OPINION: DNA Editor, Andrew Creagh, says, “Don’t claim our victory as your own, Malcolm.”
“House Of Love” and “Parliament at its best” said the headlines. On Thursday, as the Australian Federal Parliament finally passed same-sex marriage, politicians from all sides wept, hugged, wrapped themselves in rainbows and patted themselves on the back for a job well done.
How nice for them.
But Australian MPs had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to marriage equality. Between 2004 and 2016, there were 22 previous attempts at marriage equality rejected by our politicians.
On Thursday, Malcolm Turnbull attempted to claim the passing of the bill as a personal victory for himself and the Liberal/National Party coalition. “A day for love, a day for equality…” he beamed in his speech from the floor of the House Of Representatives. Mr Turnbull, there was no love and no equality for the LGBTI community during the nine weeks of hell you made us endure during the postal survey debate.
In fact, the whole plebiscite / postal survey nightmare had very little to do with our equality at all – rather, it was part of the protracted power struggle between Turnbull and former PM Tony Abbott for leadership of the Liberal Party: a Yes win meant Turnbull’s moderates stayed in control, a No win would’ve rallied the conservatives back to the Abbott cause.
Sure, we achieved marriage equality in the process, but don’t pretend, Mr Turnbull, it was done out of your sense of compassion for LGBTI Australians: if that were the case you would have simply introduced a bill and passed it. You would have shown true leadership both within your party and to the electorate.
And let’s not let Labor off the hook. Last time they were in power, the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years, they, too, failed us. Prime Minister Julia Gillard stated that she was personally opposed to changing the definition of marriage – a position most people found hard to reconcile with her generally progressive views and her de facto relationship. Worse, Senator Penny Wong, an openly gay politician, supported that position. Yes, Penny Wong, an emblem of the marriage equality struggle, supported Gillard and the ALP’s policy position against reform.
It wasn’t just Turnbull who wanted to bask in the golden light of our victory. When it came to passing the Marriage Amendment Bill 2017 last week, 124 MPs felt compelled to stand up and tell heartfelt stories of their muchly wronged, dear, gay friends, some of whom died before seeing this great day. Excuse me? 124 of you? Where were you and your stories six weeks ago when we needed you? Where were you six months ago? Where were you six years ago? We needed to hear from you before now. Shut up, sit down, and vote!
In the end, 12 senators and four MPs voted against the bill; that’s just 16 parliamentarians with the courage of their convictions to publically oppose marriage equality. Many others abstained – not actually brave enough to sit in the House and vote no when the time came. Nine weeks of a gruelling debate that saw LGBTI people physically and psychologically attacked, property damaged, families turned against each other, communities and neighbourhoods turned against each other, deep, divisive wounds inflicted throughout Australian society – we endured all that for 16 no votes in parliament? That is the Australian parliamentary system failing.
Let’s celebrate marriage equality and give credit where it is due: the “rainbow warriors” of the Liberal party – Warren Entsch, Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman, Tevor Evans and Dean Smith, who sponsored the bill.
The Greens: they have consistently supported marriage as a right for all Australians.
On the Left, Anthony Alabanese and ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher were long-time supporters. Tanya Plibersek, even when the ALP didn’t officially support marriage equality, consistently fronted up, bravely, to marriage equality rallies and stated that she and others were working from the inside for change. On Thursday, it was Plibersek who had the good grace to acknowledge the Yes campaigners in the public gallery and say, “This is your victory, today,” rather than claim it as her own.
While we are thankful for the passage of the bill, we should not accept that the process of achieving it was fair or reasonable. We should not accept that the question of our civil rights was used as a wedge issue between the major parties, or as a political football in the leadership struggle between Turnbull and Abbott. We, and all Australians, deserve better.