coalition, formed last month, consists of the Australian Christian Lobby, Australian Family Association and the Fatherhood Foundation. It is supported by Catch the Fire Ministries, the evangelical church addressed by Treasurer Peter Costello in May.

More than 1000 people from all over the country attended yesterday's forum, arranged only three weeks ago to influence parliamentarians on the marriage legislation. They gave Mr Howard three standing ovations.

One speaker, Margaret Court, former tennis star and Christian minister, told The Age that homosexuality was a sin of the flesh, and the children of gay unions suffered shame and guilt. "I think they're thinking about a relationship for their own selfishness and not for the children."

Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson addressed the forum, which was attended by other MPs, including Kevin Andrews, Neil Andrews, Bronwyn Bishop, Ron Boswell and Guy Barnett.

Mr Howard is reintroducing the bill so that it deals solely with gay marriage, either in Australia or overseas. The original bill included a ban on gay couples adopting children overseas. Ms Roxon said Labor did not support this because adoption law was the responsibility of the states and territories.