What a binding vote for marriage equality is – and what it is not

With roughly ten weeks left until the 2015 ALP National Conference, and about one month into the public debate around a potential binding vote for marriage equality, there has been considerable media coverage of this issue.

Unfortunately, a lot of this coverage has been unhelpful, focussing on things that might be of interest to political commentators, but in practice having very little to do with what will actually be discussed by delegates sometime between July 24th and 26th.

This post aims to redress some of that imbalance, by attempting to clarify what a binding vote for marriage equality is – and just as importantly, what it is not – about.

A binding vote for marriage equality IS NOT about division, the leadership or the Greens

It was perhaps inevitable that at least some political reporters would cover the question of a binding vote as nothing more than an issue of ‘division’ within the Labor Party, rather than a genuine debate pushed by people who want to see their political party commit to fully supporting the equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians.

What was surprising – and perhaps disappointing – was to observe just how widespread this characterisation was. When even The Guardian writes articles that start like this:

Labor leadership divides over compulsory same-sex marriage yes vote

 

Tanya Plibersek wants to end the conscience vote, but Bill Shorten says it should stay. And Chris Bowen wants a conscience vote but will now vote for, not against.

 

Internal division within the Labor party over a binding vote on same-sex marriage has deepened, as senior frontbencher Chris Bowen backflips on his opposition to the issue” (http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/may/03/labor-leadership-divides-over-compulsory-same-sex-marriage-yes-vote?CMP=soc_567 )

then it is abundantly clear why Australia cannot sustain serious debate, especially on issues such as climate change or refugee policy that are significantly more complicated than this.

Hint to our journalists – this is what internal party democracy looks like, with different people putting forward different positions, and the arguments behind them, in the lead-up to a meeting where representatives from around the country will decide which approach Labor will ultimately take. That is discussion, not ‘division’.

A second recurring theme of coverage has been to view the entire issue through the prism of a supposed ‘leadership challenge’ between current Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who opposes binding, and Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek, who supports it (for example, raised in this Sydney Morning Herald article: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tanya-plibersek-push-on-samesex-marriage-faces-defeat-amid-labor-leadership-split-20150430-1mww0s.html ).

This is wrong on a number of levels, not least because it is an issue Ms Plibersek has been campaigning on for a number of years – long before she was the Deputy Opposition Leader. It is somewhat galling that, in a political culture where figures are constantly derided for core and non-core promises, and commit backflip after backflip, here someone is being criticised for continuing to push the same progressive agenda she always has even after reaching a senior leadership position.

Indeed, the idea of binding in favour of marriage equality is something that has been pushed by a large number of people within the ALP for a very long time, including well before the last National Conference. At that particular meeting, 184 delegates voted to support a binding vote (narrowly losing to the 208 delegates who supported a conscience vote).

They must have been remarkably prescient, in December 2011, two Prime Ministers and a change of Government ago, to have been expressing a view on a leadership contest in 2015, between two people who were then the Ministers for Financial Services and Superannuation, and Human Services, respectively.

But the main reason why this is not about a leadership challenge is because, while her strong advocacy is obviously welcome, this issue is not really about Ms Plibersek at all.

There are a significant number of ALP MPs and Senators who have expressed their support for a binding vote over the course of the past month (with the Herald reporting that at least 25 members, or almost a third, of caucus back this move: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/huge-spike-in-labor-mps-support-for-samesex-marriage-20150508-ggx4z4.html ).

And there is an even larger number of ordinary ALP members, and Rainbow Labor members right around the country, who are pursuing this change. To reduce all of their – and our – activism to being about a non-existent leadership challenge is, putting it bluntly, utter rubbish.

Finally, there have a number of reports linking the push by Ms Plibersek and others within the party for a binding vote to a move to combat the rise of the Greens, and specifically as a response to the recent Victorian and NSW State Elections, where the Greens either retained or won the seats of Melbourne, Prahran, Balmain and Newtown.

Malcolm Farr in news.com.au was perhaps the most explicit on this theme: http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/labor-fears-it-is-losing-urban-strongholds-is-behind-the-push-for-binding-marriage-equality-vote/story-fn5tas5k-1227336759408

But, once again, it is hard to see how, when the majority of the Queensland and Tasmanian branches of the ALP voted to call for a binding vote at their state conferences in mid-2014, they were somehow ‘responding’ to elections in other states, that were still six-to-nine months away.

