THERE was a standing ovation in the Assembly as the Marriage Equality Bill was introduced. Credit goes to Attorney-General Simon Corbell and the Gallagher Government for striking when the iron is hot.
It will be no surprise to Canberrans that the current government is a strong proponent of marriage equality and no surprise that there will be widespread support for the move in the community.
The loud voices of a small minority will not drown out this attempt in the ACT. However, they might have more success with Prime Minister Tony Abbott who might look for some wriggle room. Although he will find this more difficult since the Howard Government overturned the ACT Civil Unions Act in 2006.
In a country like Australia, the freedom of two people to choose who they marry should not be a political issue – but it is!
The ACT legislation will pass with the support of the Labor Party and the Greens’ Shane Rattenbury.
However, it will be interesting to see if the ACT Liberal members have become less conservative and if they allow a conscience vote.
It will be a test for Opposition Leader, Jeremy Hanson, as it will provide an indication of the extent to which the party remains conservative.
Hardly has the legislation hit the table when the Prime Minister called for legal advice. And yet his approach during the election indicated a much more tolerant view.
The Prime Minister is also about to welcome to Australia the gay ambassador of our most powerful ally, the US, who will arrive with his married spouse. It will be hardly respectful if the Prime Minister is in the process of undermining legislation in the very jurisdiction in which the ambassador resides. This is the Territory that Chief Minister Katy Gallagher describes as “the most LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, intersex) friendly community in Australia”.
Corbell argues that he has already taken legal advice and is confident that the legislation is consistent with the powers of the ACT Legislative Assembly.
On the other hand, Abbott says, “the ACT is entitled to do what it can within the law” adding, “under the constitution the Commonwealth has responsibility for marriage and the (Federal) Attorney-General will be seeking advice on precisely how far the ACT can go on this”.
Abbott was in the Federal Parliament when the current Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews, introduced the legislation that successfully removed the power of the ACT and the NT to legislate with regard to voluntary active euthanasia.
It is difficult to believe, therefore, that he does not know about the power of the Federal Parliament to override any law of the ACT Assembly.
Life will be so much easier for the Prime Minister if he can find a legal loophole to prevent the legislation going ahead. As Greens’ Senator Sarah Hansen-Young declared: “It would be a very brave Mr Abbott if he was to, in the face of huge public support, introduce legislation to overturn marriage equality in the ACT”.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health