With the Greens to hold the balance of power in the Senate from July next year, and with newly-elected member for Melbourne Adam Bandt beginning the posturing already, same sex marriage is never too far from the political spotlight. This week the Labor-Greens coalition in the Tasmanian parliament kept the ball rolling with debate on an amendment to the state’s relationship registration scheme.

The lower house on Tuesday debated and passed the Relationships Amendment (Recognition of Registered Relationships) Bill 2010, which amends the Relationships Act 2003 to enable recognition in Tasmania of relationships registered under corresponding laws of other Australian States and Territories and other countries.

The main controversy of the debate centres on what is meant by ‘corresponding laws’. Liberal Member for Bass Michael Ferguson, one of the three members to vote against the bill, expressed his disappointment that this would include recognition of same sex marriages from other countries, despite this important detail only emerging in the chamber during the debate. He also said:

What is clear to me, having looked at it time and time again, is that this bill is much more about making a political gesture toward marriage than addressing any remaining discrimination. The fact is, from what I have been able to learn, there is no remaining discrimination, none at all. It was dealt with in 2003 at the State level, and in the last term of the Federal Parliament so far as federal law is concerned.

Mr Ferguson revealed that during a pre-debate briefing he was not provided with a single example of a circumstance where this amendment bill would overcome an instance of disadvantage by a same sex couple. It would seem it is simply a political ploy to add to pressure on federal politicians to amend the definition of marriage in the federal Marriage Act to include same sex couples

Mr Ferguson sought to amend the legislation so that overseas same sex marriages would not be recognised by the Tasmanian relationships scheme, but these proposed changes were rejected. Of the three parties represented in the house, only the Liberal party was granted a conscience vote. Jacquie Petrusma and Rene Hidding joined Mr Ferguson in opposing the bill, showing a real strength of character in the 25-seat chamber.

The Relationships Amendment (Recognition of Registered Relationships) Bill 2010 will now go to the upper house. Tasmanian supporters are strongly encouraged to email Independent MLCs telling them that the bill is wasting parliamentary time because it changes no real entitlements and is clearly only a political gesture, which they should reject.