It might break the Liberal party but marriage equality is finally in reach

It might break the Liberal party but marriage equality is finally in reach

“I’m working on it,” the then opposition spokesperson for communications Malcolm Turnbull said.

He was responding to Liz Ann Macgregor, the MCA director, who had just implored him to direct politicians to reflect the wishes of Australian voters.

“Let’s just get on with it. I mean, for goodness sake, if David Cameron, the conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain can come out and say, “I’m doing it because I am a conservative”, surely our lot can do it too, Malcolm. You need better powers of persuasion in the party room, I’d suggest.”

It was the 9th of July 2012, just over five years ago, when this exchange took place on ABC’s Q&A. The subject was same sex marriage.

Turnbull’s assurance that he was working on it was weak even then.

The fact the laws haven’t changed in the intervening years is a dismal reflection on our elected representatives. The fact Ireland has delivered marriage equality while we have dithered, is stark.

Time and time again, studies have shown that the vast majority of Australians want the Marriage Act amended. To many voters it is not a secondary issue, as we’ve been told. It is not a fringe concern, as the opponent’s narrative goes.

It is a fundamental concern – both in substance and in symbol. It is discrimination that isn’t valid, that breaches a fundamental legal principle.

For the government, the subject and policy is vexed beyond comprehension: the political machinations are inevitable. It is a prescient illustration of the government’s broader woes.

Malcolm Turnbull himself is a supporter of same sex marriage. He is powerless however to progress it in any meaningful fashion because he promised his party room that he would stick to the plebiscite that his predecessor, Tony Abbott had proposed, as a bare-faced, last-minute, stalling tactic.

Staying loyal to that pledge is part of the price Turnbull has had to pay for replacing Tony Abbott.

This is nonsense some Liberal party members are unwilling to accept. A group of backbenchers, variously dubbed as rebels, courageous, deplorable, depending on the position, have broken away from party policy.

To this end Liberal senator Dean Smith announced he had drafted a private members’ bill for same-sex marriage, paving the way for a free parliamentary vote on the matter.

Warren Entsch, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson and Trent Zimmerman have indicated they would cross the floor on the issue.

The Prime Minister has sided with his conservative colleagues who are angling for a postal plebiscite. To make this even worse for Turnbull, quotes have been found of him specifically denouncing the validity of such a mechanism.

All out war is basically afoot and it is difficult to imagine it ending well for the Liberal Party.

For voters, however, it has the potential to finally resolve a long overdue matter. With four back-benchers crossing the floor, it is possible the vote would succeed in the lower house.

This will be the subject examined in the Liberal party room meeting on Tuesday and fireworks are guaranteed.

It is maddening when you consider the wishes of most Australians.

The HILDA survey released on Wednesday showed that men and women in almost every category agree that heterosexual and homosexual couples ought to have the same rights.

There was one exception: men aged over 65.

My observation about that age group comprising the majority of parliament was incorrect.

The average age of the politicians in Malcolm Turnbull’s cabinet and outer ministry is 48.7 years. There are only 3 members over the age of 60 and he is one of them.

And yet, there is no doubt that the proportion of politicians who disagree with same-sex marriage is far greater than the proportion among the individuals they are supposed to represent.

The time for change on this was yesterday. If you support marriage equality jump on here and add your name to Two People, a campaign chaired by three prominent lawyers seeking a change in the law. Professor Gillian Triggs, the Dean of UNSW Faculty of law George Williams AO and Michael Bradley, the managing partner of Marque Lawyers. It will take less than two minutes and might just help deliver change.

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