Image for Doing justice to Tasmania’s role in the national marriage equality debate

When it comes to achieving marriage equality Tasmania is the solution, not the problem.

Tasmania has led the marriage equality debate for years. But instead of acknowledging this, Sydney and Melbourne media audiences want to believe Tasmania is holding the nation back.

It began after Eric Abetz stormed the national airwaves with claims that marriage equality would lead to polygamy (even though this hasn’t happened anywhere else) and that it will alienate Australia from our Asian neighbours (even though some of them allow polygamy).

The national media started referring to him as a “Tasmanian Senator” despite every one of his party colleagues still being called a “Liberal Senator”. 

That was a taste of worse to come. A recent Saturday Paper article on the marriage equality debate highlighted a small Reachtel poll which found less than 50% support for marriage equality in Bass and Lyons leading the journalist to label Northern Tasmanians “Abbott’s people”. No mention was made of years of larger-scale polls which have found higher support for marriage equality in Tasmania than the other states.

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2015/07/18/final-fight-against-same-sex-marriage/14371416002141

The article also emphasised that both Eric Abetz and Andrew Nikolic are Tasmanian federal representatives. The fact Tasmanian federal representatives like Andrew Wilkie, Carol Brown, Christine Milne and Bob Brown have done more than just about any of their federal colleagues to move marriage equality forward, including, in Andrew Wilkie’s case, co-signing up-coming landmark cross-party legislation, wasn’t mentioned. Neither was the fact I am Tasmanian. When I told the article’s author I am 2015 Tasmanian of the Year he was incredulous.

The overall impression left by that article was that Tasmania and places like it are to blame for Australia lagging behind other western countries on marriage equality.

I’ve seen this all before. Whenever the national media took a dislike to the conservative policies of Brian Harradine it emphasised his status as a Tasmanian independent. Ricky Ponting was always “a great Australian” when he scored centuries and “a Tasmanian” when he was out for a duck.  Brant Webb and Todd Russell were “Aussie heroes” when they emerged from their subterranean captivity and “inarticulate Tasmanian miners” when they mumbled on Oprah.

By blaming Tasmania they think they exonerate themselves of all their sins ...

Whatever continental Australians don’t like about themselves they project on to Tasmania. By blaming Tasmania they think they exonerate themselves of all their sins.

There is rightfully a growing sense of national shame about Australia failing again and again to achieve marriage equality while New Zealand, Uruguay, Ireland and Alabama streak ahead of us. The reasons for this are complex. They have to do with the powerful religious caucuses in both major parties that are based almost entirely in Sydney and Melbourne, in the social conservatism of the outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne and in the homophobia at the heart of Australian national identity reaching back to the anti-transportation movement.

But this is too difficult for some continentals to acknowledge. It’s also too close to home to the media elites of Sydney and Melbourne. It’s much easier and more convenient to find a scapegoat. As ever, that scapegoat is Tasmania.

The problem this scapegoating creates is not only that it obscures the real reason Australia is being held back, making it harder to address the problem. It also obscures the fact Tasmania has led the national marriage equality debate and has much to teach the nation about how to move the issue forward.

Let’s have a quick look at Tasmania’s leadership.

Tasmania was the first state to enact a civil partnership scheme and the first state where same-sex marriage legislation was proposed and debated (our superior state marriage equality model remains untested in the High Court thanks to the ACT adopting a flawed approach).

Tasmania’s parliament was the first to pass a marriage equality motion and the first to recognise overseas same-sex marriages.

Tasmania’s ALP was the first to support marriage equality and the first to support a binding vote on the issue.

Tasmania’s state Liberals were among the first to allow a free vote on the issue.

Tasmania was the first state to have local marriage equality action groups, the first to have door-to-door canvassing on the issue and the first to run newspaper and TV ads.

What is really holding us back ...

The list of firsts could take up the rest of this page but you get the picture: on marriage equality Tasmania has led where other states have since followed.

Tasmania’s leadership has immense potential to move Australia forward on marriage equality. But this potential is diminished when continental media audiences decide that, to protect their own brittle self-image, Tasmania has had exactly the opposite effect on the marriage equality debate.

Bluntly put, when continentals wrongly scapegoat Tasmania as the reason we don’t have marriage equality, they not only misidentify the problem they become the problem themselves.

I will continue to lead the campaign for marriage equality. But I will not shy away from calling out injustices done to Tasmania in the midst of that campaign.

I’m impelled to do this not only by my island patriotism and my irritation at stereotyping, but for the more pragmatic reason that I want the nation to focus on what is really holding us back from marriage equality so we can finally move forward.

On the day marriage equality is finally achieved I want Tasmanians to feel proud that it was, in no small part, because of us, and not wholly despite us.

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times ...

Door-to-door community-led campaign of Taroona finds 71 per cent support for marriage equality

Rodney Croome: Plebiscite would delay marriage equality. Australians want reform dealt with now