Pressure Mounts On Government To Move On Same-Sex Marriage
A new report is being hailed as a breakthrough in the partisan debate.
A new Senate report that has been hailed as an unprecedented show of bipartisanship between the major parties has ramped up pressure on the Turnbull government to hold a free vote on same-sex marriage.
The report was unusual in that it was the result of an inquiry into draft legislation the government has no intention of introducing, since the same-sex marriage plebiscite is off the table.
The committee was also chaired by Liberal senator David Fawcett, who opposes same-sex marriage. (The majority of the committee – including Liberal Dean Smith, Labor's Louise Pratt, and the Greens' Janet Rice – is in support of same-sex marriage.)
In some parts, the report advises against measures put forward in the government's draft bill last year – for instance, rejecting a blanket exemption from performing same-sex marriages for all civil celebrants.
After its tabling on Wednesday night, senators on all sides lauded the level of bipartisan cooperation.
But speaking on ABC radio this morning, Fawcett made it clear that although he had signed off on the report, it would not change the government's position on same-sex marriage.
"The draft exposure bill... was part of the package put forward as the plebiscite, and that remains the government's position. We believe the people should have a say on whether or not the nation has a change in this area," he said.
"Nothing in this report is changing the government's position on that."
Liberal senator Dean Smith told the Senate the report had illustrated to the country that the parliament could "demonstrate the necessary mature approach and the necessary collaboration, putting partisanship aside, to discuss and move forward on what is a very important issue".
Senator Penny Wong said the parliament ought to pause to consider the "enormity of the achievement".
"A debate so often mired in partisanship, mired in acrimony, a debate characterised by finger pointing, we have a spirit of cooperation and agreement around this report," she said.
But the positivity will all be for nought if the report does not lead to progress on same-sex marriage within the Liberal Party.
Fawcett told the parliament the report should not be viewed as an admission that same-sex marriage is inevitable.
"I am a supporter of traditional marriage and I would like the definition to stay as it is," he told the Senate.
"But this is an important piece of work because, if the parliament ever chooses to go down the path of changing, this is the scope of issues that we will need to carefully consider in order to keep Australia a diverse and plural society."
According to shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus and shadow minister for equality Terri Butler, "the next step is obvious".
"New legislation should be drafted taking account of the committee’s recommendations and introduced to parliament, with a free vote," they said in a statement.
But on 2GB radio on Wednesday, Turnbull hosed down the prospect of imminent reform.
"Our policy at the moment, right now, is that we will not support the introduction of a bill on same-sex marriage until there has been a plebiscite, a vote of all the Australian people endorsing it," he said.
Turnbull did not confirm if the government would take the plebiscite policy to the new election, saying "we will confer about that closer to the election".
Advocates remain optimistic about the report's potential to drive change within the Liberal Party.
Co-Chair of Australian Marriage Equality Alex Greenwich told BuzzFeed News he hopes advocates within the government can use this report to address the concerns of people who are unconvinced on same-sex marriage.
"It's a really important advocacy tool for people who still have concerns about the reform," he said.
"If we do get to a parliamentary vote on marriage equality, [concerned people] can know there has been an inquiry that has canvassed the issues, and know how to remedy some of them."
But Greenwich wouldn't be drawn on what the report means for a Liberal Party free-vote push.
"[The report] canvasses the issues, it can hopefully be used to alleviate concerns," he said. "In terms of anything beyond that, that's a matter for those individual senators and members."
Longtime marriage campaigner Rodney Croome said the report signalled a "new level" of federal cross-party cooperation on the issue.
"[It] gives me renewed optimism for achieving marriage equality sooner rather than later," he told BuzzFeed News.
"The fact that Liberal members have signed onto this report shows there's a willingness within the Liberal party to seriously consider moving this issue forward, and a willingness to work with others to do that."