Last weekend saw the Queensland ALP recommend to the next National Conference binding MPs to vote in favour of the party’s platform of equal marriage.
Nearly all matters related to public policy in the Labor Party are subject to such a collective position, and on voices alone the vast majority of delegates to the Queensland Conference agreed, regardless of the cross section of views that are present in the broader community.
One of the best contributions to the debate over the weekend was from Senator Joseph Ludwig. The Senator and I have much in common. He was born in Longreach to a father whom was educated at Marist Brothers Ashgrove, which is where I also went to school. His dad was a shearer, moving around Western and South Western Queensland before rising up through the ranks of the Australian Workers Union.
My grandfather was a labourer, shearer, stockman and farmhand nearly all of his adult working life on properties in around the small town of Texas in the same Federal Division of Maranoa, a Division home to many proud working people, particularly labourers, shearers and farmhands.
I make these comparisons as there is more that unites us than divides us, despite our debate over the weekend.
Ludwig was Minister for Human Services throughout the period that the Rudd Government amended 85 pieces of legislation to remove discrimination against the LGBTIQ community in federal legislation and many of the reforms related directly to his portfolio. Whilst not always overtly vocal about his support of fairness and equality, his record is a testament to his support of LGBTIQ Australian’s our families and equality.
Over the weekend the Senator made some contributions that are echoed in this opinion piece about the strategy attached to a binding vote on marriage equality for the ALP and about the broad spectrum of views attached to marriage equality. I feel it important to address both of these points.
Strategy and the Conscience Vote
As we lead up to the next National Conference, which is around eleven months away, the Coalition have had many years to reach a point of a conscience vote on marriage equality. They still have eleven months and a marriage equality bill before parliament ready to go to reach this position, what we do or do not do at our next National Conference will not change this outcome over the next eleven months. We will continue to wait for this watershed moment.
In waiting, however, we cannot sit idle. The march towards equality must proceed, we know that there are supporters in the Coalition, the entire nation knows this fact, however, only they can push for the right of their voice to be heard. What we do as a political party should not be determined by the whim of socially progressive Liberals.
It is ironic that a party that espouses libertarianism is binding its members and we as a party embedded with the union movement espouse a free vote. There is no logic in either position.
Respecting diverse and varied views.
Controversial issues such as the treatment of people seeking refuge in our country, live cattle exports and infrastructure spending priorities; competing between regional and metropolitan areas have a similar spectrum of diverse and varied views both in the community and in the Labor Party.
We hold firm, however, on our collective position all of these issues, regardless of the community’s cross section of differing views and regardless of the differing views in the party, of which I concede there are many.
The question then becomes obvious, why is it that access to marriage fits the criteria of a “life or death issue” and warrants the use of a conscience vote?
The elephant in the room for the many good people in the party who do not align with progressives, however, do support marriage equality and who have done so much to advance the interests of LGBTIQ Australians, is as follows. Why is it that there is a line drawn in the sand on the issue of allowing a conscience vote on marriage?
Is it because some parts of the community are advocating against equality, is that really why we do not bind on this issue?
However you want to dress this up, behind excuses of faith, or socially conservative views, or the need to respect ‘democracy’, their objection is that how I am treated should be of lesser value and worth and your condoning of such a view needing to be heard and accepted in a modern and progressive party such as ours is beyond disappointing.
This is not a matter of clever strategy to advance a conscience vote from the coalition, nor is it a matter of shackling people who do not agree with our enduring commitment towards equality.
It is a matter of values and solidarity, both of which are unfortunately absent from those campaigning against a binding vote on marriage equality.