It ought to be made clear that I believe that marriage is fundamentally between a man and a woman, and so I do not support gay marriage. However, the more significant issue for some is the politics of this debate and the potential backlash from voters if this 'reform' was passed.
The Labor Party already allows a conscience vote on the issue, however the Liberal Party is bound to a 'no' vote by its leader. Tony Abbott, regardless of the sexual orientation of his sister, has repeatedly rejected the idea of legislating for gay marriage, and is an advocate of the traditional stance of marriage. He has faced much criticism over this stance; however, it would be electorally dangerous for him to say 'yes' to gay marriage. It is in his best interests, and in the best interests of the Liberal Party, to reject the push for gay marriage.
According to the Galaxy poll of May 2012, commissioned by the Daily Telegraph, 50 percent of Australian voters support gay marriage, while one in three voters oppose it. This poll suggests that many Australians would support changing the Marriage Act to allow two people of the same sex to enter into matrimony. However when one looks into these statistics further, any move by the Liberal Party to legalise gay marriage could impact its political chances of election or re-election.
To get an idea of why it would be politically damaging to the Liberal Party to legalise gay marriage, just look at the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. David Cameron, a Conservative Prime Minister supports gay marriage and introduced a Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill into the House of Commons to legalise gay marriage. This bill passed its second reading 400-175. Cameron has previously stated that "I don't support gay marriage despite being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative". This is a contradictory and confusing stance which has angered much of his own party and has contributed to the alienation of the core vote of the Conservative Party.
The rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has been nothing short of miraculous; however it has been its opposition to policies of the Conservative Party that has brought it to the fore. UKIP received 23 percent of the vote at the Local County Elections on the 2nd of May, up from the 3.1 percent that it received at the 2010 General Election.
It is due largely to opposition to social policies, such as gay marriage, that UKIP has risen. Peter Bone, the MP for Wellingborough said that Mr Cameron should halt the gay marriage bill, and other policy issues as "those are the things that Conservatives want and that's what UKIP voters want". Consequently, the rise of UKIP has been because of the alienation of conservative voters in the UK who oppose gay marriage. They would have voted for the Conservative Party in the 2010 General Election, however due to policies such as gay marriage, now find UKIP more aligned with their views. The Conservative Party has alienated its core demographic in an attempt to capture the 'centre' and this has damaged its chances of re-election.
The legislation for gay marriage by the Conservative Party has also caused a major split among the party's MPs, with 116 MPs taking a more traditionalist view on marriage, and subsequently voting against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. In recent reports in The Telegraph, an amendment will be pursued which will lead to the defeat of the bill and up to 200 Conservative MPs ready to reject the legislation. This has also lead to a survey by pollsters, YouGov, which has found that 73 per cent of voters see the Conservative Party as divided, and has alienated much of the electorate. This example shows the dangers of legalising gay marriage for the Liberal Party in Australia.
The May 2012 Galaxy Poll indicated that 44 percent of Coalition voters oppose gay marriage while 42 percent of Coalition voters support it. In Australia, Coalition MPs have come out for and against gay marriage. The most notable Liberal advocate is Kelly O'Dwyer who said "Personally I am comfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage". Other Liberal MPs and Senators such as Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham have declared their support.
However if the Coalition supports gay marriage, it risks alienating part of its core demographic and this could translate into electoral defeat or the rise of a party similar to the Liberal Party, but which opposes gay marriage. If the Liberal Party takes the stance of some of its less conservative members and allows a conscience vote, it would damage its chances of electoral success as it has damaged the Conservative Party in the UK. The Liberal Party will risk alienating its core vote within the electorate and could potentially lead to the rise of another centre-right political party. For the sake of the election (or re-election) of a Coalition Government, the Liberal Party cannot risk the debate on gay marriage and ought to shelve the issue as soon as possible or face the same challenges as the Conservative Party in the UK.
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