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UTas embroiled in SSM debate

Photo by Monte Bovill

Unless you have not logged into your Facebook or Twitter accounts, turned on the news, or picked up a newspaper in the last two months, you would know that a postal survey into Australia’s marriage law is underway.

The survey asks just one question: should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics, the government agency conducting the survey, said this week that around 57.5 per cent of eligible Australians have sent back their survey forms, answering either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

The survey has generated a lot of debate and has dominated media coverage.

The University of Tasmania’s Stanley Burbury Lecture Theatre at the Sandy Bay campus was the venue of a Coalition for Marriage rally on Friday night.

On the event’s Facebook page, the Coalition claimed “changing the Marriage Act will affect you, your family and all Australians.”

The Coalition initially said that UTas turned down its venue hire application as the rally did not meet the University’s criteria.

In the University’s venue hire policy it states that “use of a University venue should further the educational purposes of the University; further the strategic goals of the University; and positively promote the University.”

The Coalition for Marriage was left to hold its event at UTas after Wrest Point Casino cancelled its booking.

Speakers at the rally included the leader of Australian Conservatives, Senator Cory Bernardi and Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton.

University students had mixed opinions about the rally being held at UTas.

“No matter what side of the fence you’re on, everyone should [have] the right to respectfully discuss their opinions. I am actually quite proud that UTas was mature enough to extend a hand in this situation,” one student said on Facebook.

Others described it as a “disgraceful” decision by UTas to allow the event to take place on campus.

“I am ashamed to see the University allow such hate and vitriol promoted within its walls,” an alumni of the University said.

In an email to students on Friday afternoon, Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen said that the University has a “respect for diversity” and a “deep commitment to the principle of inclusion”.

The University said that by allowing the rally to take place, it was not signalling a position on marriage equality.

The email highlights that some students and staff may be feeling distressed as a result of the marriage law debate and noted that support services are available.

A counter protest event was set up on Facebook in response to the rally.

The group planned to hold a peaceful protest on the University grounds as attendees arrived.

Late on Friday afternoon, organisers of the event cancelled the protest as it did not have the adequate permits to proceed.

However, a group of “unaffiliated individuals” arrived just before the commencement of the rally with signs supporting marriage equality and criticising the decision made by UTas.

What seems to be a never ending debate will continue until the survey closes on Tuesday the 7th of November.

  • Show Comments

  • Zoe

    I’m appalled by the university administration’s conduct. The uni silences the student voice by prohibiting protest without requisite permits, but is providing a venue at the very last minute to non-research based, powerful lobbyists as a platform for the hate speech? Shame.

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