CANBERRA OBSERVED News Weekly
Marriage vote likely as ALP follows the leader
, June 6, 2015
The rolling tide of the zeitgeist has reached Australian shores with Federal Parliament inexorably moving towards a vote on same-sex marriage, this time the push coming from the Australian Labor Party.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his deputy, Tanya Plibersek, have co-signed a letter foreshadowing an act of parliament to amend the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples.
The Coalition Government, led by Tony Abbott, remains resistant to change, and is likely to try to stave off a conscience vote in the Coalition.
However, the numbers seem to be shifting towards a vote that will broaden the definition of a marriage for the first time.
The suddenness of the shift has taken many by surprise, particularly those supporting traditional marriage, but the large majority that voted in favour of same-sex marriage in Ireland (something that was inconceivable only a decade or so ago) has had an impact around the world.
Ireland was the first country to vote in favour of same sex marriage in a popular vote.
In Federal Parliament agitation for change had largely been restricted to the Greens and libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm, but internal shifts within the Labor Party may have been a game changer.
Recall that both former Labor leaders Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were originally opposed to same-sex marriage.
A sizeable number of conservative Labor MPs were also against changing the definition of marriage.
In recent weeks several senior Labor right-wing MPs have changed their views on same-sex marriage, including six western Sydney MPs.
The capitulation of the NSW Right was a calculated move to put maximum pressure on Tony Abbott around the time of the Irish referendum.
Those who have suddenly moved include frontbenchers Tony Burke, Chris Bowen and Joel Fitzgibbon, as well as backbenchers Julie Owens and Ed Husic, Parliament’s first and only Muslim MP.
Former treasurer Wayne Swan has also changed his position from a supporter of traditional marriage.
Mr Burke’s capitulation is probably the most significant. Not only was Mr Burke considered to be the carrier of the mantle of the once important “Catholic” NSW Right, his electorate has one of the highest Muslim populations in the country.
In a statement Mr Burke said the debate between the two sides was becoming “harsher and angrier” so that the only solution was for one side to fold.
Given that most debates in Australian politics have its elements of harshness and anger, and that these emotions are part and parcel of every day in the Federal Parliament, it seemed an odd explanation.
Mr Burke clearly wants the debate to be over and done with and has calculated that the best way to do this is for Labor to accept the inevitability of change.
Yet Mr Burke knows the issue is not likely to be accepted in his own electorate of Watson, which contains the majority Islamic suburb of Lakemba.
“The time has come for the conversation in communities like mine to move to the fact that this change will occur,” Mr Burke wrote. “We need to get to the next stage of the conversation to explain why those who do not want change will be unaffected by it. The longer this changes takes, the uglier the community debate will become.”
Of course Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek wants to go even further – binding all members of the Australian Labor Party to support same-sex marriage regardless of their personal beliefs.
Ironically the question now remains whether the Coalition will give its members a conscience vote – something proponents of same-sex marriage desperately want to get the law change.
The Prime Minister’s view is that the same-sex marriage debate is far from central to the everyday lives of most Australians, and therefore the government should be concentrating instead on the issues that affect people, such as the economy, small business and national security.
But the reality is that the debate will not go away and the pressure for change will continue. The two sides of the debate in Federal Parliament are now close, with no one certain how the vote may go once the Shorten/Plibersek bill is put before Parliament.
Despite assurances to the contrary the consequences of a vote in favour are far-reaching. In the United States wedding businesses are already being hit with heavy fines and threats of imprisonment for refusing to supply services for same-sex weddings.
A vote in favour of tolerance is likely ultimately to result in a regime of intolerance against anyone who holds religious beliefs or moral precepts that support a multi-millennial-aged institution that underpins society as we know it.