The Labor Party is gearing up to debate its position on same-sex marriage at its December conference. A motion to change Labor’s platform to support same-sex marriage may be passed.
But in a spineless move Gillard has recently reiterated her support for Labor backing a conscience vote for Labor MPs on same-sex marriage in parliament. In her defence she has reiterated the same tired arguments that “the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation and that should continue unchanged”.
A conscience vote would keep same-sex marriage off the cards for the foreseeable future. The Liberals and some Labor right MPs would unite against it.
Gillard lags far behind much of the Labor Party and the public. Aside from NSW, all state and territory Labor branches support same-sex marriage. In October, Victorian Labor reaffirmed its 2009 motion, calling on the ALP to change its national policy.
A recent Neilsen poll shows that 62 per cent of people support same-sex marriage, a 5 per cent increase over the last year. At 71 per cent, Labor voters are overwhelmingly in favour of changing the law and Greens voters similarly support the change at 86 per cent. Even 50 per cent of Coalition voters support the change.
Yet despite this widespread support Gillard is still too cowardly to defend gay rights.
Pushing for a conscience vote rather than changing ALP policy on same-sex marriage is a way for Labor’s leaders to have their cake and eat it too. Their plummeting polls mean Labor is looking for a way to regain the left votes it lost to The Greens. Labor MPs like Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese in inner city seats with widespread support for same-sex marriage can use their conscience vote as left cover, while MPs in more conservative electorates can retain their own homophobic stance.
Equal access to marriage is a civil right and by refusing to take a consistent position against the same-sex marriage ban, Gillard is sending a signal that homophobia in society is acceptable.
In a society where almost 40 per cent of same-sex attracted young people experience discrimination due to their sexuality, 15 per cent are physically abused and 35 per cent have practiced a form of self-harm, Labor’s regressive stance on same-sex marriage can only reinforce homophobia.
The push at the conference for a conscience vote over same-sex marriage is another example of Gillard’s craven politics. We cannot rely on the government for marriage equality.
We will have to keep demonstrating if we are generate the pressure required to win same-sex marriage and strike a blow against homophobia.