By far the most frustrating of all discourse on Labor’s recent push for same-sex marriage is the discussion of timing and ownership. When should this issue be tackled? Who should table and sponsor the bill? Whilst these questions seem like fairly mundane administrational stuff, of concern only to parliamentary staff and the writers of Hansard, on an issue as divisive as same-sex marriage these issues become electrified with the cries of moral outrage.
First, the issue of timing. Many so-called supporters of marriage equality have given scathing criticism of the timing of Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek’s bill, due to be tabled in parliament on Monday. For instance, Liberal MP Warren Entsch said that, “Bill hasn’t helped matters at all” by bringing up the issue now. Yet for someone who is supposedly behind the push for marriage equality, shouldn’t any time be a good time?
Perhaps objection to the timing was regarding Bill’s low opinion poll ratings, with pushing for same-sex marriage assumed to give these a boost. This criticism was most notably mounted by radio shock jock Alan Jones, despite his somewhat surprising support for legislative change. Yet if 70% of Australians support the change then Shorten will likely receive a poll boost whenever he introduces such a bill. Should he never introduce one?
Or perhaps the timing criticism was due to Labor’s upcoming national conference, which is due to debate whether to change the party’s platform from a conscience vote to a binding vote in favour of change. Such debate could prove heated if more religious, socially conservative representatives agitate against the more socially progressive representatives, which could damage the tentative unity of current federal Labor (imagine hard-line Joe de Bruyn of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employee union engaging in verbal fisticuffs with Tanya Plibersek – not a good look).
On this issue Bill Shorten is clearly being strategic, attempting to avoid argument and achieve this reform without getting too many of his own colleagues toes out of line. Read that sentence again and replace the words “Bill Shorten” with quite literally any progressive leader ever and you would have a generally factual statement.
The other bemoaned issue is that of ownership. Other political leaders have played a game of “well I thought of it first” or “I won’t support it until I get an equal share of the spotlight.” Warren Entsch said, “It’s just all about Bill. We’ve got to do this in a dignified, respectful way, not with this partisan bullshit”. The fact of the matter it that to pass progressive reforms such as this, the majority of the Labor party must support it. So you might not like Bill Shorten’s face on your TV screens every night, but unless you’re prepared to endure it then it is unlikely we will achieve marriage equality in this country. The movement of the Labor party on this issue has been slow and underwhelming, however it has been the key missing puzzle piece which now seems to be fitting into place, with many MPs announcing their shifted position on the issue well before the introduction of Shorten’s bill.
Furthermore, one has to ask whether the fact that Shorten is being politically cunning about this issue actually matters at all to its contents and potential impact on society. The ABC’s Barrie Cassidy claimed Shorten’s actions were “dripping with… opportunism, cynicism and wedging your opponent.” Those descriptions might be in some ways accurate, but why is it such a pertinent observation that it should occupy the thoughts of one of Australia’s premiere political commentators and many others?
Here there is clearly a disjunct between the interests of your average citizen and the political elite. For those involved in the political process, the cut and thrust of Canberra’s daily grind might seem interesting. But for your average citizen, they just want to see their neighbour free to marry whomever they choose. And for many gay people, they simply want to marry the one they love. Is that not worthy of more spilt ink than political thrusting, needless prevarication and the moral indignation of a bunch of out-of-touch “representatives” who are failing to deliver on a social reform the vast majority of society is in favour of?
Following political parties on Facebook often just increases your immunity to propaganda. However I have to admit that seeing Labor’s post signalling they would table a bill to legalise same-sex marriage made me unusually optimistic about Australian politics. Party politics is necessary to achieve marriage equality, but surely it should not be the focus of our dialogue. Our discussion should be on the lives being affected, unable to express through legal means a basic emotion that speaks to the very essence of being a human. Politicians and the press should address this core concern in Canberra, and brush aside all less important matters. In my mind, it is never a bad time for equality.
You can also view this post and many others on Ben Clark’s blog https://benclark56.wordpress.com/