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Mr and Mr: Tasmania set to back same sex marriage

By Monica Attard, for CNN
August 31, 2012 -- Updated 0443 GMT (1243 HKT)
Pro-marriage equality campaigners march through the streets of Sydney, Australia on May 12, 2012.
Pro-marriage equality campaigners march through the streets of Sydney, Australia on May 12, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tasmanian Parliament will introduce the Same-Sex Marriage Bill this week
  • Tasmania could become the first state in Australia to legalize same sex marriage
  • PM Julia Gillard, opposition leader Tony Abbott say marriage is vow between man and woman
  • Robbie Moore and Matt Hastings have faced much prejudice but now hope to marry

Sydney, Australia (CNN) -- Robbie Moore and Matt Hastings have been together for six years.

As a gay couple, they've watched heterosexual members of their families celebrate their big days wondering if they will ever enjoy their own.

But this week could herald the start of a new life for these two Tasmanians: Married life.

In a bold move, the lower house of the Tasmanian Parliament will introduce the Same-Sex Marriage Bill co-sponsored by the ruling Labor party and the Greens. It is expected to easily pass.

The more difficult proposition will be convincing the state's Upper House of 15 -- 13 of whom are independents -- to buy the argument of Premier Lara Giddings, that the change will deliver a AUS$100 million (US$103 million) economic boost to the state in gay tourism.

Robbie Moore and Matt Hastings
Robbie Moore and Matt Hastings

If the upper house ticks off on the bill, Tasmania will become the first state in Australia to legalize same sex marriage. And there's every chance it will quickly be followed by South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

If they succeed, they will join 11 nations where same sex marriage is now legal, including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Spain and Norway, along with some U.S. states. New Zealand is also likely to pass same sex marriage laws.

But as these historic changes blow across Australia, the prime minister, Julia Gillard, and her counterpart in opposition, Tony Abbott, insist marriage is a vow between a man and a woman.

Rodney Croome begs to differ. He will be among those lining up to marry if the bill passes.

"The time for the proposal comes once the law is passed," he told CNN. "I would love to marry but I think it's only right for me to propose that to the man I love once the law is passed."

The face of the gay rights lobby, which in 1997 defeated the Tasmanian law that made homosexuality a punishable crime, Croome is quietly confident as he acknowledges the challenges.

Even just 5 years ago, you'd cop it just walking down the streets.
Robbie Moore

For starters, there's the prospect of a High Court challenge to the law, if it passes. "Prime Minister Gillard has not ruled it out," Croome said.

"This is important. Only the Commonwealth has the right to challenge a state law. Anyone else has to obtain standing before the High Court and to do that, they have to show a material disadvantage (as a result of the law) and it's hard to see how anyone -- such as the Catholic Church or the Australian Christian lobby could show that," he said.

"So if the Commonwealth says no, there may not be a challenge at all," he added.

Between the law passing and any High Court challenge, it's anticipated thousands will marry. Croome estimates more than 50% of Tasmania's same sex couples will rush to the alter and many thousands will flock to Tasmania from other Australian states and territories to do the same.

Moore, 30 and Hastings, 27, both feel same sex marriage in Tasmania, at least, is inevitable.

"We have seen the changes happening in the last decade," Moore, a union worker told CNN.

"Even just five years ago, you'd cop it just walking down the streets. But now that people are more socially aware and there's generational change, that paradigm is shifting so I don't get anywhere near as much slack. In fact, I get encouragement," he said.

"Having this issue in the media makes people think about it too," said Hastings, a hairdresser.

I would love to marry but I think its only right for me to propose that to the man I love once the law is passed.
Rodney Croome

For both men, at the heart of the same sex marriage issue is the question of social equality and personal validation.

"I grew up in Burnie on the north-west coast of Tasmania, which was very homophobic and it's been a long journey for me. And there are always the odd few people who are still narrow minded," said Moore.

"This is one of the last things that discriminates against gay people," added Hastings, referring to the Federal Marriage Act, which deems marriage as an act between a man and a woman.

Neither man minds if the right to marry each other comes from the Tasmanian parliament rather than its Federal counterpart.

Croome agrees. "It's equality in Tasmania," he said. Many see it as paving the way for broader change.

"Some find it odd that it should proceed state by state but in every other federal nation around the world, the movement began at a state level -- Canada, the U.S., Argentina, Brazil," he said.

"So for Australia to begin at a state level is not an anomaly."

Public support for same sex marriage is patchy across Australia. But according to Croome, in Tasmania it is significant.

"It took years to reach this level of public support," he said.

"Some say it's to do with Tasmania's convict past: that there were so many men cooped up for so long that the convict era came to be associated with homosexuality and so there was a shame associated with the convict past."

Whatever the cause of the shift in public thinking, Croome is convinced that if the bill passes into law, "it will be an historic moment."

For Moore it would be a deeply personal affirmation to know that "even in our own conscience, we are equal to others."

And for his partner, it would be the moment Australia comes of age, tipping its hat to equal rights for all Australian -- religious or otherwise.

"The important point in this debate is that some people are consumed with the church's beliefs," he said.

"But we live in a secular society. I grew up in a Catholic family, my mum still attends church and she's a supporter of marriage equality, as are my godparents."

Whether via state by state stealth or an amendment to the Federal Marriage Act, as Rodney Croome puts it: "There will be a lot of gay people who are married -- and they will remain married."

The Federal Parliament in the meantime is readying to vote on changes to the Marriage Act to allow same sex marriage. With only the ruling Labor party permitting its members a conscience vote, the chance of change is miniscule.

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