A binding vote for marriage equality has been a long-standing goal of progressive members of the Labor Party – and certainly existed long before the recent inner-city electoral successes of the Greens.

A binding vote for marriage equality IS about both principle and reality

As we all know by now, the overall fight for marriage equality is about nothing more (or less) than the equal treatment of all people, including LGBTI Australians and their relationships, in secular law.

The principle, at its core, is that the Government should not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, by denying them access to state-sanctioned marriage, simply because of who they are and/or who they love.

Turning more specifically to the issue of whether the ALP should adopt a binding vote for marriage equality, it too is about principle – that, as a matter of fundamental equality and human rights, there is no legitimate reason to allow individual MPs and Senators to vote against the caucus position on this issue which acknowledges those rights.

In the same way that the ALP would not allow individual parliamentarians to break from party solidarity to vote for a racist law, there must not be special exceptions provided to allow some MPs and Senators to vote against the rights of LGBTI Australians.

We could have the entire debate, between now and the end of July, focussed exclusively on these two principles.

But marriage equality, and whether we adopt a binding vote, is about more than just that – as we have been starkly reminded over the past fortnight.

Because marriage equality is about reality too – the real-life couples who want nothing more than the right to be married, but who are currently denied that right by their own Government.

Couples like Sandra Yates and Lee Bransden, who were forced to seek money through a crowd-funding campaign to enable them to marry in New Zealand, where marriage equality has been legal for two years, before Ms Bransden dies from lung cancer (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-04/crowd-funding-campaign-for-gay-wedding-in-new-zealand/6442318 ).

This is the real face of marriage equality – the couples who are waiting for the same rights as everyone else, including those couples for whom time is very quickly running out (and of course the many couples for whom time has tragically already evaporated since the ban was first introduced in 2004).

In this instance, the crowd-funding campaign was successful, and the couple were married in New Zealand on Saturday (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-16/gay-tasmanian-couple-seal-dying-wish-with-new-zealand-wedding/6475226?WT.ac=statenews_tas ).

Which is heart-warming. But it should not have come to this, we should not be reduced to this – begging via public appeals just to allow older couples to leave the country to marry before they die, and even then stripping them of that legal equality as they re-enter Australia on their way home together for the last time.

This situation is indignity writ large.

Marriage equality is right in principle. Binding for marriage equality is right in principle. But it is the reality – of couples like Sandra and Lee – which reminds us why the issue is so urgent, and why we need as many MPs and Senators as possible, including all of those from the Australian Labor Party, to vote yes on this issue. Right. Now.

A binding vote for marriage equality IS NOT about the ‘rights’ of MPs and Senators to vote no

On the other side of this debate are those who would argue that, while marriage equality may be important, it is more important to respect the supposed ‘rights’ of individual MPs and Senators to vote against it.

The clearest demonstration of this view came on Sunday 3 May when Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen announced he had switched from his long-standing opposition to marriage equality, to personally supporting it – as part of an ongoing conscience vote. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/chris-bowen-drops-opposition-to-samesex-marriage-20150503-1myp1v.html ):

“In a conscience vote I have decided I would support same-sex marriage and that’s not traditionally the approach I took last time,” he said.

“On my marriage certificate at home it has got the Australian coat of arms as it has on all of ours. It is our right as a citizen to get married and it is a right that should be applied equally.”

“I have friends who have had to go overseas to get married; I don’t think they should have to go overseas to get married as Australian citizens so I would support it.”

But Mr Bowen said the matter should be decided by each member of Parliament on its policy merits rather than politicians being forced to vote for or against same-sex marriage.

“I think people should be given their own time to develop their thinking and their approach,” Mr Bowen said…

In effect, Mr Bowen is saying that, while he acknowledges the fundamental injustice experienced by his friends, it would in practice be more unjust to compel his colleagues in the federal parliamentary Labor Party, including Senator Joe Bullock and MP Chris Hayes, to have to vote for his friends’ rights through a binding vote.

This is the reality – people who support a conscience vote in the ALP are actually saying that the right of individual MPs and Senators to vote against marriage equality is more important than the rights of real-life couples, like Sandra and Lee, to marry.

