Can Gay Marriage Save Labor?

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What’s a policy that would cost the Government nothing, would win the support of a majority of Australians, would prove that Gillard is listening to her base — and would win the ALP some much-needed votes? The answer is marriage equality.

A Galaxy poll released this morning shows there could be a swing to Labor of almost 5 per cent if it allowed same-sex marriage. Most of that swing comes from young voters and Green voters Labor has lost over the past few years.

In fact, almost half of all people who say they are Green voters (47 per cent) would consider switching to the ALP if the latter supported marriage equality. Labor could expect a net gain of 21 per cent of young voters, with a whopping 33 per cent saying they would be more likely to vote Labor and only 12 per cent saying they’d be less likely.

Not only would the sheer quantity of new voters be very helpful for a government in trouble, the other tangible impact of supporting marriage equality will come from galvanising Labor’s base.

Almost a quarter of voters who already support Labor say they will support the party even more if it treats all couples equally. If Labor supports equality, it will show the base that they are being listened to and taken seriously. In turn, their loyalty to, and active participation in, the party will increase.

None of this should be a surprise. There are many Australians — young and old, mums and dads, priests and parishioners — who are passionate supporters of marriage equality. After years of having their aspiration for equality ignored by both major parties they will reward those who support equality with their vote and more.

State Labor leaders like Anna Bligh, Lara Giddings, Kristina Keneally and Mike Rann were flooded with praise when they declared their support for marriage equality.

For whoever takes the lead federally, the passion of equality supporters will translate into new voters, couples who will letterbox suburbs for you, suburban mums who will hand out how-to-vote cards on election day, and as we have seen in New York, community groups who will get together for campaign fundraising drives.

To use Tony Abbott’s phrase, same-sex marriage is a "good deal" for Labor. Not only would the ALP win back votes it has lost to the Greens and engage the next generation of young voters, it would also gain a new generation of active supporters.

Why is this decision so hard for federal Labor? Almost every state branch has called on the party to change its platform to one of support. Every state leader has declared their support for allowing same-sex couples to be equally recognised and protected by the law. A majority of Australians want this, and an even bigger majority expect it to happen.

Does Labor fear losing the votes of outer urban "working families"? Polls show they are either indifferent to, or "soft supporters" of, marriage equality. They just want the issue dealt with as quickly as possible.

Is the party scared of losing the preferences of Fred Nile and Family First, preferences it is never likely to gain anyway? Actually, if Labor backs marriage equality the Greens lose votes. Those mums and dads who were lifelong Labor voters, but turned to the Greens when the ALP said their sons and daughters didn’t deserve equality, are looking to return.

To be clear, by backing marriage equality I don’t mean the escape hatch of a conscience vote. I mean delivering equality to loving and committed same-sex couples in the same way it was taken away by the Howard Marriage Act amendment in 2004, with a binding party vote.

Labor sources expect Julia Gillard to announce support for a conscience vote very soon. When that happens the passionate marriage equality supporters I’ve been talking about will use Gillard’s new engagement with the issue to campaign for a change in party policy at December’s conference.

If they succeed Labor can expect cheers of support they haven’t heard in years. And if they don’t? After the next election Adam Bandt can expect some friends to join him on the cross benches.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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