“I don’t support gay marriage, and a lot of people are surprised to hear that, but that’s just an example of people following stereotypes.”
Thus did openly-gay Liberal Dean Smith declare to The Australian on the eve of being sworn in as Western Australia’s newest senator.
Needless to say Smith’s remarks, which came as US President Barack Obama publicly endorsed marriage equality, caused a stir in LGBTI circles. Criticism from gay activists came thick and fast.
“It’s hard to see how the new openly gay senator from Western Australia, Dean Smith, can believe in equality before the law but oppose equality for same-sex couples under the Marriage Act,” noted equality advocate Rodney Croome.
“Smith is entitled to his view, but he is out of step with the 85 per cent of gay Australians who support marriage equality and the increasing number of conservatives who see the inclusion of same-sex couples within the traditions of marriage as a conservative cause.”
Sharp words, some might say, but Smith is having none of it.
“I’ve not paid much attention to Rodney Croome, I’ve not paid much attention to Barack Obama,” Smith tells SX. “I am a senator to represent all Western Australians across a whole range of Western Australian issues.”
Smith was sworn in on May 8 to replace Judith Adams who passed away from breast cancer in March.
His appointment as the Liberal’s newest senator is the culmination of two and a half decades of service for the Party, which has seen Smith fill various senior roles including WA President of Young Liberals, Senior Adviser to John Howard during the 1998 election, and policy adviser to former WA Premier Richard Court.
For much of his tenure, Smith has always been open about his sexuality. And while others may let it define them, for Smith, it’s never been an issue.
“In fact, it’s my strong observation that people do not pay as much attention to sexuality-related issues as people might think they do,” he stated.
“My experience has been that the quality of your work, your passion and commitment have always been more important to people than my sexuality.”
As for issue of same-sex marriage, Smith believes that there are more pressing matters in the LGBTI conversation.
“I will be interested in the views of gay and lesbian Western Australians but there are more significant issues in our national debate at the moment, particularly from Western Australia’s perspective, than same-sex marriage,” he says, citing LGBTI ageing and aged care as key concerns.
Indeed, they are issues well within his purview as a board member of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Retirement Association Incorporated, or GRAI.
“It is a community group that has been advocating around ageing and ageing issues for gay and lesbian people. So I have an interest in ageing and aged care generally.
“I am also particularly interested in mental health issues and suicide issues as they relate to gays and lesbians and, in particular, ageing gay and lesbian people.”
GRAI Chair Jude Comfort welcomed Smith’s appointment, both on the board as well as the Senate.
“He has a long standing interest in, and understanding of, ageing issues as well as a wish to contribute to the LGBTI community, which made him a good fit with the work of GRAI,” she tells SX.
“We have valued his input of ideas and debate.
“We hope that as an openly gay man in the Liberal party, Dean is able to positively influence that party’s agenda on gay issues in the broader ageing agenda.”
This article was originally published at Gay News Network: http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/feature/dean-smith-telling-it-like-it-is-6976.html