Gay marriage bill passed by Tasmanian lower house
A bill allowing same-sex couples to marry has passed the lower house of Tasmania’s Parliament.
In a historic vote, the Same Sex Marriage Bill 2012, co-sponsored by Tasmanian Labor Premier Lara Giddings and Greens leader Nick McKim, passed 13 votes to 11, after four hours of debate.
All ten Liberal MPs, along with Labor MP Michael Polley voted against the bill.
“The denial of marriage to lesbian and gay couples and their families is discrimination that must be changed," Giddings said.
“There’s comes a time when no amount of excuses should stand in the way of doing what’s right.
“All Tasmanian’s should be treated with respect and fairness.”
The vote comes after Giddings pledged to enact equal marriage laws at the Labor State Conference in early August.
The legislation builds on previous efforts by McKim who, in 2005, was the first person to introduce legislation removing marriage discrimination in any Australian Parliament.
“Marriage equality is an issue whose time has now arrived in this country,” McKim said.
“It is the time to remove legally entrenched discrimination in our laws and provide for marriage equality for people regardless of their gender or sexuality.
“By voting today for marriage equality, Tasmania will write itself into country’s history books as a national leader in advocating a compassionate, progressive which values diversity and difference and devalues discrimination.
“We’ll also be sending a very clear message to our federal counterparts, those who sit in the Commonwealth Parliament, that there is an expectation that an appropriate action is taken, in a timely manner, to remove the discrimination that currently exists in the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961.”
Labor's Bryan Green, Michelle O'Byrne, David O'Byrne, Scott Bacon, Rebecca White, Brenton Best, Graeme Sturges and Brian Wightman, along with the Greens' Kim Booth, Cassy O'Connor and Tim Morris were among those who spoke in favour of the legislation.
Opposition Leader Will Hodgman was the only Liberal to speak against the bill, saying his party was united in their position against the legislation.
In outlining his opposition, Hodgman said “marriage is the responsibility of the Commonwealth of Australia” and as such, warned approval of the bill would lead to a constitutional challenge in the High Court, which would be costly for taxpayers.
“This will undoubtedly be an expensive exercise, some say costing millions of dollars, to be born by the state of Tasmania,” Hodgman said.
“And in the context of the current budget problems, it’s a significant risk the Premier and the Leader of the Greens are exposing the state to.
“The High Court challenge is not a possibility, I dare say, it is inevitable.”
He added that the Tasmanian Liberals also did not support the bill because the party “strongly believes in the institution of marriage as defined under the Marriage Act and that is a union between a man and a woman”, and that “Tasmanians have not been given an opportunity to have their say” on the issue.
Several of those who spoke in support of the bill cited equality advocates Alex Greenwich and Rodney Croome, and thanked them for their work in the gay marriage campaign.
Greenwich, who was in public gallery during the debate, said it was a “historic day for Tasmania and a proud day for all supporters of marriage equality across the country”.
“We now know that the reform is more likely than ever before to hit Australia soil,” Greenwich told SX.
“The bill has now passed the lower house and is set for the upper house where we expect a mature and thoughtful debate. And we’re hopeful the reform will pass that house as well.
“It’s a momentous occasion and as an advocate for marriage equality for so long, it's wonderful to see marriage equality pass houses of parliament now.”
Ahead of the debate, Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson Rodney Croome said: “This reform will help build stronger relationships and families, foster a more inclusive society, benefit the economy, and increase pressure on the other states and the federal government to follow”.
“The way that Labor and the Greens have worked together to develop robust legislation and implement a reform the majority of Tasmanians want sends a strong message to our federal parliament to follow suit.”
The bill now moves to the state’s Legislative Council where it is expected to face hurdles.
A debate in the upper house is not expected until late next month.
While Tasmania was the last state to decriminalise homosexuality in 1997, in recent times, it has led the way in equality for same-sex couples, becoming the first to enact a civil union scheme in 2003.
Tasmania was also the first state to recognise same-sex marriages performed overseas.
[Pictured] Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings speaking in favour of marriage equality.