The Victorian Country Women’s Association voted in favour of supporting same-sex marriage at the Victorian State Conference this week, making it the first state association of the CWA to vote in favour.
Victorian CWA President Machelle Crichton said support for same-sex marriage was not a difficult position for their association to adopt. However, she acknowledged the decision was not unanimous and the discussion at the conference was “very robust” and “very actively debated”.
“[The CWA] is a very progressive organisation and it has always been at the cutting edge of some of the censorship issues of life,” she said.
“It was a simple majority that voted for it. … They’re a diverse group, they’re highly intelligent. We are always fairly advanced on a variety of topics, and it reflects society.”
The state conference agreed that the CWA will “advocate for equality for all Australians under the Commonwealth Marriage Act“. The Victorian CWA plans to write to the Federal Government asking it to adopt legislation enabling gay men and women to marry.
With over 5,600 members and 320 branches in Victoria alone, the Victorian CWA certainly offers a loud voice to lobbying in this area. Since 2006, the CWA has lobbied for legalising medicinal cannabis, which has in 2016 been legislated in Victoria.
Much of the discussion revolved around the “rights” issue. President Crichton said, “There were some people there who had children who were gay, so one child who was gay and one who was not; so one child had certain rights and one child didn’t.”
The CWA was founded in New South Wales in 1922 with the goal to “improve the conditions for women and children and make life better for families”, so their focus on the rights of the child is understandable.
In fact, in contrast to many other regions around the world, Australia’s legislation already provides that de facto couples – including same-sex families – have the same legal rights as any married couple. In the event of a death or a break-up, gay couples in Australia have long enjoyed the same rights to a fair distribution of assets and the right to continue to care for the children of the partnership.
However, gay couples in Australia have still contended that they should have the right to call their civil union by the name “marriage”, which the Australian Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) exclusively defines as a union between a man and woman.
As for the current government position, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pledged to hold a plebiscite if he is re-elected, whereby a majority of voters in a majority of states would be needed to change this law. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has promised to legislate on the matter within 100 days of taking office, allowing a conscience vote in Parliament.
Support for same-sex marriage was only one of nine resolutions under discussion at the Victorian CWA conference; others included the sale of Australian farms to overseas buyers, and support for foster carers in rural areas.
Christian members leaving CWA due to stance
One CWA member says she will not be renewing her membership after the move to support same-sex marriage.
Carmel, a talkback caller to ABC Central Victoria, says the move is against the CWA’s motto: “Honour to God, Loyalty to the Throne, Service to the Country, Through Country Women, For Country Women, By Country Women.”
“The first line of the motto is ‘Honour to God’,” Carmel explains. “To me this new status is dishonouring God.
“It actually discriminates against people who do believe in that tradition.
“I can’t in good conscience renew my membership and I’m very sad about that. The CWA has been such a beautiful part of my life.”
President Crichton maintains that the recent vote has not strained friendships between CWA members.
“Some voted for it, some voted against it and some abstained,” she said. “You’ll see the same people – they might be on opposites sides of discussion on a particular topic, and then a couple of hours later you’ll see them across the room having a cup of tea together.”
Former President of the Victorian CWA, Carol Clay, called the decision “inevitable”.
“I don’t entirely disagree with it,” she said. “It upset a few people … the majority seem to be pretty happy with it.”