As is plain from the debate in the media, the issue of Marriage Equality has been a difficult one for us as a nation. Clearly there are many people in favour of Marriage Equality. I recognise that there are also many of those within our community who are opposed. There are a further category of people who feel uncomfortable about this issue because even if they are personally supportive or undecided, they are concerned about others being forced to deal with the question.
Speaking personally, the decision to support Marriage Equality is straightforward for me. I know many same-sex couples in long-term relationships, some of whom are parents. Personally, I cannot see how it can be right to deny them the opportunity to have their commitment to each other legally recognised by society. I have already ticked ‘yes’ on the ABS survey form.
But that is my personal decision. Unlike most people, as the Vice-Chancellor of this institution, I have additional responsibilities on behalf of the whole University community. In an organisation of nearly 5000 staff and 40,000 students, this is a more complicated decision to make while being respectful of the different positions I outlined above.
I have had representations from staff members individually, from the ALLY program members and from the Online Student Representative Council all of whom have asked me to pledge institutional support.
I have sought the advice of a number of people including my Leadership Team and the Chancellor. From this advice it is evident that ultimately, as with the broader society, there is not a unanimous and perhaps not even a consensus view on this. There are a good number of people who think the University should not take a position except to encourage people to participate in the national vote.
However, from my discussions and the representations that have been made to me, I do not believe we can sit on the fence. This would be celebrated by some and seen as an abdication of responsibility by others so it is not a neutral choice. Given the lack of clear consensus, it is also clear to me that this is a decision that ultimately I have to, and must, make myself in my role as Vice-Chancellor of the organisation.
I do not want to stifle debate. As a University, we should be a space in which difficult issues can be discussed. That is the academic mission of the University and I fully support that and the right of people to exercise free speech within it. As Vice-Chancellor I cannot tell anyone in the University what to think.
However, the University also exists as a corporate body, as an employer of staff and a community of students, and it is in that light that I consider the question of the institutional position. When I consider our key Value of ‘Inclusive’, I believe the right decision is that we should support Marriage Equality before the law and that is the decision I have taken.
As patron of CSU’s ALLY program, a program dedicated to supporting and empowering the LGBTQI+ community, I stand by the LBGTQI+ community and I cannot see how to do that without supporting Marriage Equality before the law.
To the numerous staff who have emailed me personally asking for organisational support, to the Online Student Representative Committee who called for me to make a stand on this issue, and to RivColl, the Riverina Student Representative Committee and your leadership who have taken a stand, the University stands with you in supporting the right of all to have equality before the law.
I have no doubt this decision will be met with criticism by some individuals, and I accept this. I can only do what I think is right and I know that I would regret it later if I do not do that. I also accept and celebrate everyone’s democratic right to take a position in the Marriage Equality debate and I encourage all of you who are entitled to vote to do so in line with your own views and conscience.
Given our Value of Inclusive, CSU is stronger together and we will accept and support all members of the CSU community and recognise their equality before the law. I trust that whatever the outcome of the vote and whatever process follows, we will retain respect for and continue to support each other.
Thank you for taking the time to engage in this important debate in Australia’s history.
Support is available: If you need support or feel distressed during the same-sex marriage debate, please contact a Student Counsellor, the Employee Assistance Program or an ALLY trained representative on your Campus.
Professor Andrew Vann
Charles Sturt University