At today’s Labor State Conference in Hobart, Premier Lara Giddings has announced that Tasmania will become the first state to allow same-sex marriages if the federal parliament fails to act.
The spectacular pledge means the first same-sex marriages in the state could take place within a few months – even as early as later this year, possibly positioning Tasmania as the tourist spot for gays and lesbians to visit for ceremonies.
Constitutional expert Professor George Williams has backed the Premier’s plan, pointing out that the power to make marriage laws is shared by the Commonwealth and the states, and if the Commonwealth refuses to make a law for one type of marriage – in this case same-sex marriage – that power falls to the states.
Tasmanian gay rights advocate Rodney Croome today praises Giddings for her leadership on the issue. He says he does realize a High Court challenge to Tasmania’s marriage equality law is possible, but notes that many state and Commonwealth laws are enacted despite constitutional question marks, including the Howard Government’s Work Choices legislation and the Gillard Government’s carbon tax.
“To those people who say this is too much of a risk, and holds out false hope to same-sex couples, I say that there is much greater risk in not seizing this opportunity and moving forward,” Croome reacts.
“Ms Gidding’s pledge is a historic moment for Tasmania and for the gay community nationally,” he adds. “Tasmania will be more socially inclusive, we will build stronger relationships and families, our economy will benefit and we will dispell our lingering reputation for intolerance forever.
“Nationally, pressure for marriage equality will increase as couples married in Tasmania demand recognition from other Australian governments, and as it becomes clear that the sky doesn’t fall in when same-sex partners wed.”
Croome says Tasmania is the logical state to take the lead because its parliament was the first to enact a civil union scheme, the first to recognise overseas same-sex marriages and the first to give in-principle support to the reform at a national level.
“Ironically, the fact Tassie was the last state to decriminalise homosexuality in 1997 has led us directly to this point because the damage caused by prejudice and discrimination is still a recent and painful memory for many Tasmanians.”
Fellow marriage equality advocate Alex Greenwich has also welcomed the Tasmanian Premier’s announcement. “Regardless of what happens federally, this means it is likely we will have same-sex marriage on Australian soil as early as this year,” he tells Same Same.
Meanwhile, Professor Lee Badgett from the University of California Williams Institute has estimated that if Tasmania is the “first mover” on same-sex marriage it will benefit by at least $96 million from couples marrying in the state.