David Crowe: Eminent Liberals stand up in support of same-sex marriage

Three of the Liberal Party’s most experienced figures have backed the case for same-sex marriage and warned against the push for new laws on religious freedom, with former party leader Andrew Peacock revealing he has voted Yes on the ground of fairness.

Mr Peacock and former cabinet colleagues Fred Chaney and Peter Baume are putting their names to the Yes campaign at a key moment in the debate, after the latest Newspoll showed a fall in support for change among more conservative voters.

“As a Liberal, I’ve always been on about empowering people. To vote Yes is just one more way of empowering people to live decent lives,” Dr Baume told The Australian. “I’ve got a friend who’s been with the same partner for 50 years. It just seems incredible to me that they can’t get married.”

Mr Chaney, a former deputy Liberal leader, said the marriage laws needed to serve the national interest by reflecting community views rather than a religious view.

“That law is not the law of Islam or the law of the Catholic Church or the law of the Anglican Church,” he said. “It’s a matter of simple equal­ity. The quality of the relationships among gay couples are of equal importance and value to them as any other relationship. It’s a matter of fairness and ­justice.”

This week’s Newspoll survey showed 57 per cent support for same-sex marriage but revealed wider divisions across party lines, with 22 per cent of Labor voters and 46 per cent of Coalition voters opposing the change.

Former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott and former finance minister Nick Minchin have sided with the No campaign and warned of a threat to religious freedom and free speech if the Marriage Act is changed.

Mr Peacock, who lives in Texas after serving in federal parliament from 1966 to 1994, named “fairness” as the best argument for voting Yes and said he dis­agreed with claims the change threatened those freedoms.

Mr Peacock, Mr Chaney and Dr Baume all served alongside Mr Howard in federal cabinet under former prime minister Malcolm Fraser.

Dr Baume, a minister for health and education during his time in federal parliament from 1974 to 1983, said he considered the religious freedom concerns to be a red herring.

Mr Chaney, who was minister for education, social sec­urity and Aboriginal affairs and was named Senior Australian of the Year three years ago, said he once thought civil unions delivered equality for same-sex couples but had changed his mind after coming to see marriage as a “celebration” that should be open to gay couples.

“I realised what they wanted was for their relationships to be celebrated in the same way as other relationships – by their friends, by their families, by their community,” Mr Chaney said.

“And that was my turning point. I saw gay couples, I saw gay couples having children, I saw them as really valuing their relationships and wanting the rest of the community to give the same value to their relationship.”

Other Liberals, including former federal MP Chris Puplick, Tasmanian state MP Nick Street and Victorian federal MPs Chris Crewther and Sarah Henderson have also added their names to an open letter in support of same-sex marriage.

Mr Chaney said he was a member of the Catholic Church but did not believe the change to the Marriage Act was a risk to religious freedom.

“I intend to remain a member of my church. I know there are varied opinions within that church, I think that’s perfectly reasonable, and I see no threat to my religious freedom in what is proposed,” he said.