Sep 262012

Tasmania’s bid to become the first Australian state to allow same-sex marriage remained in the balance as debate continued late into Wednesday night in its upper house.

The Same-Sex Marriage Bill 2012, the first to pass an Australian lower house, was facing a tough battle with members of Tasmania’s Legislative Council so far sticking to expected positions.

The 15-member house is dominated by 13 independents, six of whom were expected to join sole Liberal MLC Vanessa Goodwin to vote against the bill.

Two members were considered to be undecided and needed to support the legislation if it was to have any chance of success. They were yet to speak on the bill.

The groundbreaking legislation was passed in the House of Assembly last month after it was co-sponsored by Labor premier Lara Giddings and power-sharing Greens leader Nick McKim.

Ms Giddings announced her intention for Tasmania to go it alone at the ALP state conference just weeks earlier.

In an unusual move, independent and same-sex marriage supporter Ruth Forrest introduced the bill rather than Labor’s sole upper house member Craig Farrell.

“This debate allows us to consider not only what marriage means and has meant over the centuries, but also what is the right thing to do in a tolerant and inclusive society,” Ms Forrest told the chamber.

MLCs commenced the debate late on Wednesday afternoon following briefings from the state’s solicitor-general and lobby groups.

With Tasmania’s small upper house packed with supporters from both sides of the debate, speakers in favour emphasised tolerance, mental health concerns and the pleas they had received from families with gay members.

“It boiled down to me being able to look someone in the eye and say I value your relationship,” Mr Farrell said.

Opponents expressed concerns about a costly High Court challenge, the lack of a government mandate and the pace at which their constituencies were being asked to move.

“I asked the question, ‘Has the tide turned enough for me to support same-sex marriage in Tasmania?’” independent Tania Rattray said.

“And taking into consideration all the information and views expressed to me – I do not feel it has.”

Tasmania is eyeing what advocates say could be a $100 million boost to its struggling economy if it can be the first cab off the rank in legalising gay marriage in Australia.

The debate was adjourned until Thursday.