How can that possibly be? One is a genuine injustice – the denial of fundamental rights solely on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

The other? How is requiring a Labor member of the House of Representatives, or Senate, to vote in accordance with the Party platform and in favour of marriage equality, in any way unjust, and indeed so unjust that it outweighs anti-LGBTI discrimination?

The way in which opponents of a binding vote try to ‘dress up’ this issue as a matter of competing rights is by claiming that it would be a denial of their freedom of religion to have to vote this way. But, in making this argument, they are misunderstanding and misrepresenting what freedom of religion is, and most importantly, what it is not.

Freedom of religion is allowing people to believe what they wish, including on issues of ‘morality’, within their religion and their particular religious organisations, for example, choosing to recognise, or not recognise as the case may be, LGBTI-inclusive relationships as being equal.

There is nothing in any marriage equality Bill introduced to date that would compel an organised religion to conduct same-sex weddings against its wishes, or to recognise those relationships as equal within their own faith.

And that freedom of religion includes MPs and Senators within the Labor Party – even if they were obliged to support marriage equality under secular law, they would continue to be free to consider LGBTI relationships as second-rate (or worse) within their particular faith.

On the other hand, freedom of religion does not justify allowing those same parliamentarians to impose their particular religious belief, and their definition of marriage, on the rest of us – the growing number of Australians without faith, and the even larger number of believers, including some religious bodies themselves, who do support marriage equality.

The ‘freedom of religion’ of individual MPs and Senators is not a sufficient basis to override the freedom from religion of everyone else, and the legitimate expectation that we should be treated equally under secular law.

And it is definitely not enough of an argument to override the ordinary rules of the Australian Labor Party – which expects solidarity from its parliamentarians on everything from refugees, to metadata, single parent payments to live animal exports, and should be able to expect solidarity on this subject too.

There are only two possible ways in which ‘freedom of religion’ would be a genuine basis on which to argue against a binding vote.

The first would be if a marriage equality law sought to change the definition of marriage within religion(s) – including by ordering particular religious organisations to undertake LGBTI-inclusive marriage ceremonies. And, as already noted, exactly none of the marriage equality Bills proposed in Australia to date require this.

The second would be if a marriage law sought to discriminate against people of religious backgrounds – for example, a law that actively prohibited people of a particular faith (or perhaps prohibited people of different faiths) from marrying, and again no law proposed to date does anything of the sort [as an aside, those same people who claim it would be a denial of fundamental freedoms to compel a religious person to vote for marriage equality had no qualms when LGBTI individuals, including Senators Wong and Pratt, were compelled to vote against their own legal equality].

Given neither of these conditions exist, we are left with a large imbalance, between a genuine injustice on one side (the denial of the right to marry to LGBTI Australians) and only a perceived injustice on the other (the supposed denial of the freedom of religion of individual MPs and Senators), with the latter not withstanding close scrutiny.

The choice between the two should be easy.

Unfortunately, not only does Chris-sy-come-lately Bowen reach the wrong conclusion on this, he – and other recent marriage equality converts like Ed Husic and Julie Owens – take their (il)logic one step further.

As reported by the ABC on Wednesday 6 May, all three have personally switched from opposing to supporting marriage equality (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-06/western-sydney-labor-mps-swing-to-favour-gay-marriage/6447516 ). But the same report noted that “[a]ll three MPs said the freedom to choose through a conscience vote is an important condition for their support” (emphasis added).

Come again? Do we really have members of the ALP caucus saying they personally support marriage equality, which is also the position outlined in the ALP Party platform, but that they would not support marriage equality if this position was made binding on the Party’s MPs and Senators, in the same way that almost every other issue is subject to a binding vote?

This is really ‘through the looking glass’ stuff. Despite Ed Husic noting that “if there was no logical reason to prevent this change [marriage equality], why stand in the way of it?” (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/support-for-samesex-marriage-grows-in-the-alp-as-mp-ed-husic-switches-position-20150505-ggu5um.html ) he apparently would do exactly that just to give his colleagues the ‘right’ to vote no.

This is an absurd position to adopt – one hopes it is only (preposterous) posturing ahead of National Conference, and that they will vote yes if and when a binding vote is ultimately adopted with respect to members of caucus.

But irrespective of whether they believe what they are saying or not, Bowen, Husic and Owens, and indeed any ALP MP or Senator who says that marriage equality is important, but not sufficiently important to bind on, should be reminded that this issue is not about them, or their colleagues, or their colleagues’ supposed ‘freedom of religion’ – it is about LGBTI people who are denied equality under secular law.

