real life

Australia is just four votes away from recognising all love as equal.

Maybe, just maybe, we’re watching Australian history in the making…

Politicians spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is right, what is popular and if there might just be some crossover between the two.

Sadly, our leaders fail us far too often in this regard.

They announce good public policy that is disastrously communicated to the public, rendering it fatal (hello carbon pricing!). Or they make poll-driven, simplistic decisions with worrying social consequences (stop the boats, anyone?).  And all of this happens in the context of tight economic environments, which mean new ideas with genuine merit are left unexplored for fear of the impact on the bottom line.

But rarely, oh so rarely, an issue comes along requiring a political decision that is both right and popular.

Same-sex marriage is one such issue.

Fairfax Media reports today that former Deputy Prime Minister and Member for Lilley, Wayne Swan has shifted his position, declaring “basically, I was wrong”. Swan’s public change of heart follows that of several other Labor members, leading Australian Marriage Equality to announce that the country is closer than ever before to successfully amending the Marriage Act.

Previous votes to legislate for same-sex marriage in the federal parliament have failed but according to Australian Marriage Equality’s count, the current Senate would pass such a bill by one vote. If the Liberal/National Coalition were to allow their MPs a free parliamentary vote, it is likely that twelve more ‘yay’ votes would also be added to the House of Representatives tally. This would make 72 lower house MPs likely or publicly declared to vote in favour of same-sex marriage, with 76 votes required to pass.

Four votes.

Time to dust off that old copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

The Coalition party room is yet to meet and decide if they will allow their members a free vote on the issue; as opposed to binding MPs and Senators to vote against. The decision continues to be delayed, leaving the successful passage of the latest Bill to allow same-sex marriage in doubt. Sadly, ‘nearer than ever before’ may still ultimately mean ‘close but no cigar’.

The below video is a powerful argument for same-sex marriage in Australia. Post continues after video.

Why? Because the views held by those in our federal parliament do not mirror those held by the majority of the electorate.

Community support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to have their relationships legally recognised, is at an all time high. According to Crosby/Textor polling, a whopping 72 percent of Australians support same sex marriage; the majority of those who don’t accept that it’s probably an inevitable social change.

Spain, Argentina, Iceland, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands and much of the United States have amended their laws to permit gay and lesbian couples to marry. And why wouldn’t they? The public policy case for same sex marriage is both clear and convincing.

same-sex marriage bill Australia
In 2013, Sydney’s Oxford Street was painted rainbow to show public support for same-sex marriage. Image via Wikipedia.
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As well as being The Right Thing To Do, permitting same sex marriage reduces discrimination and social stigmatisation, reduces inequality, offers greater security and stability for families, improves the human rights reputation of these nations and adds injects a whole lot of cash into local industry (seriously, weddings are expensive).

Same sex marriage is one of those unusual cases where immense public approval is coupled with an irrefutable policy case for change. And yet bizarrely, no Australian Government has managed to take a strong, declarative stance on the matter. In fact, the policy arguments and the polls run contrary to both major parties’ positions and have done for some time.

For Coalition members to reject same sex marriage, largely on the grounds of religious freedom, is laughable. Marriage may be a religious institution but it is governed by the laws of the state and if our Government is going to be in the business of marriage, then it is only right that all committed, consensual adult relationships be recognised.

The Labor Party’s position of allowing a ‘free vote’ rather than having an actual policy in favour of same sex marriage is an unusual one. Free votes are usually confined to issues of ‘conscience’, that is laws governing moral questions about life or death such as abortion, stem cell research or euthanasia. Same-sex marriage is not an issue of conscience, it is an issue of equality.

The trickle, however slow, of federal politicians declaring their support for same-sex marriage and committing publicly to vote for change, is welcome. Many in the Coalition are doing so, despite a stated party position against reform – that deserves respect and applause. And while the Labor Party’s position might not be as bold as many would like, it has cleared an enormous barrier that was previously standing in the way of same-sex marriage becoming a reality.

If this newest Bill loses by only four votes, it would be a terrific improvement on previous results. Such a narrow margin would provide real optimism for the future and restore faith that change, while perhaps not imminent, is inevitable.

For straight supporters of same sex marriage, like myself, reports like those in today’s Fairfax newspapers are cause for hope. But for gay and lesbian Australians, who live and breathe a daily reality that tells them their love is inferior to that of others, I suspect hope is fast giving way to maddening frustration.

Want to read more on same-sex marriage?

Why we’ll keep fighting for same sex marriage. “Because almost equal isn’t good enough”.

This video may change your views on same sex marriage.

He campaigned against same sex marriage. Then his daughter married a woman.

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