Malcolm In The Middle Of Marriage Equality Debate


Marriage equality campaigners are calling out Malcolm Turnbull’s hypocrisy, and demanding equal rights for LGBTQI people. Thom Mitchell reports.

Around 200 demonstrators gathered at the top of Sydney’s iconic Oxford Street strip last night to demand action on marriage equality from Malcolm Turnbull, after Australia’s new Prime Minister took the top job but maintained a conservative position engineered by Tony Abbott.

Despite Fred Nile having “cast his spell” over a miserably cold Sydney, as one demonstrator put it, the crowd gathered on the border of Turnbull’s electorate of Wentworth to demand action from the Prime Minister in light of his years of outspoken support for equal marriage rights.

Activists had been looking for a circuit breaker in Turnbull’s ascension, but the new Prime Minister has toed the party line, announcing his government will continue the Abbott administration’s plan for a plebiscite after the next election.

Abbott’s government arrived at that position after a marathon six hour party room meeting earlier this year, but at the time it was widely condemned as an attempt by the then Prime Minister to engineer his preferred conservative outcome.

Abbott chose to invite the National Party into the discussion, a move which government frontbencher Christopher Pyne said amounted to ‘branch stacking’ because the conservative stance of the Coalition’s minor partner was almost guaranteed to stymie any rapid action towards legalising same sex marriage.

Last night, campaigners in Sydney said they’re sick of waiting, and that they are deeply disappointed Turnbull has chosen to continue with a plan that will likely delay marriage equality for years.

“There was this brief moment of hope for this campaign when Malcolm Turnbull took the top job last week,” GetUp! marriage equality campaigner Sally Rugg told the crowd.

“Malcolm Turnbull for years has been talking about how he supports marriage equality…I really thought he was going to differentiate himself there,” Rugg said.

“But on the first day he took the job he immediately said he was going to opt for a plebiscite and he was going to delay the plebiscite till after the next election.”

It’s a position that was met with derision from Community Action Against Homophobia campaigner, Cat Rose, who said Turnbull had “decided to give us the same dirty deal” by waiting until after the election to hold a plebiscite.

“In other words, they’re waiting until after you promise your vote over to the Liberal party,” Rose said.

These delays have also given rise to fears within the marriage equality movement that debate around a plebiscite will provide a platform for homophobic opponents of same sex marriage and lead to more egregious comments from conservative politicians like Cory Bernadi, who infamously equated marriage equality with beastiality.

Labor has made clear it also sees a plebiscite as a ‘delay tactic’, and in light of its more progressive position of allowing parliamentarians to vote according to their conscience the party largely escaped the wrath of demonstrators yesterday.

This position did come under some scrutiny at a post-rally forum, though, with criticism directed at the agreement Labor reached at its recent National Conference to bind its members in favour of marriage equality after this term of parliament and another have elapsed.

At the forum speakers broadly agreed that it’s morally inconsistent for Labor to hold that in four years it would be untenable to block equal marriage rights, given that the ethical judgements which inform that position do not change with time.

“It’s not a conscience vote as far as I’m concerned; it should be a binding vote for equality, love and civil rights,” said James Brechney, an activist who rose to prominence after he started the DIY Rainbow movement which saw Sydney’s streets chalked with symbols of pride throughout last year.

“Malcolm Turnbull knows what the right answer is, and he believes in marriage equality,” Brechney said, “so we’ve got to keep the pressure going, to make sure that he can do what he’s supposed to do and actually lead this nation.”

Opinion polls show more than 70 per cent of Australians support marriage equality.

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.