The future of Tasmania’s proposed laws to allow same-sex marriage rests on a knife edge.
The laws appear set to pass the lower house, but the 15-member Legislative Council, dominated by independents, is a different story. With eight votes needed to pass the bill, a Crikey analysis has found six MLCs are inclined to vote yes, six are inclined to vote no, and two are undecided. (The 15th vote is that of the president, Sue Smith MLC, who does not vote in the first instance, would only do so in the event of a tie, and is likely to vote no.)
That means for the bill to pass, Lara Giddings’ Labor government must persuade the two “uncertain” MLCs — Michael Gaffney and Adriana Taylor — to fall its way.
Whether same-sex marriage is legalised in an Australian state now rests on the shoulders of this eclectic group of independents, plus one ALP and one Liberal member. Crikey profiles the 15 MLCs and examines their current — and past — opinions on gay marriage. In alphabetical order …
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Rosemary Armitage: likely to vote NO
Elected as an independent for Launceston in 2011.
“While I accept there are many longstanding, successful same-sex relationships, and I can understand that many same-sex couples wish the same recognition as a man and woman, I am old-fashioned in my views and have not been convinced that a marriage should be anything else but a union between a man and a woman,” Armitage told the Australian Christian Lobby, when responding to their electoral questions last year.
Ivan Dean: likely to vote NO
Since 2003 Dean has served as the independent member for Windermere. He’s a former mayor of Launceston and a former liaison officer between the GLBT communities and Tasmania Police on the North West coast. Seen as a political tough nut, but with a strong independent streak which can see him go his own way.
“My position currently is that I will take convincing to support the legislation,” Dean told Crikey. “I think it will create a legal monster and be challenged. I certaintly have a strong view that it’s a national matter and should be determined nationally.”
Back in 2003 during debate over the Relationships Bill and the Relationships (Consequential Amendments) Bill Dean told the Legislative Council that the bill “seeks to have same-sex relationships recognised in exactly the same way as marriage. They are not the same and can never have that same equality, in my view.”
Today Dean said his views have essentially remained the same since then. “Things change over time, but it [same-sex marriage] can never be the same can it, as male-female. There are very clear differences,” he said. “But time moves on. People are more accepting of change now.”
Craig Farrell: will vote YES
The lone ALP representive in Tasmania’s upper house, Farrell will support the same-sex marriage legislation put up by his party in the lower house. “Like all things, this has been through the parliamentary Labor party and I support the general consensus that was made by members,” Farrell told Crikey.
The ALP did allow a conscience vote on this issue. “I’ve seen some very strong relationships in same-sex relationships and if they choose or wish to be married then I think they should have the right,” said Farrell. He notes that he was married in a church over 30 years ago, but thinks marriage is a legal not a religious issue.
Vanessa Goodwin: likely to vote NO
The only Liberal representative in the Leg Co, Goodwin is likely to vote against the same-sex marriage bill put up by her opponents, although she is known for being progressive on other gay and discrimination issues.
Kerry Finch: undecided, but likely to vote YES
Finch, the MLC for Rosevears since 2003 and a former ABC journalist, is known for pushing socially progressive legislation.
“I’ve got an open mind about it,” Finch told Crikey, who said he was staying open-minded in order to canvass as much opinion about this issue as possible. “I am very keen to see discrimination eliminated from society. But we need to let the debate unfold to see how people feel about this, whether they do put this in to the discrimination category.”
Regardless of the outcome, “it’s exciting times in respect of debate on the floor of parliament, whether it gets up or not. These are things we need to talk about, because the more we talk about them, the more people think about them … I wouldn’t write success for this off.”
During a debate on the Relationships Bill in 2009, Finch spoke in favour of same-sex relationships. “Even though it [a same-sex relationship] may be a long-standing, stable relationship; probably unlike many marriages between men and women,” he said.
Ruth Forrest: likely to vote YES
Forrest is a popular midwife from the North-West Coast who is seen to be quite progressive on social issues. “When two people love each other to the point where they want to spend their lives together and make that commitment to each other, which carries all the rights and responsibilities of such a union, then it needs to be the same,” she told The Burnie Advocate this week.
But Forrest is concerned about the legal implications of same-sex marriage in Tasmania. “I think it’s important we understand what the risks are,” she said in an interview with ABC Radio. “I think it would be quite devastating for some same-s-x couples if they decided to go through the process and then have the situation challenged.”
Back in 2010 she raised the issue of same-sex marriage during a debate on the Relationships Bill and noted that “the same-sex marriage debate will need to be had at a Commonwealth level” because of legal implications.
