There’s a theory doing the rounds that the same sex marriage lobby resisted the proposal for a plebiscite in February because they thought it would not have won. It’s not a theory I subscribe to.
The polls have always shown substantial majority of public support for same sex marriage in Australia, and if the socially conservative Irish could manage to vote in favour, we would certainly have done it too.
So if it wasn’t for the Greens and Labor blocking the bill in the Senate, thousands of people would be getting married right now. And all of the businesses associated with weddings – the photographers, caterers, suit hire shops, travel agents, honeymoon resorts, counsellors and divorce lawyers - would be celebrating with them.
A plebiscite was never my preferred method of going about it, but I voted in favour because I believe that a liberal democratic society like ours can stand the strain of open debate, with room left over to celebrate at the end. All the feedback from Ireland is that it was a positive experience overall.
Sad to say, both Labor and the Greens love talking about same sex marriage so much they don’t actually want to achieve it. Both know that while the issue drags on, it allows them to rally support and accuse the Coalition of being opposed.
To reinforce that, they came up with an argument that relies on a remarkably stereotypical, if not homophobic, premise - that gay and lesbian people are just too fragile to countenance a public debate. Apparently this affliction only applies to Australian gays and lesbians, who are not quite as tough as the Irish.
What surprised me was how quickly the same sex marriage lobby fell into line behind them, making me wonder whether their psychological need to demonise conservative politicians is more powerful than their desire for their friends and colleagues to get married.
The Greens demonstrated their skin-deep commitment to the issue on two memorable occasions last year when they opposed my motion to allow their own same sex marriage bill to be debated and put to a vote in the Senate. They were more concerned about passing a law to keep smaller parties out of Parliament. Richard Di Natale even moved a procedural device known as the guillotine to force Penny Wong to shut up about it.
And although I remain the only Senator to have voted in favour of same sex marriage at every opportunity, my support for a plebiscite was enough to make me the target of obnoxious slurs from sections of the gay community that would make a homophobe blush.
It’s sad that it’s come to this.
When I entered the debate, same sex marriage in Australia was a political and religious no-go zone for many members of the Coalition, and for some members of Labor.
In introducing my Freedom to Marry Bill in 2014, my approach was to ask politicians of all stripes to recognise that legislating about private relationships was not their job. I still believe that if it comes to a conscience vote in parliament, characterising the issue as one of government intrusion into a private matter remains the best way to gain the support of conservatives. And without the support of conservatives, it will not pass.
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