Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Howard calls for gay marriage ban to `avoid divisions'

AP , CANBERRA

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday he wants parliament to pass laws banning gay marriage by next week so that it does not linger as a divisive election issue.

The Labor Party opposition responded by agreeing to support the ban, angering minor parties and gay lobby groups who want a Senate committee to investigate the legislation before it goes to a vote.

Labor support ensures the center-right government has the numbers to pass the law through the Senate, which is dominated by opposition and independent lawmakers.

Howard, who in the past has said marriage is essential to continuing the human race, received a standing ovation when he addressed hundreds of opponents to same-sex marriages at a forum at Parliament House.

He challenged opposition parties to support the legislation in the current parliamentary session that ends next week.

"I think it would be a great pity if this issue were left hanging in an election campaign," Howard said.

Most commentators predict that the current session of parliament will be the last before elections are called, possibly as early as Sept. 18.

Howard said there is no need for opposition lawmakers to wait for the Senate committee to report on the legislation's likely consequences.

"I would say to them, `Remove the diversion by putting the laws through before the election [campaign] starts,'" Howard said.

"If you put it into law in the next two weeks, nobody can say it's being used as a wedge; nobody can say it's a diversion; everyone can say it's a united expression of the national parliament and therefore the will of the Australian people," Howard said.

Equal Rights Network spokesman Rodney Croome, a gay activist, accused Labor of breaking its promise that all the legal, constitutional and social impacts of this legislation would be thoroughly investigated before any legislation was drafted.

"By breaking that promise, they have shown themselves to be completely untrustworthy on gay and lesbian rights," Croome said.

The Australian Democrats, a minor party, accused Labor of preventing same-sex couples married in Canada from having courts recognize their unions in Australia.

"The Labor Party has scuttled a human rights inquiry in a panicked electoral decision to remove the issue from the federal election campaign," Democrat Senator Brian Greig said in a statement.

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