July 24, 2015 at 7:25 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Sister of Australian prime minister campaigns for marriage

Christine Forster, Tony Abbott, Australia, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade, marriage equality

Lesbian Sydney City Councilmember Christine Forster‘s brother is Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (Photo courtesy of Christine Forster’s office)

The lesbian sister of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday told the Washington Blade that she and her brother have a “respectful difference of opinion” on the issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples in their country.

“We have what I would term a respectful difference of opinion,” said Sydney City Councilmember Christine Forster during a telephone interview from Key West, Fla., where she and her fiancée, Virginia Edwards, were on vacation. “I appreciate his position and he appreciates mine.”

Forster spoke to the Blade ahead of the introduction of a same-sex marriage bill in the Australian Parliament that is expected to take place on August 11.

Abbott during an interview with the Guardian after last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Obergefell case reiterated his opposition to nuptials for gays and lesbians. The Liberal and National Parties, which hold the majority of seats in the Australian Parliament, have yet to adopt a “conscience clause” provision that would allow members to vote for a same-sex marriage bill without party sanctions.

Forster, like her brother, is a member of the Liberal Party.

“We’re party colleagues, but we kind of sit at the end of the range of opinions on this issue,” Forster told the Blade.

Australian same-sex marriage campaign ‘effective’

Forster was elected to the Sydney City Council in 2012.

She frequently takes part in forums and other events in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Forster on Monday is scheduled to take part in a panel in Melbourne with Australian Marriage Equality National Director Rodney Croome and Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson. She also makes frequent appearances in the Australian media to discuss the issue.

“I am in a position where I’m often asked to be a spokeswoman for marriage equality,” Forster told the Blade. “I take the opportunity whenever I can to push the case.”

Forster said she feels Australian Marriage Equality and other supporters of nuptials for gays and lesbians have mounted “a pretty effective campaign” in support of the issue. She acknowledged, however, there is a lack of awareness around the fact that transgender Australians who transition from the opposite gender must divorce their spouses because federal law defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“That’s a huge issue,” Forster told the Blade. “There’s an issue for transgender people that really goes right to the heart of this debate.”

Forster expects ‘close’ vote on marriage bill

Croome during an interview with the Blade earlier this month said there is a “very slim majority” in support of a same-sex marriage bill in the Australian Senate. Supporters of nuptials for gays and lesbians need an additional 11 votes in the Australian House of Representatives to secure passage.

Forster pointed out to the Blade that roughly 70 percent of Australians support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“I expect the vote will be quite close,” she said. “If the Parliament were to reflect the Australian people, it would be passed with a clear majority.”

Forster said she feels the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Obergefell case and the May referendum that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in Ireland have bolstered efforts in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians in Australia. She also acknowledged the U.S. Supreme Court ruling sparked criticism among same-sex marriage opponents in the country.

“Anytime an English-speaking, Western democracy like the U.S. and the leader of the western world, the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision like that of course it’s significant, of course it can’t be ignored,” said Forster. “It shouldn’t be denigrated.”

Forster, fiancée hope to marry ‘sooner rather than later’

Same-sex couples are able to legally marry in New Zealand, the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Iceland, Scotland, England, Wales, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, South Africa, Pitcairn Island, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius Mexico City and several states in Mexico. Lawmakers in Finland, Slovenia and Chile over the last year have approved bills that would allow same-sex couples to marry or enter into civil unions.

Australian lawmakers could vote on a marriage bill as early as September. Gays and lesbians could be able to legally marry in the country by the end of the year if the measure passes.

Forster told the Blade that she and her fiancée hope to marry “sooner rather than later.”

“We’re hoping that this change will come sooner rather than later so we can get on with it and have a party,” said Forster.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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