More to gay marriage than rights: Labor’s clever manoeuvre

MY TWITTER is going crazy with the vote on gay marriage today at the ALP’s national conference. Some are elated, some are devastated  and others don’t really care and are complaining that everyone else does. That said, the move was actually very smart for Labor. More on that later.
Sky News: Gay marriage debate shifts to Abbott.

At its national conference on Saturday, the party voted 208 to 184 in favour of a motion by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to allow state and federal MPs a conscience vote on gay marriage.

It also endorsed, on voices, an amendment to the party’s platform to amend the Marriage Act and allow gay and lesbian people to marry their same-sex partners.

My personal opinion? Everyone gets the debate wrong because they conflate different kinds of “marriage”. Marriage doesn’t have to refer to just one thing. It includes:

  1. A religious/cultural institution between a man and a woman
  2. A form of legal agreement between two people, mostly concerning property rights
  3. A kind of party people like to throw sometimes, with bad music and relatives you don’t want to see

I think that type 2 should be in legislation somewhere and does not need to specify who the two people can or can’t be, so long as they are legally capable of entering into a contract.

Meanwhile, it is not the Government’s business to say anything about types 1 and 3. Those should be completely private matters.

Which is why I don’t particularly care what the Marriage Act says either way. If two people are in a loving, committed, homosexual relationship and they want to buy each other rings, throw a cheesy party and refer to each other as “husband and husband” or “wife and wife” as appropriate, no one is stopping them. They can sign the same contract and be entitled to the same rights as everyone else. They can call it “marriage” if they want to.

Hell, they could call it whatever they feel like. I don’t see why it makes any difference what the title happens to be on the piece of legislation that allows them to do this. I would bet that 99% of couples — straight or gay — never once looked at the Marriage Act.

Given this, I was getting irritated that something so inconsequential was getting so much attention when very little debate seems to be going on around little things like the collapse of the global economy and impending nuclear war. Those things seem a little more important than which provision of which Act the right for same-sex couples to marry happens to fall under.

GAY RIGHTS activists, however, do seem to care enough to have not only made it an issue, but one that the majority of the public supports their views on. In fact, it has become such a big issue that it is dominating the policy-making conference of the governing party.

As noted above, Labor chose to defer to a “conscience vote”; here’s what that means:

Labor frontbencher Mark Butler, who will vote in favour of the bill, told the rally the numbers were not there to pass it at this stage.

‘The question from this afternoon and for every day until that bill comes to a vote must be, ‘Will Tony Abbott let Liberal MPs who also believe in marriage equality cast a vote in favour of that bill?”

And this is why the move by Labor was so clever. All eyes are now on Tony Abbott, a position that he is not used to. Abbott’s opposition so far has only been about Labor, he has never had to face a tough decision like this.

The gay marriage vote could divide his party — the Liberals range from extreme conservatives to the far left of the social spectrum. Polls show that voters are supportive of gay marriage, so the decision could have a significant impact on the next election.

As for how he’ll take it, remember that he once said this:

There is no doubt that (homosexuality) challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things … I probably feel a bit threatened, as so many people do. It’s a fact of life.

Although, there was also this:

Asked if he would support a federal relationships recognition act for same-sex couples, Mr Abbott appeared to be sympathetic to the idea.

“I would like to see a way for gay relationships to be celebrated, acknowledged and recognised, but precisely how that is best done I think needs to be discussed widely,” he said.

Mr Abbott said he was “happy to look at” civil union and domestic partner relationships in other countries.

He stopped short of endorsing gay marriage, describing matrimony as a between a man and a woman.

And there was this:

Cameron Simpkins, the Liberal candidate for the safe Labor seat of Denison, in Tasmania, has told a forum that he would consider crossing the floor over the issue of gay marriage.

Mr Abbott told ABC Radio today it was Coalition policy to oppose same-sex marriages, but Mr Simpkins had his support.

So Abbott is himself opposed to gay marriage, but has committed to allowing a conscience vote. That said, he will be under a lot of pressure to shut the amendment down completely. Either way, this will be unwelcome attention and Abbott will be in an uncomfortable position for a while.

Well played, ALP.

  1. Australia kicking American ass on the gay rights debate « Major Karnage

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