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Britain’s Moving on Marriage, Why Can’t We?

A draft bill which aims to establish marriage equality in England and Wales  has passed through the House of Commons – their equivalent of our House of Representatives. The vote was won by a handsome margin – 400 votes to 175 in the lower house in Britain. The Conservative Party, governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, allowed a conscience vote on the same-sex marriage bill put before the House. And a majority of Labor MP’s and Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the bill.

Unsurprisingly, given the recent history of the marriage debate in Australia, after the proposition was voted down by a wide margin in the Australian parliament and how strong support for gay marriage still is in Australia – the discussion of the successful vote in the United Kingdom quickly led to a discussion of the consequences of the move for the Australian cause.

As it has been from the start, the big issue was the comparison between the stance of the Conservative Party in the UK and that of the Liberal Party in Australia. The former, David Cameron’s Conservative Party, gave their MP’s a conscience vote in the parliament. Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party, with a history of granting conscience votes, opted not to go down the route of a conscience vote, using the excuse of going to the 2010 promising to keep the marriage act unamended.

Many will say that it is the Coalition held back the cause of equal marriage with their decision not to hold a conscience vote. The Liberal Party should certainly have allowed a conscience vote, hoping to at least appear more liberal than they have been. It is however far from certain, even with a conscience vote, that the bill would have passed the Lower House. At the very least it would have been a close-run thing.

It has also been said that today’s win in the UK will put pressure on the Liberal Party when it comes to marriage equality. Will it? Not necessarily. In fact, probably not. The Liberal Party will likely decide, at least for the foreseeable future – not to take their cues from outside and foreign influences. The move toward marriage equality in the UK should, even though it will not – prove that legislating for same-sex marriage is not a scary thing and not a step too far for conservatives.

Perhaps the best thing for the cause of gay marriage, as far as the Liberal Party is concerned, would be for the remaining liberal forces in the party, though they are rapidly dwindling, to continue to try to muster the political strength to call on the party to adopt a conscience vote. This in itself will not be an easy task. But there have been branch wins reported and if these continued, then the pressure will continue to mount on the parliamentary Liberal Party to change their stance.

Where the argument will not be won is through trying to claim that the issue would be a vote-winner for the Liberal Party. There is no doubt that marriage equality is at its most popular as a concept and a future reality in Australia. Polls continuously show that a majority of respondents favour amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry. And that cuts across all political parties, even the Liberal Party.

But that does not translate into votes. On the face of it, it may seem like overwhelming support for an issue would equal votes if that policy direction was pursued. But contrary to what some appear to believe, most people do not vote on one single issue or even two or three. They might vote on the economy as a single issue, but very few would vote for marriage equality as a single issue. People voting for marriage equality are likely overwhelmingly vote for a political entity hoping to pursue a whole suite of progressive measures.

Really, what needs to be continually pointed out is that the demise of the sanctity of marriage will not come from gay marriage, but outside forces, more related to the way in which we live our lives.

The UK example should serve as a reminder to the Liberal Party that gay marriage is not an evil concept which conservatives must avoid at all costs. But minds will not be dramatically shifted because of what has happened in Britain.

The Liberal Party will however have to realise that a change to the Marriage Act is inevitable, even if they do not wish to go along with it.

How Not to Start an Election Year

It has not been a pleasant week for Katter’s Australian Party, losing two candidates because of hate-filled comments in both the traditional media and on social media website, Twitter. And it would not have been a particularly good week for the gay and lesbian community in Australia, the target of these unhinged outbursts vilifying gays and lesbians. Now the Katter party candidate for the Victorian electorate of Wannon, Tess Corbett and Queensland Senate nominee Bernard Gaynor, a former party national general secretary, will no longer be representing the party at the 2013 federal election.

The first unforgivable, hateful and just plain baseless barbs came from Tess Corbett. The lower house candidate made the headlines for comparing homosexuals to paedophiles and added that it would be a sad day if equal rights for gays and lesbians were granted.

There is absolutely no chance that if homosexuals were given the right to marry, that paedophiles would naturally be given the right to marry children. For anyone to actually suggest that just beggars belief. Where was Tess Corbett found? There is no politician in the history of this country that would have ever countenanced such a move, let alone a majority of parliamentarians in the present day, ready to legalise such a heinous criminal activity.

Tess Corbett, in making such a statement, is quite clearly comparing or at the very least implying, that being a homosexual or engaging in homosexual sex is akin to a criminal act. In case she has not yet noticed, the latter has been outlawed for a while, though granted, it took Tasmania a little while longer than the rest of the country to repeal laws relating homosexual sex. But still, that battle has long been lost.

And then, as if Tess Corbett’s comments were not hostile enough towards the GLBTI community, Queensland Senate hopeful Bernard Gaynor chimed in with some textual diarrhoea. After an earlier tweet backing Tess Corbett after her comments to the media, Mr Gaynor said:

“I wouldn’t let a gay person teach my children and I’m not afraid to say it.”

This tweet at first glance appears to be linked to the debate over whether religious organisations should be allowed to discriminate against the gay and lesbian community in terms of employment. But other tweets make it clear that Gaynor believes parents should have the right to choose whether or not their son or daughter is taught by a gay or lesbian.

Whether a teacher is gay or lesbian will not make a shred of difference to the way a child is taught at school. The curriculum is the curriculum whether the teacher in question is same-sex attracted or not.

And Bernard Gaynor seems concerned too, by implication, that if his son or daughter had a gay or lesbian teacher, they might somehow magically persuade them to be of the same sexual orientation. Well, to put it in the clearest possible terms, being gay is perfectly natural. No amount of lessons from a gay man or a lesbian will transform anyone’s son or daughter into someone attracted to people of the same gender.

Katter’s Australian Party has a history of taking an anti-gay rights stance. Before the Queensland election the party ran an ad campaign which railed against Campbell Newman due to his personal support for same-sex marriage.

To top it all off, the party’s namesake tonight made a ridiculous statement on The Project tonight. Bob Katter claimed he was unaware of any homosexual having committed suicide in north Queensland. He also claimed not to care about the issue. Of course, Bob Katter has a history of wedging his foot firmly in his mouth, so we really should not be surprised.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Katter’s Australian Party are the most socially conservative political party, even to the point of being regressive in their views on the matter.

The rights that the gay and lesbian community have won, particularly over the last 5 years should not be threatened by any political force. We should all be equal under the law.

Thankfully, the electoral prospects of Katter’s Australian Party were not particularly good in the first place. In Queensland, where they had expected to do well electorally they only managed to have two candidates elected to the state parliament.  Then one LNP MLA defected just recently, making the party a band of three in the 89 seat Queensland parliament.

That’s not to say that the party will not go without success at the election. It is certainly a strong possibility that the new party will taste victory in a Senate contest or two, perhaps more. There might be success for Katter’s party in the lower house too, other than Bob Katter winning in Kennedy. Support anything like the levels reached in Queensland is however, almost certainly an impossible prospect.

The election year drama, faux pas and discriminatory statements have already started. There is still at least six months of these unedifying events ahead.

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