And there is no reason to extend that injustice for one day longer.

A binding vote for marriage equality IS about the ALP delivering as many yes votes as possible

Of course, the ALP on its own cannot pass marriage equality in the current term of Parliament – in order to pass before the 2016 Federal Election Tony Abbott must grant his MPs a conscience vote.

Consequently, there has been a lot of speculation about what impact an ALP binding vote might have over subsequent machinations within the Liberal Party. Indeed, it is something that I have covered multiple times elsewhere (including under the section “It’s Time to Bind: The Strategy’ here: http://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/).

But, what we need to remember is that the ALP has zero actual control over what the Liberal Party room does behind closed doors – if it did, the Liberals would have granted a conscience vote at some point during the three and a half years that Labor has already had one.

What the ALP does control is its own internal rules.

By adopting a binding vote the Labor Party would be delivering as many votes as it possibly can towards the cause of marriage equality – more than the just over 50% of MPs and Senators who voted yes in September 2012, and more than the 78% of MPs, and 68% of Senators who indicate they would support it if a vote were held today (as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald here: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/huge-spike-in-labor-mps-support-for-samesex-marriage-20150508-ggx4z4.html ).

It is difficult to see how such a move could be criticised by others who also support marriage equality. To do so is effectively arguing ‘please do not provide more votes to the cause which we all agree is important’.

And yet, this is exactly what some have done in recent weeks – with perhaps the most prominent example being another recent convert to supporting marriage equality, openly-gay Liberal Senator Dean Smith.

Immediately after the latest of Ms Plibersek’s calls for a binding vote, Senator Smith responded by saying he was ‘personally disappointed’ by it (http://www.smh.com.au/national/gay-liberal-senator-dean-smith-slams-tanya-plibersek-over-gay-marriage-move-20150427-1mu99l.html ), that “I have always been distrustful of the Left on this issue and now my personal fears have been realised,” and further that “[t]his has put the cause back and she needs to explain herself to same-sex marriage proponents.”

In 2015, with Australia having fallen behind 18 (and soon to be 20) countries on this issue, we seriously have an openly-gay conservative Senator criticising a progressive Deputy Opposition Leader for having the temerity to seek to deliver more votes from her Party in favour of marriage equality.

Dean-ny-come-lately Smith could have been excused for those comments, given it was the day after the issue had ‘blown up’ in the media and upon further reflection he might have recognised how ridiculous they sounded.

Instead, the following week he gave an interview to The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/binding-vote-on-same-sex-will-set-back-cause-ask-a-gay-liberal/story-e6frg7bo-1227337768868 ), where all he managed to achieve was to dig his own hole that much deeper.

Not only did he reiterate his criticisms of Labor for daring to suggest they might all commit to supporting LGBTI equality, he crucially admitted that, even if there was a conscience vote on both sides:

“marriage equality would likely be defeated. He cautions the advocates of gay marriage inside his party to slow down. “Yes, community opinion is changing, but it is changing slowly and I am comfortable with it changing slowly.”

This admission completely undercuts his arguments. He inadvertently concedes that the only way marriage equality could be passed this term is by a binding vote from Labor and a conscience vote from the Liberals, and yet he is explicitly arguing against that outcome (and also arguing against the ability of a new Labor Government to independently pass marriage equality if it was elected in 2016).

But that isn’t even the most offensive thing about the article – that would be his repeated calls for people to ‘slow down’, to ‘wait’, for their fundamental equality. In addition to the above quote, he also said:

“Give the country as much time as it needs. This is not an issue that is going backwards. It is only heading in one direction and the pace of the forward direction should be left to the community to decide.”

Leaving aside the fact the vast majority of the community is already there (with 72% support from the public, the only roadblock is our Parliament), he directly contradicts his own reason for supporting equality, which is included in the very same article:

“I was on a plane. I realised that Tori (Johnson) was gay. His partner had lost his lifelong partner. I thought, ‘I have lots of gay friends who are waiting for the laws to change. They don’t want to go to New Zealand to marry’.”

So, his reason for finally backing marriage equality is that people shouldn’t have to wait for the same rights as their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts, that it is tragic if they die without having realised those rights, and yet in the next breath he argues that they should wait, for as long as he deems necessary (or, to use his own words, as long as he is comfortable with).

