Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Australia is similar to New Zealand in that it only needs to change its marriage laws, and doesn’t need to amend its constitution, as Ireland needed to do. Leader of the Opposition, Australian Labor Party Leader Bill Shorten, has announced plans to push marriage equality in the Australian Parliament (he shared the graphic above on Facebook). New Zealand’s marriage equality law began as a private member’s bill by Labour MP Louisa Wall, who was then, as now, an opposition MP.
Australia, like New Zealand, doesn’t normally put referenda to popular vote. In Australia, only constitutional matters go to referendum, and anything else is only advisory and non-binding, which makes it nothing more than a very expensive taxpayer-funded opinion poll that Parliament may ignore, anyway.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said, correctly, “I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that the constitution needs to be changed in this respect.” Both he and Bill Shorten have dismissed the idea of a referendum.
However, Abbott went on to say that whether or not Coalition MPs would be allowed a conscience vote, as happened here in New Zealand, was “a matter for the Coalition partyroom”, and there’s the problem: Abbott is a staunch Roman Catholic, having once studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood, and so he is adamantly opposed to marriage equality, in line with the dictates of his church. That’s fine, and it’s his right to believe whatever he wants to, but by denying a conscience vote, he’s effectively imposing his beliefs on all Australians because their elected representatives aren’t allowed to vote the way their own consciences or constituents dictate.
Polls show huge support for marriage equality among the Australian people, and it’s thought that if there was a conscience vote it could pass the Australian Parliament. All of which suggests that Tony Abbott is using the political process in Australia to prevent a conscience vote in Parliament because he doesn’t like the probable result. As Bill Shorten said, “Most places in the world are dealing with marriage equality, why is Tony Abbott stopping Australia becoming a more modern nation?”
Tony Abbott needs to get out of the way. As the New York Times said in an editorial about the Irish victory, “The outcome in Ireland sends an unmistakable signal to politicians and religious leaders around the world who continue to harbor intolerant views against gays and lesbians.” Indeed it does. Politicians like Tony Abbott need to catch up with their own people. As the editorial also said, “The tide is shifting quickly. Even in unlikely places, love and justice will continue to prevail.”
It’s time Australia ensured all its citizens were treated equally, it’s time for marriage equality in Australia.