The Delay Of Marriage Equality Is An Act Of Indulgence


The theatrical squawks over marriage equality yesterday, like the whole debate on same-sex marriage in this country, only serve to obfuscate the fact that equality is a matter of rights, not conscience, and to unfairly indulge the minority of curmudgeons still standing in the way.

The Prime Minister effectively ‘branch stacked’ the possibility of a successful bill for marriage equality by inviting the National party — which is more closely aligned with his feelings of ‘threatened-ness’ towards queer people than his own party — to debate whether Coalition MPs could side with their conscience on same-sex marriage in Parliament.

Tony Abbott could have left the Nationals out, which seems to have been what political commentators and rivals expected he would do, although he cleverly made a number of conflicting claims before the election.

Now, marriage equality is back off the cards for the foreseeable future.

The thing is, everyone knows it’s going to happen. It’s just that certain conservative and religious elements in society are putting it off, crushing on some other peoples’ happiness for that little bit longer.

If you’re queer, that’s a pretty dispiriting process to watch, but it is interesting to see how short the straws some Parliamentarians are clutching at have become.Contortions going on in parts of the Liberal party are getting pretty wild.

Just last month, though, National Party Deputy Whip George Christensen of Reclaim Australia fame got away with suggesting that the momentum driving a push for Australia to follow the US on legalising same-sex marriage was somehow equivalent to suggesting we should also demand the right to bear arms.

He did apologise, though, after a backlash from his constituents. When Ireland had ushered in marriage equality the month before — through a referendum in which the heavily Catholic country overwhelmingly supported recognising gay couples as, y’know, equal, Christensen managed not to put his foot in it.



Yesterday, after a six-hour debate, the expanded National-Liberal party room meeting, including Christensen, voted not to allow a conscience vote on marriage equality. Abbott is now proposing a plebiscite after the next election.

Last month, Labor took an admirable step towards full support for same-sex marriage at its National Conference, committing to a binding vote in two Parliaments time. Rainbow chests are at full puff.

Of course, it’s only because the views of some Liberal and National party Parliamentarians are so archaic that Labor is able to pretend that putting off binding ALP members to voting in favour of marriage equality is some great progressive cake.

But they can’t have their cake and eat it too. Why is it that in four-or-so years the moral, ethical and equitable principles around same-sex marriage will be different? Why will it then be reasonable to force Labor politicians to vote (possibly ‘against their conscience’) in favour of the bill for marriage equality?

It’s a rubbish argument and a non-sequitur. The notion, which Labor has now committed to, that even-handed morality will compel the party to extend full support for marriage equality in a couple of years is pure politics.

Labor knows it can hedge a bit to the left of the Coalition on this, claim the faux moral high ground, and deal with its recalcitrant elements when pressure activists are currently applying to LNP members forces a change in conservative machinations.

I was at a talk a few years ago where former union boss and Labor heavyweight Paul Howes quite rightly came out and declared that marriage equality was not, as all of these political theatrics assume, an issue of ‘conscience’, but an issue of peoples’ commitment to equality, secularity of state and logic without prejudice.

Christine Forster, Tony Abbott’s sister and fellow Liberal, was there, and she explained what she’d been doing to build support for marriage equality in conservative circles.

As a queer woman she was frustrated, but didn’t doubt the steadily mounting pressure in support of same-sex marriage would overwhelm Marriage Act man-and-woman purists. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Independent New South Wales MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich, and Howes all agreed it was only a matter of time, and probably not a long time.

It shouldn’t be a matter of time, though.

The idea that there will soon be some moral compulsion for current opponents to marriage equality to buckle under and stop obstructing change betrays Labor's hypocrisy and exemplifies what's wrong with the debate.

Labor's position is predicated on the assumption that there is no credible moral argument against same-sex marriage which, of course, there isn’t. It has the effect of emboldening right-wingers who spew increasingly ludicrous and disrespectful arguments under the cover of their 'conscience'.

The more than 70 per cent of voters who understand this shouldn’t have to wait around and indulge this period of purgatory for often religious Parliamentarians (of both stripes) determined to stand stubbornly in the way for another few years.

Nobody is suggesting religious movements should be forced to unwillingly officiate same-sex marriages. There is no credible moral argument against marriage equality, and in a secular state it’s well and truly time for the obstructionists to suck it up and stop impinging on other people’s rights.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.