That is simply not good enough, not from someone who supports marriage equality as an issue, nor from one of the few openly-LGBTI people ever elected to the Australian Parliament.

Perhaps, instead of attacking people like Tanya Plibersek for trying to deliver additional votes for marriage equality, Senator Smith should spend a little more time making the case for change within his own party room.

If he is successful in that task – and we, the Labor Party, are successful in achieving a binding vote in July – then we could all even see marriage equality passed this year.

Liberal Senator Dean Smith, who is 'relaxed and comfortable' with LGBTI Australians being made to wait for their human rights.

Liberal Senator Dean Smith, who is ‘relaxed and comfortable’ with LGBTI Australians being made to wait for their human rights.

A binding vote for marriage equality IS NOT over

The last misconception that I wanted to address also happens to be the easiest to debunk – and that is the argument that, just because Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has come out against a binding vote, the debate is somehow over.

Yes, it was disappointing that Mr Shorten chose not to demonstrate leadership on this issue (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-30/shorten-rejects-calls-to-axe-same-sex-marriage-conscience-vote/6434354 ), instead falling back on platitudes like “I certainly have a view, though, that the best way to win the argument on marriage equality is to convince people not force them” (which, when you think about it, sounds like he is arguing for a conscience vote on anything and everything, not just on LGBTI rights).

Nevertheless, just because the parliamentary Leader of the Party has adopted this position does not mean that delegates to ALP National Conference in July will necessarily agree with him.

In fact, all we need to do is look to his predecessor, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and the positions which she took to the 2011 National Conference on this issue; to oppose marriage equality, and to support a binding vote.

Not only did the Conference overwhelmingly reject her homophobia on the first (by a margin so large that the count wasn’t called, so she wouldn’t be embarrassed by how comprehensive her ‘defeat’ was), but delegates very nearly voted against her position on the issue of binding, too –it was only defeated by a margin of 208 votes to 184.

Which demonstrates two things – one, that Shorten’s position might be influential, but it is very much possible for National Conference to disagree with the Leader and two, that all it would take is for 13 people to change their minds for the vote to be resolved differently this time around.

Some commentators (looking at you, Barrie Cassidy) might be surprised by the possibility National Conference could decide this way, but they shouldn’t be.

As raised earlier, almost a third of ALP MPs and Senators already support binding (25 out of 80 – with 33 against and 12 undeclared). And, as demonstrated by successive national ballots, for National President and Party Leader, the general membership is in fact much more progressive than the parliamentary caucus.

All of which is to suggest that success on a resolution for a binding vote is very much a possibility. But it will not happen without a sustained push in the weeks that remain – and that is something we all have a responsibility to pursue, in whatever way we can. It’s time we all demanded that #ItsTimeToBind.

It’s Time To Bind – Counting the Numbers

No, this is not a post about the expected numbers for and against a binding vote at the upcoming ALP National Conference, where this issue will be debated. Given the delegates for the largest state branch (NSW) have yet to even be decided, it would be decidedly premature to speculate about whether such a motion is likely to be successful or not.

Instead, this is a post about the numbers for and against marriage equality in the current Parliament, something that the Sydney Morning Herald has investigated in today’s article “Huge spike in Labor MPs’ support for same-sex marriage” (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/huge-spike-in-labor-mps-support-for-samesex-marriage-20150508-ggx4z4.html ).

As the article’s title suggests, there has been a significant increase in the number of ALP parliamentarians willing to vote for this important reform since it was defeated in September 2012.

The Herald then uses this increase to assert that “Fairfax Media’s findings call into question deputy leader Tanya Plibersek’s recent strategy to push for a binding vote at the ALP conference in July.”

In fact, the reported increase does no such thing. In reality, and on a purely numbers basis, the findings by the Sydney Morning Herald actually confirm the benefits of a binding vote. Allow me to explain.

First, to the good news.

In the House of Representatives, the percentage of ALP MPs in favour of the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians, and of our relationships, has increased from 53.5% in 2012 (when 38 of 71 MPs voted yes) to 78% today, with 43 of Labor’s 55 members of the House of Representatives saying they would vote in favour of a new Bill.

