I’ve written about marriage equality before, but I have to say this time around I am a little more disillusioned. It’s 2015. Most people that I know believe that all people are equal and that a person’s sexuality, gender, race, creed or ethnicity should not dictate the rights they are afforded within our society – including the right to get married. Not to mention, 72% of Australians support marriage equality. It truly seems like a no brainer.
And yet here we are. With a good number of politicians set to vote against marriage equality, the bill is in danger of not passing. The Liberal National Party yesterday voted against a conscience vote on same sex marriage, meaning the LNP will vote as a block against a bill which will be put to the floor later this month.
Instead, the Prime Minister has suggested a plebiscite following the election in 2016 where the public will have their say on whether gay men and women should be allowed to get married. Based on the Crosby and Textor poll mentioned above, if that were to happen the majority would vote in favour of marriage equality and the law would hopefully change.
There are two reasons why this action by the LNP bothers me. First, we are already embarrassingly behind the rest of the world on this issue. When highly conservative countries like the US and strongly religious nations like Ireland are more progressive than Australia on social issues it speaks to the leadership of our nation and of theirs. And in the modern age, people of every sexual orientation should have the right to marry someone they love right now. They shouldn’t have to wait to the end of the month let alone the end of an election cycle. There are so many problems in this world that we have so little control over. This is not one of them. This is a human rights violation we can fix right now, if only our leaders had the integrity to do so.
Even the debate about marriage equality is inherently insulting depending on one’s sexual orientation, with many lobbyists suggesting that children’s rights will be damaged by allowing people of the same gender to get married. I’m embarrassed by the level of discourse surrounding this issue and can’t stomach another year of it. Much of the angst comes from religious groups of varying denominations fearing that the sanctity of marriage will somehow be destroyed if we broaden its definition. Its time to say it out loud – if this is your reason for not supporting equality, then you are simply afraid. No one is asking you to change your lifestyle, to change your beliefs or even to broaden your perspective. Just don’t oppose equality. Don’t ask that people within our society are refused a right the rest of us enjoy. A person’s sexuality is a part of who they are, a little bit like your religion may be to you. The difference is you have chosen to believe. Can you imagine if someone took that basic right away from you? How insulting and condescending that would feel?
Secondly, this argument represents why Australia has become so resistant to change, particularly where politicians have a say in dictating our national position. This smacks of political manoeuvring. By letting this go to a plebiscite vote in over a year, Tony Abbott knows the issue is out of his hands. The majority may be firmly in favour of marriage equality, but Abbott knows those 28% of votes against have strong opinions too, and many of them are his core voters. With his leadership position continually under pressure, he doesn’t want to rock the boat, and this is what has characterised much of his term as prime minister so far.
This is not unique to Abbott, though his views are certainly more conservative and less malleable than some other politicians. There is plenty to say about this government, but even more to say about Australian politics as it currently stands. As an example, Kevin Rudd is guilty of political manoeuvring too, as are so many of our other national leaders. Rudd famously reversed his position on asylum seekers just weeks before the 2013 election, with many commentators speculating that the reason for his about turn was in the interest of not offending the voting public – particularly those that were on the fence about who to vote for.
This isn’t a partisan issue – surely we are beyond that. It’s about what’s right and what’s not. It’s not right to deny someone rights that others have based purely on their sexuality. It’s not right to hold a significant portion of the nation to ransom because of political point scoring.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I want leadership from our politicians, and right now my choice is between two parties that don’t have any vision. Nothing will change if politicians don’t take risks and stick to their own beliefs. More than that, we will become a regressive nation, and one that is incapable of change.
We are capable of so much more. We are a country that was once known for its innovation and ability to lead global social change. We were at the forefront of suffrage, of industrial rights and of cultural egalitarianism. We are descendants of migrants and criminals, many unjustly treated and yearning for a second chance at life. Moreover, traditionally social change has been created by both parties at different points in history. What has changed to make us so averse to change, so incapable of executing new ideas? And in this case, of implementing policy that simply corrects a historical wrong in an attempt to create some semblance of real equality for every Australian.
We need leaders that challenge the status quo. I only hope they emerge soon.