IT’S the debate that has divided Australia, evoking passionate feelings on both sides.

Should gay marriage be legalised?

Christine Forster and Sophie York go head-to-head on the debate that has dominated the week.

SOPHIE YORK IS SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE MARRIAGE ALLIANCE:

THERE ARE very important and emotive issues concerning same-sex marriage, but aren’t we all getting tired of this routine?

Newspapers publish opinion pieces which talk over one another and no resolution is found. Can we just admit that this same-sex marriage issue has been a failure?

This debate was hijacked from the beginning by politicians, lobbyists and the media. It has led to a negative and unproductive argument where name-calling and bullying is common.

It’s time for people to reclaim the debate and have a fair and open forum to discuss same-sex marriage and its consequences.

The debate has such a lack of diversity of voices: 28 per cent of Australia’s population were born overseas yet this large segment of the population has been left out of the debate. Their concerns over how their culture and families will be affected by same-sex marriage laws have been ignored.

Indigenous Australians are another minority group who have been excluded. They made their views known on Wednesday, when a group of Aboriginal leaders and elders presented a traditional ‘Bark Petition’ to the Australian Parliament.

The petition, written in the language of the Pitjantjatjara People, the traditional owners of Uluru, says it is offensive to the Aboriginal people to suggest another definition of marriage.

By reaching out to all Australians, we will have an informed debate and find the best outcome to protect the cultures, rights and freedoms of all.

Australian Marriage Equality continues to assert that Australia has overwhelming support for same-sex marriage. But recent polling of more than 2000 Australians has same-sex marriage at 13th on the list of issues that the Government needs to address.

Even more startling is the results of a survey carried out by left wing activist group Getup!

Over 30,000 members identified same-sex marriage as the 16th most pressing issue — behind issues such as coal seam gas, protecting the Great Barrier Reef and supporting the SBS.

AME has continually commended the businesses in Australia for their support of same-sex marriage.

It may be true that many corporates have signed on in support of redefining marriage.

But the number reflects only 0.02 per cent of registered businesses in Australia. A far cry from the “overwhelming support for change”.

Likewise, the record needs to be set straight on whether or not Australia is lagging behind other nations on the issue.

The recent example of Ireland continues to be used as a justification to redefine marriage.

What isn’t mentioned is that two thirds of those eligible to vote either supported traditional marriage or didn’t vote at all.

Columnist Paul Sheehan argued recently that “the failure to even acknowledge that this was only a third of the adult population reflects what I think has become the media’s obsessive front-running, cheerleading and push-polling around this issue”.

The media also failed to mention that at a similar time German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out same-sex marriage, that Austria’s Parliament voted 110-26 in support of traditional marriage as well as Italy.

Throughout the world’s almost 200 countries less than 22 allow same-sex marriage.

To put that in perspective, more countries allow polygamy.

And apart from countries legalising same-sex marriage, what have been the negative effects of these changes?

Perhaps the most shocking case was that of Dr Angela McCaskill, a deaf African American woman who held the post of diversity officer at Gallaudet University in Washington DC. Like 200 000 residents, Dr McCaskill signed a petition calling for a public vote on the issue of marriage. It did not commit signatories to any particular view point.

After Dr McCaskill’s signature was seen on the petition she was suspended from her position.

There are of course many examples internationally, where countries were assured they would retain the same freedoms after same-sex marriage was allowed.

Sadly, these promises were made in countries whose rights were slowly eroded by the courts.

We can only presume that these same promises will be broken should Australia follow.

Many countries rushed into allowing same-sex marriage and have seen their freedoms eroded and their societies changed.

We call on the Prime Minister to set up a marriage summit to properly discuss this issue.

CHRISTINE FORSTER IS A CITY OF SYDNEY COUNCILLOR, THE SISTER OF TONY ABBOTT AND ENGAGED TO HER PARTNER VIRGINIA:

AS A LIBERAL and an advocate for equality, I have been rocked by the decision of the Federal Coalition party room to deny its members a conscience vote on the cross-party bill on same-sex marriage.

Tuesday night’s decision, by a majority of about two thirds of party room members, was a bitter personal disappointment.

I firmly believe that this issue should have been decided by all of Parliament, just as Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself called for when he addressed MPs in May.

For that to happen though, all MPs needed to be free to exercise their consciences when they voted on the bill.

Sadly, for me and my partner Virginia, and for millions of other Australian families, that will now not happen in the current term of Parliament.

This is not, however, an issue that will go away.

The Coalition party room’s decision has clearly differentiated the Liberals and Nationals from Labor.

Inevitably, that difference will be one that people consider as they weigh up where they will direct their vote at the next federal election. Clearly too, Labor regards it as a vote winner and will seek to use that to their advantage.

Labor will put the debate around marriage equality even more firmly on the agenda as an election issue.

That means the Coalition will have to have a totally unambiguous policy to take to voters in 2016.

It won’t be able to take the approach adopted in the run up to the last election, which was that the issue would be open for debate in the new party room.

After Tuesday’s meeting the Prime Minister said the Coalition had not yet finalised what its position would be for the next election.

But he added that the “disposition” was that it should go to a vote of the people.

In other words a plebiscite.

As a supporter of change, and with an eye on the polls, including one conducted Wednesday by theDaily Telegraph which put backing for marriage equality at close to 75 per cent, I have no doubt that the Australian people will vote strongly in favour of reform.

But if the issue is now not to be decided by Parliament until after the people have spoken, there is simply no justification for delaying the vote until the next term.

A plebiscite will be expensive and is unfortunately very likely to be divisive for the Australian community, just as it has proven to be for our politicians.

If they abrogate responsibility for the decision and put it directly to the people, there will be strong campaigning from both sides.

That will polarise Australians and has the potential to pit us against each other on an issue that is ultimately all about mutual respect, inclusion and ending discrimination.

If the government decides a plebiscite is the right path the vote should be held concurrently with the next federal election.

That will help ensure maximum participation and deliver the most unequivocal result.

Bring it on.

 

 

 

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