Marriage equality forum brings national debate to Brisbane
The Merthyr Road Uniting Church in New Farm lived up to its name tonight (Aug 12) as it united politicians from across the political spectrum, along with rights advocates, Christians, psychologists and proud PFLAG mums, for a forum on same-sex marriage.
Hosted by PFLAG’s Shelley Argent with assistance from community lobbyist Phil Browne, the Brisbane forum was attended by interstate guests including the PM’s sister and City of Sydney Councillor Christine Forster, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson and Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome.
They were joined by psychologist Paul Martin, researcher Dr Sharon Dane, PFLAG mum Dr Janet Berry, the Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt, dean of St John's Anglican Cathedral, and Federal Labor MP Graham Perrett.
Topics discussed included the role of conservative politicians in bringing about marriage equality, as well as the importance of winning people of faith to the marriage equality cause.
Rodney Croome reminded the forum that tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the 2004 changes to the Marriage Act that excluded same-sex marriage, adding that it was not the government’s role to tell people who they could marry.
“The debate is largely over,” Croome said, citing recent Crosby Textor research that showed 72 per cent of Australians support marriage equality.
“The community has made up its mind.”
Croome went on to outline the importance of a cross-party conscience vote as crucial to the passage of a same-sex marriage bill, something 80 per cent of Australians supported.
Christine Forster spoke about her relationship with her brother, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, saying “we agree to disagree” on same-sex marriage.
“I have been married, I am a gay woman, a lesbian, but I was married for 20 years. So I know the significance of marriage and how that speaks to your community, friends and family and what it says about the special relationship you have with your partner."
Forster said Abbott’s position was clearly against marriage, but that as leader, if the Liberal Party asked for a conscience vote on equal marriage, he would grant it.
“My brother is a very good Liberal and a very good leader of the party and if that’s what the party tells him that’s what he will accept,” Forster said.
She stressed that supporters of same-sex marriage should talk to their MPs about the issue – a theme that was repeated during the evening.
Dr Sharon Dane and Paul Martin spoke respectively about the impact of research showing support for marriage on the media and the mental health issues experienced by young people faced with society’s refusal to legitimise same-sex marriage.
Rev Dr Peter Catt speaks at the forum. Seated: Dr Sharon Dane and Tim Wilson. Photo: A. Shaw
Rev Dr Peter Catt said he did not believe God had created a particular social order, and highlighted the importance of love and social justice as guides to the issue of same-sex marriage.
Catt said marriage evolved along with society.
“I don’t think God gives two hoots about societal order, about the exact structures, as long as people are pursuing justice," Catt said.
"Because if love is the guiding principal to how we are to live, then there really isn’t much room, if any room at all, for other hard and fast rules or structures.”
Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said government had the option to “get out of the marriage business and leave it to the marketplace and religious institutions to govern as they see fit”.
Wilson said governments could choose to legislate for secular marriage, while religions could have their own brand: “They could compete and people could choose which one they want based on the standards set around them.”
He said marriage was not a human right, but a civil right. “Human rights are those that exist from birth, such as freedom of expression, worship and property rights.
“Marriage is, however, a civil right. Civil rights are those gifted by society, such as the principle of non-discrimination and universal health care.”
A human rights principle that did apply to marriage, Wilson said, was equality before the law.
He said governments received their legitimacy on the basis that all people were equal under the law. “So as long as the civil right of marriage exists, it must be open to all people equally.”
Referring to his own politics, Wilson said conservatives were pro-change, and favoured less, not more, government intervention in people’s lives.
Federal Labor MP Graham Perrett countered Wilson’s claim, saying conservatives were opposed to change – a comment that later drew a heated response from a member of the audience who claimed Perrett was “fear mongering”.
Perrett cited the Crosby Textor polling and urged people to contact their local MPS from across the political spectrum to find out their stance on same-sex marriage.
Answering a question from the floor, Rodney Croome outlined Australian Marriage Equality’s plan for converting the 20 MPs needed to pass a marriage equality bill, saying his organisation was targeting 40 politicians over the coming months.
Croome said AME was touring the country asking undecided members of the community, especially older people and people of faith, to support the issue.
IMAGE: Paul Martin, Christine Forster, Shelley Argent, Dr Sharon Dane, Tim Wilson, Rodney Croome and Rev Dr Peter Catt at the Merthyr Uniting Church in New Farm. Photo: Anthony Smith