CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Labor same-sex marriage bid out of step with voters
, September 3, 2011
Federal Labor seems fixated on pursuing changes to the law which will place same-sex unions on an equal footing with traditional male-female marriage, despite the probability that such a law change will be unlikely to gain a single extra vote for Labor.
At a time when Australia’s fragile resource-based economy is under threat, when Julia Gillard is trying to introduce an extremely unpopular new tax, and amidst considerable political uncertainty, the Labor Party is championing a “social reform” with negligible benefits beyond placating a vocal minority group.
In part, the same-sex marriage push is a symbol of Labor’s ideological confusion, and in part an attempt to stop its inner-city base from drifting to the Greens.
Key Labor figures on the right of the party, including New South Wales Senator Mark Arbib and Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes, were early advocates of the policy change in response to Labor’s apparent lack of identity and failure to stand for “something”.
But over recent months it has become more apparent that the more the party panders to the progressive left, the more it alienates itself from the mainstream.
Labor supporters of a change to the Marriage Act insist that people in the suburbs are not fussed about the issue.
They argue that surveys conducted by Labor MPs, with the encouragement of Greens MP Adam Bandt, suggest everyday Australians have a live-and-let-live attitude and will not be angered by the law change.
On the other hand, the push to recognise same-sex marriage will not only put Labor offside with Christian churches, but also with growing numbers of Muslims and Hindus.
Yet the party seems resolved to turn itself inside out in agonising over the proposal in the lead-up to its 46th national conference in December.
Even more perplexing is the prospect of the party pitching itself against the professed wishes of its leader at the very time her authority is at its weakest.
Judging by the numbers at state branches of the party it seems the ALP national conference will back same-sex marriage.
The more conservative sections of the Labor Party will be once again forced into a humiliating defeat as the party publicly signals that it is out of step with the majority of the population.
Same-sex marriage has only recently emerged as an urgent political issue.
It is important to note that less than two decades ago most gay activists were either ambivalent or strongly opposed to the institution of marriage because it was then seen as a Judaeo-Christian construct.
Furthermore, there has been no significant Australian political leader who has actively supported the change (although Mark Latham now declares he wished he had been a stronger advocate of same-sex marriage when he had political power to do so).
The last four Australian prime ministers, including three Labor prime ministers, have declared their opposition to same-sex marriage.
Former Labor leader Paul Keating reportedly quipped to Cabinet that “two blokes and a cocker spaniel a family do not make”, but Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have articulated their views on the subject more precisely and unequivocally.
Over recent months, each state branch of the Labor Party has voted to insist the law be changed, with the exception of the New South Wales branch, which deferred the decision to the national conference.
But the interesting thing is that, even if supporters are successful in getting the proposal passed at the national conference, and in humiliating Prime Minister Gillard in the process, the law is far from certain to get through the federal parliament.
As things stand, the Liberal-National Coalition are united in their support for traditional marriage.
There may be a few Coalition MPs prepared to cross the floor in favour of same-sex marriage, but insiders say it would be a handful at most.
Left-wing frontbencher Anthony Albanese has urged that there be a conscience vote on the issue, and it is likely this view will prevail.
This means right wing Labor MPs will be able to cross the floor with their Prime Minister to vote against the proposal.
It would be a cruel irony indeed if Julia Gillard were to have to sit beside Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd to defeat the same-sex marriage bill.
The Gillard Government has handcuffed Labor to a despised new tax and is now doing the same with social policy.
When will the party realise there is no electoral value in trying to out-Green the Greens?