My name is Andrew Barr.
I joined the Australian Labor Party as an 18-year-old, the best part of two decades ago. I am Deputy Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, a member of the National Right caucus and a delegate to the forthcoming ALP National Conference.
I am also a gay man in a long-term committed relationship.
The fact that I am gay has resulted in me being deemed a second-class citizen under Australian law. That is because under Australian law I cannot marry the person I love, the person that I am committed to.
Our current marriage law does not allow same-s-x marriages.
This weekend, my party will debate its national platform and consider a change to its current wording, which discriminates against the equal right to marry.
The proposed 2011 ALP national platform talks of Labor’s commitment to removing discrimination against same-s-x couples and of equal rights for all couples in federal and state laws. However, it contradicts these worthy statements by seeking to maintain the definition of marriage as currently set out in the Marriage Act.
And for those who haven’t read the Marriage Act recently that says marriage is an institution between a man and a woman to the exclusion of gay or lesbian Australians.
What I, and many of my fellow ALP members, would like to see is a positive change to our platform. Something that recognises every Australians’ right to marry while respecting the wishes of some churches and religious institutions in this area.
We will be proposing a new platform commitment that states:
“Labor will amend the Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life. These amendments should ensure that nothing in the Marriage Act imposes an obligation on a minister of religion to solemnise any marriage.”
Why is it important to amend the national platform? For me, and many others, it is an expression of what we believe in, what we think is right.
The ALP national platform tells the Australian people what our values are. At the moment our platform says to Australians that we don’t truly believe in equal rights. Particularly on the issue of marriage equality for gay and lesbian members of our society.
The issue of a conscience vote for members of parliament is part of this debate but in my view the change to the national platform is the primary issue.
Most people in the ALP and in the community tell me they personally support this change. I, and many other gay and lesbian people, truly appreciate their personal support.
But now is the time to act.
This is about drawing a line in the sand. It is about standing up for Labor principles.
I am asking all ALP national conference delegates to change to the ALP national platform so that it supports equal marriage rights for all Australians.
In doing so we remember the words of Martin Luther King Jnr: “Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights, you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”