Marriage Equality – A Conscience Issue, not a Conscience Vote

In Politics: Genral, Politics: Marriage Equality on October 21, 2011 by mjwill91

Marriage equality is a cause that I’ve written on a few times before, due to the closeness of the issue to my heart, as both a gay man who one day hopes to have the same rights as straight people and a someone who believes that above all else, we must push for total equality. In the opinion pieces that I have written before, in June and August respectively, I discussed the push for marriage equality, and the steadily increasing support for marriage equality in the wider community.

Since my last piece there have been several important developments in the marriage equality debate, namely Tasmania passing a motion calling on Julia Gillard and the federal government to amend the Marriage Act through the Tasmanian House of Assembly and the appointment of Jay Weatherill, a vocal supporter of marriage equality as Premier of South Australia. As significant as these developments have been, it’s developments that are predicted to occur over the next few weeks that could change the nature of the debate as we know it.

Whilst not a bastion of brilliant reporting, the Herald Sun is reporting today that “several government sources” are claiming that Julia Gillard will be reversing her decision on marriage equality, by allowing a conscience vote on the issue, with these sources claiming that show may make the announcement as early as this coming Monday, or after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth.

This reversal by Julia Gillard could be perceived by some as simply her “doing the right thing”, finally listening to the community on the issue of marriage equality. Whilst I’d like to believe that, there are at least two other reasons, both far more likely, both far less palatable reasons why Gillatf might well shift her view on the issue of marriage equality in the coming weeks.

The first of those reasons shouldn’t be too surprising: votes. A Galaxy Poll released today, commissioned by the Australian Marriage Equality lobby definitively shows that the ALP and Julia Gillard stand to make fairly significant gains, if only they shifted their positions on marriage equality. The poll found that over half of current Australian Greens voters and one third of all “young voters” would be more likely to vote for the ALP and Julia Gillard, if the party was to chance it’s stance on Marriage Equality. Not only is the appealing because of it’s potential to “win back” some voters that migrated from the ALP to the Australian Greens at the last election, but because it would secure a predicted 5% swing towards the ALP, at a time when every percentage point counts.

The other reason is a far less palatable one- to scuttle the marriage equality debate before the ALP National Conference in December by allowing the amendment to get “shot down” in the House of Representatives- through a conscience vote with no chance of passing.

The ALP is a party of broad and differing beliefs and political ideologies, and there exists within the party great opposition to marriage equality, predominantly from MPs representing lower socio-economic (and generally less intelligent) electorates and from members of the catholic-dominated right faction. Given the current make-up of this minority government. Of course, given the closeness in numbers in the House of Representatives, any amendment would require the support of every Labor MP and a majority of MPs on the crossbenches (assuming that Tony Abbott will require all Liberal National MPs to toe the party line – a safe assumption).

If put to a conscience vote, the amendment will fail. Then come December all Julia Gillard would have to do to throw a wet blanket over the issue of marriage equality would be to say “I allowed a vote. It failed. The numbers just don’t exist – ALTHOUGH, we’ll continue to support same-sex unions…”

The next few weeks will be interesting to say the least, with the very course of the debate on marriage equality set to be decided.


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