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Marriage issue galvanising gay community

Gay marriage has been one of the election’s most contentious issues, with both major parties opposing homosexual unions.

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But has the debate surrounding the issue mobilised the gay and lesbian community?

According to a survey commissioned by gay lobby group Australian Marriage Equality last year, 60 per cent of Australians are in favour of homosexual unions.

That number was up from 57 per cent in 2007.

Despite the seeming support for gay marriage, Labor leader Julia Gillard and Coalition leader Tony Abbott have both reiterated their position that marriage will remain between a man and a woman.

Queensland Family First senate candidate, Wendy Francis, sparked national outrage when she tweeted that gay marriage “is like legalising child abuse”.

The Brisbane grandmother soon apologised, denying claims she is homophobic.

The Greens party is the only major party that supports gay marriage.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has indicated she will reintroduce the Marriage Equality Bill in the Upper House, after the legislation was rejected last year.

The Greens also have five openly gay candidates standing for election in this campaign, two of them in the gay strongholds of Wentworth and Sydney, both of which encompass the famous Oxford Street.

“The Greens have been leading the way for social progress on this issue [gay marriage] over a number of years,” Matthew Robertson, Greens candidate for Wentworth, says.

Mr Robertson says marriage “remains the greatest legal discrimination still present in our laws”, as it explicitly excludes homosexual couples.

“If we [the Greens] are to attract more support in the LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex] community… it’s because of our record, rather than the fact our two candidates in Wentworth and Sydney happen to be gay in this election.”

Senthorun Raj, Policy and Development Coordinator with the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby says the concept of the ‘gay vote’ is problematic, because it does not take into account the diversity of the community.

But, he says the issue of gay marriage has mobilised the diverse group.

“It is disappointing that both major parties oppose marriage equality. Marriage is a civil institution, governed by secular laws, of which all people are entitled access to, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Mr Raj says.

“Continued discrimination in the Marriage Act sends a troubling social message to the public that same-sex relationships are ‘lesser than’ heterosexual ones.”

Even though both major parties have come out against gay marriage, both have openly gay candidates standing.

Mr Raj and Mr Robertson say representation is important, but members of the LGBTI community overwhelming look at policy when deciding how to cast their ballots.

“Openly gay and lesbian parliamentarians are always encouraging,” Mr Raj says.

“However, as with every individual, a person’s sexual identity does not necessarily correlate to their political values or opinions.

“Politicians who are willing to champion legislative equality for gay men, lesbians and their families is [sic] what ultimately matters.”

“The gay and lesbian communities in Australia have the potential to be powerful voices in the political process,” Mr Raj says.

“As demonstrated with this election, and the focus on marriage equality, the broader LGBTI community is able to make their opinions public and heard.”

“Overwhelmingly, people are looking to the Greens policy,” Mr Robertson says.

“One of the best things about being a Greens candidate is that I can honestly say that my personal beliefs are in line with the policy of the Greens one hundred per cent.”

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