Where New Zealand has led Australia will follow

| April 19, 2013

After the New Zealand parliament has passed legislation to make same-sex marriage legal, Rodney Croome, national director of Australian Marriage Equality, argues why Australia should follow suit.

In the wake of marriage equality in New Zealand many Australians are asking, if them, why not us?

The answer is not public opinion. Support for marriage equality in both countries is equal at about 60-65%.

The answer is not that New Zealand’s civil union scheme was a stepping stone to full equality. 80% of Australians have access to state partnership schemes that offer the same rights as New Zealand’s. After years of debate, Australia is well and truly ready for reform.

The answer is not that kiwi advocates only had one parliament to convince. In Australia, federalism has benefitted marriage equality, with the issue advancing faster at the state level than in Canberra.

The answer is leadership.

New Zealand’s national leaders put politics to one side and united behind their bill. Compare this to Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott who continue to bury their heads in the sand. New Zealand’s conservative Prime Minister, John Key, deserves special praise for personally supporting reform and allowing his party a conscience vote.

His message to Abbott is simple: this isn’t a left/right issue any more. It’s about individual freedom and family values, things conservatives should support. At the very least conservatives must be allowed a conscience vote on the issue.

If Australia’s current leaders refuse to be on the right side of history, then leadership will have to come from below. It will come from those couples who will now flood across the Tasman to marry in New Zealand, only to have their solemn vows of lifelong commitment count for nothing when they return to Australia. They and their families will push ever more strongly for the removal of the ban on the recognition of overseas same-sex marriages, as proposed by Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young.

Leadership will come from the states, with the passage of reform just two votes short in Tasmania, a possibility in NSW and South Australia and virtually assured in the ACT. When same-sex couples begin legally marrying at a state level the dam of political resistance to marriage equality will have been breached.

Leadership will come from the millions of young Australians who support marriage equality passionately and in overwhelming numbers. Their support for marriage equality was crucial in returning Barack Obama to the White House. It will also be crucial in deciding key inner-city seats in the upcoming Australian election.

Finally, leadership will come from those federal MPs in all parties whose passion for equality has been spiced by a dash of shame because New Zealand got there first. New Zealand has made marriage equality real for many Australians and inspired many more to fight harder for reform. It has turned an inevitable reform into an urgent one and a second-tier issue into a matter of national honour.

Where New Zealand has led we will follow, without or without those who call themselves our leaders.