In the last few weeks leaders of Australia's religious right have positioned themselves to influence a future Labor Government on key issues including gay rights. Their tactic appears to be to drive a wedge between Kevin Rudd and what Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) calls the "libertarians" within his party.
Wallace is doing this by highlighting Rudd's Christian credentials, noting Rudd's weak defence of his party's pro-gay policies and directing Christian constituents to vote for candidates rather than parties. Clearly Wallace wants to demonstrate to Labor strategists that the ACL can breach the partisan divide and has influence over potential Labor voters.
Cardinal George Pell is also waking up to the possibility of Labor in power. He used the launch of his new book to attack the idea that sexuality anti-discrimination laws should cover religious institutions, and, of course, same-sex marriage.
If Labor's subsequent retreat from enacting a national Sexuality Discrimination Act in its first term is anything to go by, the religious right's strategy is working.
Attempts by religious conservatives to increase their influence over Labor's gay rights policy raises the question of whether there is a countervailing gay constituency - and whether Labor will suffer at the hands of this constituency over either its stance against same-sex marriage or if it retreats from the more positive same-sex commitments it has made.
For all their cant about knowing the electorate, party election strategists have a very poor understanding of gay voters; where they live, what motivates them and what broader social influence they have.
There is still a strong perception, reinforced by the media, that the overwhelming majority of gay voters are young, foot-lose and individualistic residents of inner-city seats like Wentworth and Melbourne Ports with little concern for politics or connection to their communities.
A spate of recent demographic studies has exploded this myth. According to reports of the latest US research:
"Lesbians and gays are more likely to be older, 'responsible' suburbanites sharing a mortgage payment and listening to country music than young turks partying in the Castro or Chelsea."
As notable as the emergence of the pink suburban mortgage belt, is the population shift from urban to rural and regional areas due both to an exodus of urban dwellers and the decision of those who grow up in the regions to stay there.
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