Michael Gaffney: UNDECIDED
Gaffney, a well-regarded ex-mayor based in the North-West town of Latrobe, is seen to be relatively socially progressive, and generally aligned more to the Labor point of view than the Liberal. Gaffney went to ground since the same-sex marriage reform was proposed, but issued a media release today which gave little away. Gaffney said he would formulate an informed position based on his constituents’ views, and his evaluation of the Bill’s efficacy, as he highlighted several issues:
“I am taking advice on several clauses in the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961. There are several potential inconsistencies which should be investigated and evaluated to determine if the Bill, in its current form, is likely to be an effective, functioning Act, should it be passed.”‘
Greg Hall: likely to vote NO
Independent MLC Hall represents Western Tiers, the rural — and conservative — heartland of the Apple Isle. “The feedback I’ve had from my constituents on this issue is that they believe it’s a step too far,” Hall told The Burnie Advocate. “I support the legal recognition and those things we have already done. I’ve spoken to many people and they identified themselves as traditional Labor voters and they are very unhappy.”
Paul Harriss: likely to vote NO
Harriss, a Legislative Council powerhouse from the conservative Huonville district, told Crikey his previous position was not to support same-sex marriage, and he believed that was “a valued community position [which has] stood the test of time”. “I have a very strong view on what my previous position is,” said Harriss. “Marriage between a man and a woman is pretty much where the community is at.” However Harriss said he needed to see the legislation first, and “you never know” what would happen to it in the upper house. In his maiden speech in 1996, Harriss said:
“I have been encouraged by my personal result at the election, in fact quite humbled by the strong endorsement of the position which I took prior to the election. People knew what my position was in terms of the Liberal Party and in terms of the debate currently before this House. I stood fairly strongly on the principle of anti-gay law reform.”
Tony Mulder: likely to vote YES
A former police commander for Tasmania Police, the independent was elected to the seat of Rumney last year. “I think that marriage is really a religious institution, but we’re well past that particular line now and it really isn’t any business of the state as to who should be marrying whom,” he said to the ABC this week. “However, all said and done I think that gay marriage is much better than miserable marriage.”
During his inaugural speech to the Legislative Council last year Mulder spoke on governments’ delving into moral and religious issues. “It is not the role of government to impose one group’s morality upon another,” he told the chamber.
Tania Rattray: undecided but likely to vote NO
Independent from the electorate of Apsley; Rattray represents a country district and is of conservative political stock.
“There’s some pretty significant issues to consider in my mind,” Rattray told Crikey. “Firstly, any potential High Court challenge and what the impact that might have on the Tasmania budget for one, would have to be a real consideration given the economic challenges we’re facing. Also, two: is it really the most significant issue that Tasmanians feel needs a priority at this point in time for this government. My personal opinion is no. I’m going to talk to my constituents and see how they feel about it.”
Rattray says she’s been receiving a fairly even amount of correspondence both for and against the legislation, although “a lot of the fors are not Tasmanians”. And her personal view? “I don’t have an issue with these people’s sexuality. But whether marriage is a step too far … I haven’t arrived at that yet,” said Rattray. “Like my constituents, I’ll be grappling with that as well.”
Sue Smith (president): would not vote in the first instance, but likely to vote NO
As president of the Leg Co, independent MLC Smith gets the deciding vote if tied, but she would be likely to maintain the status quo and vote against same-sex marriage.
“It wasn’t on the agenda at the last election, therefore there is no mandate,” Smith told The Burnie Advocate. “As an individual I’m entitled to an opinion and my opinion is that marriage is between a male and a female.”
Smith is a respected and powerful Legislative Councillor who has a record of conservatism on social issues. She represents a North-West Coast electorate, traditionally one of the state’s most religious districts.
Adriana Taylor: UNDECIDED
Independent MLC Taylor represents the working class area of Glenorchy in Hobart, is on holidays in Queensland at present, and has not responded to Crikey’s request for comment.
“While I feel very strongly about not discriminating against gay people, I’m not sure that marriage is necessarily the word that they need … They need equality,” she said in an AAP interview earlier this week. “Whether equality is the same as ‘the same’ is another matter.”
Rob Valentine: likely to vote YES
The gregarious ex-Hobart Mayor, socially progressive and known around town for his ubiquitous jaunty hat, told Crikey: “In principle I support same-s-x marriage”.
“It would certainly take away some of the discrimination that exists at the moment,” Valentine said. “It’s about commitment, it’s not about gender.” Valentine said he wanted to see the legislation first, and said he believed churches should have the freedom to not conduct same-s-x marriage ceremonies.
Jim Wilkinson: likely to vote YES
The Leg Co stalwart and lawyer, who represents the well-heeled (and Green-leaning) parts of Hobart such as Sandy Bay, told Crikey: “prima facie I’ve got no real issue with [same-sex marriage]”.
Like Valentine, Wilkinson said churches should not be compelled to conduct same-s-x marriage ceremonies. He also raised concerns at what would happen should married same-sex couples divorce, given that matters relating to children and property may be covered by federal law, not state law.