The leader of Tasmania’s Upper House has refused to speculate on whether the chamber would pass newly proposed laws on gay marriage.
On Saturday Premier Lara Giddings told the State Labor Party conference she would move to legislate marriage equality by the end of the year.
Ms Giddings said she had legal advice that Tasmania could go it alone and she was confident she had the support of all state Labor MPs except Speaker Michael Polley.
It is likely the legislation will pass the Lower House with the help of the Greens but its passage through the Upper House is less certain.
Legislative Council president Sue Smith said while she personally opposed the change she could not speak for fellow members.
“I would never presume to understand how my colleagues will vote,” Ms Smith said.
“They certainly will listen to their electorates, they will do their homework and they will formulate an opinion on the wishes of the electorate and the legislation that’s before them.”
There are also concerns the laws could be challenged in the High Court even if they are passed by Tasmania’s Parliament.
Treasurer Wayne Swan told Channel Ten Labor would continue to pursue a conscience vote in the Federal Parliament, but said he could not say what legal status gay marriages in Tasmania might have.
“We’ll go through our process in the National Parliament and I guess they’ll go through theirs in Tasmania,” he said.
“But we haven’t seen the outcome of that as of yet, so it’s far to early too draw a conclusion on that matter.”
Federal conscience vote
Prime Minister Julia Gillard also said it was too early to make any decision about the issue.
“We do have a bill before the Federal Parliament dealing with same sex marriage,” she said.
“I determined that this should be a conscience vote for the Labor party and people will be free to determine how they vote.
“As for any laws that may be the subject of consideration in Tasmania, we don’t have any details at this stage.”
The Australian Greens have called on the Federal Government to rule out taking court action over Tasmania’s plans.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Federal Labor should say what it intends to do.
“I call on Julia Gillard to rule out any legal challenge by the Commonwealth to the passage of legislation being passed in Tasmania,” she said.
Greens leader Christine Milne also pressed the Federal Government for reassurance it would not stand in the way.
“We want to make sure that this goes through, that the enormous benefits that will accrue to the community can come to pass, that we genuinely end discrimination and we want to see the Prime Minister get right behind it,” she said.
“The Greens have been driving this agenda nationally and in Tasmania for a long time. It is so important to get rid of discrimination and it will be great for Tasmania to take a leadership role.”
Ms Giddings’ announcement was greeted with thunderous applause by most at the conference and by Rainbow Labor’s Robbie Moore.
“It’s a very proud moment for all of us,” he said.
“It’s been a long time coming and certainly our focus had been on trying to achieve these laws nationally and that’s still the idea but this step of getting rid of this discrimination within Tasmania is a significant step, it’s a huge opportunity for Tasmania.”
Gay rights activist Rodney Croome said he was also proud of the Premier’s decision.
“It will once and for all dispel our lingering reputation for homophobia,” he said.
There are hopes introducing same sex marriage could also bring economic benefits.
The Tasmanian Small Business Council’s Robert Mallet said an influx of same sex couples could be the fillip the Tasmanian tourism industry needs.
“Modelling shows that Tasmania will be in front of the rest of the country by at least $100 million if we are the sole state that recognises same sex marriage,” Mr Mallet said.
‘Out of touch’
The State Opposition’s Peter Gutwein said the prominence of the same-sex issue said a lot about Labor’s priorities.
“What we need to be doing in this state is growing industry not shutting it down as Labor and the Greens are doing at the moment,” he said.
“For this to be the number one issue to come out of the Labor party conference just demonstrates how out of touch they are with ordinary Tasmanians.”
Federal Labor Senator Helen Polley, who is Michael Polley’s sister, said her constituents were opposed to same sex marriage and she was too.
“I know that the groups and the people that email and telephone my office and make contact with me on a regular basis will be mounting a campaigning to stop any such legislation,” she said.
“I don’t think that we need to change the fundamental structure of the Australian community.”