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Out Lawmaker Optimistic About Marriage Equality in Australia

State lawmaker Alex Greenwich speaks to reporters and members of the LGBTQ community at New South Wales Parliament House Alex Greenwich

Alex Greenwich’s approach to politics is similar to the approach he takes with his siblings: He likes to work together.

“It’s the middle child in me,” Greenwich told NBC Out. “I’d much prefer when everybody gets along and people work together towards a consensus outcome [than] to see issues hijacked by the politics of extremes, and one party versus another.”

As an independent member for Sydney of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, Greenwich has become known for working with others while tackling an array of issues on behalf of his constituents.

But it is perhaps his nearly 10 years of fighting for marriage equality in Australia that the state lawmaker and advocate has become best known, and Greenwich is hopeful that in 2017 federal lawmakers in Canberra will finally pass same-sex marriage legislation allowing marriage equality to become a reality for all citizens of Australia.

“Marriage equality is not an issue of the left, this is an issue that unites all Australians, whether you live in the city or the bush,” Greenwich said.

Indeed, polling shows a majority of Australians support same-sex marriage, which has been banned federally in Australia since passage of a 2004 amendment to the federal Marriage Act 1961. This past September, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull introduced legislation calling for a plebiscite, which would have resulted in a national vote on the issue similar to the referendum that brought marriage equality to the citizens of Ireland in 2015.

But the bill failed to pass the Senate in November amid concerns of the costs, as well as concerns by some proponents of marriage equality regarding the type of public debate and rhetoric a national vote would bring regarding the issue.

“There were a number of issues with that specific policy [of a plebiscite],” Greenwich explained. “Opponents would have been given millions of dollars of public cash to run a campaign against the gay and lesbian community.”

Portrait of Australian lawmaker Alex Greenwich Kevin Truong

Instead, Greenwich and other advocates of marriage equality want there to be a free vote done by the Australian Parliament, an idea that, according to polling, is supported by a majority of Australians.

“And so the campaign we’re running now is doing all we can to encourage our politicians to have a parliamentary vote on marriage equality where [members] can vote freely according to their conscious,” Greenwich said. “If we can get it to that stage, we will then hopefully be able to achieve marriage equality this year.”

If marriage equality is indeed achieved this year, it will bring to a close a campaign that Greenwich has been working on personally for nearly 10 years.

Greenwich first started working on the campaign for marriage equality in 2007, when he started working as national secretary for Australian Marriage Equality (AME), a national organization dedicated to achieving equal marriage for all citizens of Australia regardless of sexuality or gender.

“What motivated me [to get involved with AME] was that I didn’t like that there was a law that told me I couldn’t do something because I was gay,” Greenwich said. “I don’t have a different driver’s license because I’m gay, I don’t vote at a different ballot box because I’m gay, but here’s this one piece of law that treats me differently.”

It was his work with AME that allowed Greenwich to begin building relationships with lawmakers across the political spectrum, and when an opportunity to run for public office came in 2012 Greenwich took it. He ran for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly seat of Sydney as an Independent and won the election in October 2012. He has held the seat ever since.

As an elected official, Greenwich has continued his fight for marriage equality, and in 2014 introduced a bill at the state level that would recognize overseas same-sex marriages in New South Wales. Greenwich worked with then Attorney General Brad Hazzard on the effort, and won support for the bill in November 2014.

“That was a good process of working with the government and making the issue completely noncontroversial,” Greenwich said. “I was really glad with the result but also really glad with the process.”

Today, the state lawmaker also continues his work with AME, serving as co-chair of the organization and using his role there to continue campaigning for marriage equality on a national level.

“I will say that there is a great deal of frustration that we’re not there yet,” Greenwich said. "[Supporters] know we have the numbers in our parliament, they know there is strong public support, they know this is a straight forward issue, and they don’t understand why our politicians in Canberra haven’t gone ahead and done it.”

As a part of the effort to get a free vote by the Australian Parliament on the issue some time this year, a new ad campaign in Australia is putting the focus on the lives of nurses, doctors, military veterans and other individuals who serve Australia but are unable to marry the person they love. The campaign was launched by The Equality Campaign and will be featured in television advertisements and billboards across the country.

This new ad push, along with a Senate report published last week that rejected proposed exemptions in same-sex marriage legislation that would have allowed for discrimination against same-sex couples seeking marriage by civil celebrants, makes Greenwich optimistic marriage equality can be finally achieved some time this year.

“It will be a really important moment for our parliament, not only because they would have delivered a reform that’s all about fairness and treating the LGBTI community equally, but because they would have done it by working together, not against each other,” Greenwich said.

“I think that in the global world, where we’re seeing a world of politics of extremes, to actually see a parliament where people from across the political spectrum are working together to achieve something good -- I think Australians are looking forward to seeing that happen,” he said.

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