The vote on the private members bill from MP for Throsby Stephen Jones on gay marriage has now been seen through both houses of parliament and of course the result was never in doubt. With the ALP allowing a free vote and the Coalition voting ‘no’ there was never any prospect of the bill having success. Yesterday the same-sex marriage bill was easily voted down in the House of Representatives, with just 42 parliamentarians voting in favour of the bill and 98 against. Today, the Senate also emphatically rejected the proposition of marriage equality, 41 votes to 26.
First, had the Coalition been afforded the opportunity for a conscience vote on the matter, it would have been hard, even impossible to foresee a different outcome to the one arrived at both yesterday and today. There would have been just as many, if not more on the Coalition side voting against the bill as there was on the Labor benches of parliament.
Particularly in the last few weeks there have been talks of pursuing the path of civil unions, clearly because the result finalised today was foreseen and an appetite to “do something” exists in the minds of some within the parliament. This barrow has been pushed publicly by MP’s, most notably Chief Opposition Whip, Warren Entsch and Malcolm Turnbull. Curiously, both of these MP’s are from the Liberal Party and have been the most vocal supporters of pursuing civil unions as a step toward equal marriage rights.
There has been and will of course continue to be a number of those in favour of marriage equality who view an interim step toward the inevitable as a ‘cop out’, but it’s not as the Greens are calling it a step backwards, it’s plainly not. It is however, not equality and would entrench “two tiers of love” as Adam Bandt today said. Overall however, it is closer to equal rights in marriage than the status quo.
Of course, the prospects of that step look doomed before the bill, according to Mr Entsch ready to go, sees the light of day. Tony Abbott today said “we really should let the dust settle on these parliamentary votes before we rush off and do something else.”
Mr Abbott further said that the concept of civil unions was the domain of the states and that is traditionally the case. But all we need do is look at the history of civil unions, particularly of late in Queensland and realise that the states too find positive change a challenge.
So why not push for the national recognition of civil unions? Surely achieving that end, though seemingly impossible at the present time, effectively dragging all states into line on a rights issue, would be a good thing? Clearly there are some deeper divisions within politics, but not the wider community, stopping even such a small change toward what many in political circles view as the inevitable, same-sex marriage.
So, we’re at a stage where equal marriage has just been rejected. Even the prospect of civil unions at a national level seems equally despised and not wanted by just about all political parties in Canberra. The positive ideas of a few, whilst not great leaps forward, but still positive steps, albeit tiny ones, appear likely to stay just that, ideas.
So, South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi overnight said something incredibly dumb and offensive, the second time in just a couple of days in fact. He’s been hauled into the office of the Leader of the Opposition and offered, or was perhaps in reality nudged, to offer his resignation as Parliamentary Secretary to the Opposition Leader himself and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families. That would be a huge relief to a great majority of the party who might share some of the same general beliefs on the matter of marriage equality, being against it, but not for the frankly both hilariously stupid, but at the same time downright offensive reasons offered up in the Senate last night.
Senator Bernardi in speaking on marriage equality, which has just been through the lower house where it was soundly defeated, last night said that allowing marriage equality would lead to polyamory and bestiality. This echoes some of the more insane and hurtful thought-bubbles that people from the Australian Christian Lobby and the like offer up as pseudo reasons for masking, though not successfully, their downright bigotry and hatred of same-sex couples.
If Senator Bernardi had not been sacked for this latest indiscretion, the outcry would have been massive. These were not only highly discriminatory comments, but as many have pointed out before and indeed after this entry into the debate by Senator Bernardi, they were also based on fairy tale assertions, they are urban myths. No government is going to ever, no matter how progressive, legalise bestiality and even the lesser of the two evils, polyamory. Those changes to marriage simply will not be tolerated by anyone in the Australian community, let alone those that represent or will ever represent us in the parliament.
But this whole matter raises another interesting question, a question that could have been answered with the sacking of Bernardi prior to these remarks, though he certainly would have made them as a lowly backbench MP too. The question that is raised is of vocally condemning what is largely bipartisan policy, though the extent of the agreement from time-to-time faces small tests and the policy does face questions, however brief.
Multiculturalism, since its official adoption as government policy in the 1970s has been largely bipartisan policy though the strength and depth of that commitment has come into question briefly, particularly in response to violent events like the Cronulla riots and the scenes in Sydney at the weekend as well as in the ongoing asylum seeker debate. But largely and broadly, that commitment to continuing a policy of a multiculturalism in a broad sense has never really disintegrated.
Early in the week, along came Cory Bernardi with ill-thought out comments, lacking any critical thought as he often does, about multiculturalism. He used the events in Sydney at the weekend, the truly horrific and disturbing actions as proof that there is a problem with the official government policy. This is plainly not the case and as has been pointed out by a number of commentators, it is a problem with society and human nature. His was, as argued yesterday, a crass generalisation, painting a violent few as representative of the whole of Islam and the Muslim community in Australia.
So could Senator Bernardi have been sacked over his insensitive comments in relation to government policy, a policy that mostly enjoys some level of support from the Coalition? The answer is yes. Generally, you could sack someone that didn’t agree with party policy, even if commitment to that policy within the party is a little iffy. It is especially the case that he could have been sacked or forced to resign on this matter alone for making those views known publicly in parliamentary proceedings, official government business. This is especially the case as Senator Bernardi was effectively a junior minister in a shadow portfolio.
Certainly, as Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and responsible therefore for sensible commentary in the area of familial relationships, his decision to stand aside was the right one. This is true whether he was quietly pushed to save what little face he had left or made the decision for himself.
Again in politics, the question is asked- ‘did it really need to come to this first?’. The answer is at worst, not really and at best, definitely not. But then parliamentary processes and traditions are well and truly blurred now.