Australia’s northern Queensland state has voted to legalize same-sex unions, increasing pressure on the ruling Australian Labor Party to reverse the national ban at an upcoming policy meeting.
Queensland, traditionally a socially conservative state, passed the same-sex civil partnerships bill 47-40 in a late-night sitting on Wednesday, meaning five of the nation’s eight states and territories now recognize homosexual unions.
“This is a huge step forward for dignity and rights in same-sex couples,” Queensland gay rights campaigner Shelley Argent said of the vote. “There was absolute joy, it was fantastic. There were a couple of hundred people watching the vote and we made so much noise when the laws passed that we got in trouble.”
In Australia, marriage is mandated by federal legislation, so although civil unions are recognized in those five states, the couples are not seen as “married” by the federal government.
The distinction is mainly symbolic as same-sex couples nationally have equal rights to heterosexual couples in areas such as pension schemes and medical benefits.
Gay marriage is opposed by both major political parties, despite polls showing widespread public support for all couples having the right to wed.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard personally opposes same-sex marriage rights, but her center-left Labor party is being urged to reverse its official ban when it debates policy changes at its party conference this weekend.
Calls for a shake-up in national laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman have had some high-level backing from lawmakers, including Australian Minister for Finance and Deregulation Penny Wong (黃英賢).
Wong, the most senior woman in government after Gillard, is about to have a baby with her female partner and has said she would push for Labor to change its stance at the conference, which starts today.
Factional powerbrokers spearheading the push believe they have the numbers to get the reform through.
Thousands of equal-marriage protesters plan to march through Sydney to the conference tomorrow, when the marriage debate is expected to take place.
Lifting Australia’s ban on uranium sales to India and increasing its refugee intake are among other major policy debates to take place at the party summit.