The Federal Labor party has been embroiled in bitter in-house fighting this week over the Territory Bill that was reintroduced into parliament by the Greens party. The Bill could open the gates for legislating same-sex unions which in turn has caused an uprising in the Labor party whose social conservatives oppose same-sex unions.
Labor’s Maria Vamvakinou, the Member of Calwell, told Neos Kosmos that the matter was considered in caucus and “a decision was taken to support the Bill consistent with our support in 2006”. She added, however, that “some members had concerns that the substance of the bill went further.” The bill has now been referred to a Senate legislation committee. Neos Kosmos asked Ms Vamvakinou if the issue of same- sex union was the catalyst for the wrenching of the Labor Party between the left and the right of the ALP.
Ms Vamvakinou underplayed the tension in Caucus by saying, “This is not the first time that this has happened, sometimes Caucus is asked to reconsider bills in the light of more information.”
Federal Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt of the Greens, said to Neos Kosmos that there are people within politics who are “purposefully confusing the issue”.
“I think there are some in the political sphere who want to intentionally muddy the waters and link the two issues and have thought to confuse this issue of territory rights with other topical issues at the moment,” he said. “The reality is it’s not about the other issues, it’s about saying that territory parliaments should be able to determine what they want to legislate about.”
Bandt confirmed that the Bill is going to a Senate inquiry, which the Greens party supports, and the Bill will be open for public submissions. “For some time the Greens have believed that people in the territory should have the same rights as people in the states and that territory governments should be able to pass laws affecting the territories and not have them subject to being overridden by the federal parliament.”
But while the Labor party is split over whether or not this Bill will open the door to same-sex unions some may argue that social justice and compassion are falling by the wayside. George Valiotis, who has a same-sex union with his partner Danny Mogford, told Neos Kosmos that not having the rights to a same-sex union is “shameful” and an “absolute abuse of human rights”.
“It’s more than just a piece of paper,” Mr Valiotis said, “because it effects your mindset but it also effects the mindset of the community to know that we are recognised. “I know there have been lots of reforms that on paper give us the same rights – like changes in superannuation law – but the problem is, there has been lots of progression but people aren’t aware of them because they are just small baby steps and what we need to do is just take the plunge and make them equal. There is no justification for the grounds of discrimination that is happening right now.”
Mr Bandt said that the sentiment of the community is changing and our value system is changing too. Last year he introduced a motion to parliament – which was passed – to have Federal members of parliament ask their constituents in their community if they believed people had the right to marry whoever they wanted. “The opinion polls show an overwhelming public support within the Australian population,” said Mr Bandt.
Mr Valiotis underscored that as a gay man he had to, “make personal decisions about what will get my relationship recognised.” He added that recognition of same-sex partnerships was “critical” for him. “I think it’s shameful that in that same decision [his election vote] I have to also decide what’s good for my country, for the economy of Australia and for broader policies.
“I think a country that fundamentally is built on the human rights of each of their individuals is a more prosperous country.”
Ms Vamvakinou told the Neos Kosmos that “the Labor Party has supported many initiatives that have addressed many legal inequities affecting same-sex couples,” but was indefinite in her description of these. As the Federal member for Melbourne, Mr Bandt said “the election result in Melbourne was a strong a message that people still believe in those important values of compassion, equality and sustainability and wanted them represented on the national stage.” Mr Valiotis has had to question his “marker” for showing the world that his partner was more than his boyfriend. He highlighted the importance of legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
“There’s a power behind being able to go to a hospital and say I am here to see my husband,” said Mr Valiotis His partner and Mr Valiotis “have all the legal papers to make claims to each others’ bodies and decision making processes when we are in trouble”. What those pieces of paper don’t bring him is sensitivity, he said. “You don’t want to walk in and say I have legal rights, you want to walk in and say ‘he’s my partner’. “When you say ‘I am married to him’, people need to be very gentle if they have bad news – you are not just some lawyer who walked in to make a decision about a body.”
Mr Valiotis and his Jewish Australian partner had a same-sex ceremony last year and combined elements of Greek and Jewish traditions. “We had a togetherness ceremony. Togetherness is about shared goals and purposes and that suits us. It was a very home-grown ceremony that reflected our relationship, which is all about nurturing and the home. “The progression of Australian legislation to include recognition of gay relationships will not only benefit all people but will improve the overall spirit and ethos of the Australian people,” Mr Valiotis said.