Most of us know a gay or lesbian person. If you don’t, you’re either in denial, living in some bible belt Southern US state, or Iran, or you’re so homophobic that any gay men or women you do know have decided for their own safety not to tell you.

The ‘tradition’ argument against gay marriage simply doesn’t work because we are a secular society, in which case, not allowing same sex marriage boils down to discrimination.

When people ask me: How come you know so many gay people? I ask: How come you don’t?

With at least 10 percent of us being homosexual you either work with one, are related to one, live in the same street as one, are friends with one and maybe even a lover of one.

It’s for this reason that I am baffled by Labor’s belligerent stand on same sex marriage.

The oft repeated argument that they stand for tradition on this issue, that marriage in our society is seen as a union between men and women and it should stay that way, is a difficult one to understand from a party that positions itself as the forward thinking one in Australian politics.

If we disentangle the argument about tradition we find that what’s at the bottom of it is religion. Because when Gillard argues that marriage is seen as something between men and women, the question is by whom? Why is it seen in this way? And the answer is because it’s an institution that is borne from religion.

But, people no longer marry solely for religious reasons. They do it to make a commitment to each other, to formalise their relationship, for emotional reasons, out of family expectations or as a friend of mine said: to have a good party.

So, if most people are marrying for non religious reasons, then why should 10 per cent of the population be excluded from being able to participate?

The ‘tradition’ argument againts gay marriage simply doesn’t work because we are a secular society in which case not allowing same sex marriage boils down to discrimination.

I didn’t always see things in this way. Initially, I was mystified when I first heard this was an issue in the gay community, since most homosexuals and lesbians I know considered marriage a patriarchal institution. They would have thought the idea conservative and unimportant.

But marriage does speak to what is legitimate in a secular democracy and if we want to mark ourselves as different or evolved from theocracies then extending the ‘right’ of marriage to homosexuals and lesbians is important. It says to all religious people that you are in a space that no longer excludes a substantial part of the human race because some medieval texts have decreed it.

A long standing friend recently wed his partner in a US state where same sex marriage is legal.

He said that he and his partner wanted to get married in order to make a public statement about their love for each other.

“It wasn’t about legal issues because most of that is covered by law anyway, but we wanted our relationship to be cemented and recognised in this way.”

There are many in Australia who are quick to point the finger at less tolerant societies and criticise misogynist and homophobic traditions in other countries. If we want to take a position on anyone else’s backward practices, we can’t expect to be listened to unless we are also prepared to challenge our own.

The last word on this issue should surely go to the senior union official of a major blue collar union. When asked his position on same sex marriage he said to the journalist:

“Why should we be the only ones that have to suffer?”