Australia: Queensland Parliament passes same-sex civil unions bill

30 Nov 2011



QUEENSLAND MPs have voted in favour of legalising same-sex civil unions during an historic night in Parliament.

After almost four hours of debate Andrew Fraser's private member's bill was passed by a vote of 47 to 40, the Courier-Mail reported.

The bill, introduced by Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser, enables same-sex couples to register their union with the Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

The bill will grant same-sex couples the right to enter in to legally recognised civil unions. It prompted a strong reaction from gay rights, religious and family groups.

Labor MPs were allowed a conscience vote, but the Liberal National Party indicated it would vote en bloc against the bill.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Fraser said it was 21 years to the day that Labor decriminalised homosexual activities in Queensland. And now he said, Labor could make history again to progress the rights of homosexuals.

"This bill merely but not meekly seeks to formally recognise relationships which have existed in Queensland for centuries,'' he told Parliament.

"It provides them with the opportunity to celebrate their commitment and their love for one another in a ceremony in front of friends and family, perhaps this is its most important feature.''

Opposition legal affairs spokesman Jarrod Bleijie said Mr Fraser only introduced the bill to shore up the left vote and was rushing it through parliament before the election, due early next year.

He said the bill was only introduced on October 25 and there has not been enough time for community consultation.

"He (Mr Fraser) did it to stich up a Green preference deal,'' Mr Bleijie told Parliament. "This bill is nothing more than a stunt.''

Mr Bleijie said more than 54 per cent of the final number of submissions to a legislative committee that examined the bill were received 17 days after the cut-off date.

"That goes to the heart of the lack of consultation,'' he said.

"We do not believe the people of Queensland have had the appropriate opportunities to raise their concerns.''

He also said the bill was not a priority for Queenslanders, who are more concerned about cost of living pressures.

"Civil partnerships is not on a priority list in the minds of Queenslanders,'' he said.

"The passing of this bill will not save Queenslanders money, it will not ease cost of living pressures, it will not get our triple-A credit rating back.''

Premier Anna Bligh said the bill may not be a priority for all of Queensland but it was a priority for those that live with discrimination every single day of their lives.

"The fight against discrimination should be a priority of any government,'' she told Parliament.

"This bill is fundamentally about the human rights of Queensland's citizens, but it is much more than that, it is about the joyful business of love and that is why it has touched the hearts of so many Australians, why so many people believe that Australia should be dealing with this issue.''

She also attacked the LNP for not having a conscience vote.

"They are now in the grip of the rising influence of the religious right,'' she said.

Capalaba MP Michael Choi became the first Labor member to speak against the bill. If six Labor MPs oppose the bill it is not expected to pass.

Mr Choi said he had voted in Parliament to give homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals when it came to taxes and property law and would continue to do so.

But he said he was brought up in a conservative household and when it came to legislating on homosexual love, his conscience didn't agree.

"I struggled and I argued with myself over and over but in the end I could not support this bill,'' he told Parliament.

"My conscience does not allow me to go further, I wanted to but I could not. To those I have disappointed and hurt with my decision I am sorry.

"I must be true to my own conscience because I have to live with me.''

He said he also doesn't support the legislation because it would only be recognised in Queensland.

"The real challenge is with Federal Parliament, because that is where the challenge lies,'' he said.

Labor MP for Toowoomba North Kerry Shine had said this week he was undecided on whether he would support the bill, but told Parliament he would vote in favour of it.

Gladstone independent MP Liz Cunningham said she will vote against it.

Independent member for Nanango Dorothy Pratt said she would also vote against the bill.

Not only did she believe the legislation was being rushed through, she believed it could be seen to erode Christian values.

She said she had received hate mail over her opinion, and had been called ignorant, coming from the dark ages, and even old and ugly. But that would not deter her.

"I accept that the homosexual community see this as a human rights issue,'' she told reporters.

"But I also accept the fact that many people of religious belief believe that this is an issue about marriage, they believe it is a dilution of their belief that marriage is between a man and woman, and I also believe that they believe it endeavours to remove a basic tenet of their life.''

Health Minister Geoff Wilson said although he had publicly supported the bill, he had decided only in the past few days to oppose it.

He said that his working class and Christian background have been the pillars of his life and he felt uncomfortable that the bill created a new legally recognised relationship that was an alternative to marriage.

"I am not convinced that that is a good thing to do,'' he told Parliament.

"I believe in the biblical understanding of marriage. I have wrestled with the many issues involved in the bill and have tried to bring an open mind.

"This is a conscience vote and I feel bound to vote with my conscience,'' Mr Wilson said.

Member for Albert Margaret Keech was the third Labor MP to speak against the bill.

She said she was a Christian and that civil unions mirror marriage in all but name and undermine the institution.

"I believe that marriage is between a man and a women ... therefore after careful consideration my conscience prompts me to oppose this bill by voting against it,'' she told parliament.

"I do not support a radical change to the long-established definition of marriage.

"I am not convinced that any change to marriage is for the common good for our society.''

She also said the vast majority of constituents she spoke to didn't want her to vote in favour of the bill.

Earlier, a crowd of gay rights activists gathered outside Parliament in a last ditch bid to urge MPs to support the bill.

One of the activists, Alex Myman, said her message was simple.

"We want equal rights," she said. "We're human beings as well."

Premier Anna Bligh addressed the crowd and said she looked forward to a "majority of voices" supporting the bill in Parliament.

She dismissed claims from her political opponents that the main issue was one of "process".

"This is not about process, this is about human beings," she said. "It's about Queenslanders and it's about their human rights."

The crowd dispersed ahead of the start of debate.

With Independent Rob Messenger suspended from the house and the remaining six independent and minor party MPs expected to oppose the bill, the legislation requires as few six government MPs to abstain or vote "no" to be defeated.

Earlier today Mr Fraser urged the Opposition to vote with their consciences on the bill.