In early June, opposition leader Bill Shorten introduced a marriage equality bill into the parliament. While it was always unlikely that the bill would pass given Labor’s lack of numbers, Bill Shorten played an opportunistic political game.
Bolstered by the recent referendum in Ireland which enabled equal marriage rights, Shorten knows very well that the majority of Australians are pro-marriage equality and that the Liberal coalition government is out of step on the issue. Despite the fact that they stalled on the issue when in power, Labor are now feigning concern about the discrimination that exists.
Support for same-sex marriage and for a conscience vote in the Coalition has reached an all-time high, according to a survey by the Liberal Party’s own pollster. A Crosby Textor poll, has found that 72% of Australians want same-sex marriage legalised, while 77% think Coalition MPs should be granted a conscience vote. As many have noted Australia is now the only developed English speaking nation to not have marriage equality.
Despite widespread support for equal marriage rights, the major political parties are in a corner bickering as the question opens up huge divisions within their ranks. There are some who support the measure but there are many MPs from both sides that are bitterly opposed.
Some in the Coalition support the idea of a conscience vote although tensions are rising with Social Services Minister Scott Morrison recently telling Australians to take a “breather” on the same-sex marriage debate. He was at pains to convince people that those who don’t support a change are not homophobes.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has tried to put the issue off claiming that his priorities are economic issues. The truth is that he is more focused on diverting people’s attention away from the real issues by highlighting alleged ‘national security’ problems.
While Labor’s new found enthusiasm for marriage equality is mostly about trying to wedge the Coalition, it is also an attempt to outflank the Greens who are seen to be the only party in the parliament that is not split on the issue.
At the end of May deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek called for a binding vote for all Labor MPs to enable the marriage equality bill to succeed. The idea of a binding vote itself has split the party.
A significant section of the Labor Party is influenced by the powerful, right-wing Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA). Driven by conservative catholic ideals the SDA are bitterly opposed to the reform. The issue is set to inflame a heated debate at the Labor Party national conference in July.
The Greens have called for Labor to adopt a binding vote in line with their own party policies. Sarah Hansen-Young is expected to introduce another marriage equality bill from the Greens within the next month and a new round of equal rights protests is planned. No matter how much the government, and many inside Labor’s ranks, would like this to go away, same-sex marriage is set to stay fixed on the political agenda in the coming months.
The overall mood amongst ordinary people seems to be “this is inevitable, get on with it!” People recognise that the matter of marriage equality is an issue of human and civil rights. Institutionalised discrimination like the lack of marriage rights only promotes discrimination on the basis of sexual
orientation or identity in other aspects of life. It needs to be swept aside along with the system that creates it. The time for marriage equality is now!
By Simone Howard