Together with the yes votes of Independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan, and the Greens’ Adam Bandt, that means marriage equality legislation would still be 30 votes short of passage – and even with a Liberal Party conscience vote, it is unlikely that fully one third of Coalition MPs would vote yes in the current Parliament.

However, the dramatic growth in support from within the Labor caucus, together with the expected significant increase in the overall number of ALP MPs at the next election (whether they form government, or are defeated by a lesser margin than in 2013, which seems like a reasonable assumption), means that support from a much smaller number, and therefore reduced proportion, of Liberal MPs would be required for passage in the next term.

In short, the figures in today’s paper indicate that, while a conscience vote on both sides would still probably not pass the House of Representatives this term, it now has a much better chance in the next.

Turning now to the bad news – and the Australian Senate (charitably described by the Herald as ‘more conservative’ than the House of Representatives).

Just as in the House of Representatives, there has been an increase since 2012, albeit not nearly as dramatic: from 52% (16 out of 31) of ALP Senators then, to 68% – or 17 out of 25 – now.

In the rest of the Chamber, there is confirmed support from all ten Greens, plus Senators Xenophon and Leyonhjelm (although it is unclear whether he would insist on provisions which would provide civil celebrants the ‘right’ to be bigots: http://alastairlawrie.net/2014/12/21/senator-leyonhjelms-marriage-equality-bill-undermines-the-principle-of-lgbti-anti-discrimination-should-we-still-support-it/ and which might therefore be unacceptable to others), meaning 29 confirmed votes in favour – ten votes away from passage.

Even if there was a conscience vote from the Liberal Party, there are only three Coalition figures who have indicated they would say yes: Senators Birmingham (SA), Sinodinos (NSW) and openly-gay Liberal, and recent marriage equality convert, Dean Smith (WA). Which gets us to 32.

That still leaves the reform seven votes short of success – and it is difficult to see how we get there.

The Australian Marriage Equality website (http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/whereyourmpstands/ ) actually lists nine current non-Labor Senators as “undecided/undeclared”:

  • Senator Dio Wang, Palmer United Party (PUP), WA
  • Senator Glenn Lazarus, formerly-PUP, Qld
  • Senator Ricky Muir, Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, Vic
  • Senator Barry O’Sullivan, LNP (sits in Nationals Party room), Qld
  • Senator George Brandis, LNP (sits in Liberal Party room), Qld
  • Senator James McGrath, LNP (sits in Liberal Party room), Qld
  • Senator Mathew Canavan, LNP (sits in Nationals Party room), Qld
  • Senator Linda Reynolds, Lib, WA
  • Senator Anne Ruston, Lib, SA

However, as you will note four of these are from the Queensland Coalition, a branch so conservative that the only Liberal or National parliamentarian, from either chamber, who did not oppose marriage equality legislation in 2012 (Sue Boyce, who abstained) subsequently did not appear on the Senate ticket in 2013, despite having served only one full term [as an aside, all six Coalition Senators from Queensland in the current term, to date, are men, only reinforcing how conservative they are north of the border].

And two of those four Senators from the LNP sit in the Nationals Party room federally which, even if the Liberals do grant their parliamentarians a conscience vote, probably won’t follow suit.

Which means that, if the Nationals do refuse a conscience vote (as appears highly likely), every single other undecided/undeclared Senator – from PUP, to ex-PUP, to Motorists, and including all four undecided Liberals – has to vote yes in order for it to be successful. That might happen… but I doubt it.

And, if the Queensland LNP puts pressure on at least one (and possibly both) of its two undecided Liberal Senators to vote no, as also seems likely, a conscience vote this term would, inevitably, be defeated. In fact, most realistic permutations of the above numbers would put marriage equality two or three votes short this term.

Unfortunately, with that defeat our problems would only just be beginning.

Unlike the House of Representatives, there is limited capacity for further significant change in the numbers, both because of who the ALP Senators against equality are, and because of the 2010 and 2013 Senate election results.

In terms of the ALP Senators who do not yet support marriage equality (technically, both the Herald and AME list Chris Ketter as undecided/undeclared, but we should treat him as opposed, for reasons that will become clear below), they are:

  • Senator Helen Polley, Tas
  • Senator Catryna Bilyk, Tas
  • Senator Alex Gallacher, SA
  • Senator Joe Bullock, WA
  • Senator Chris Ketter, Qld
  • Senator Deb O’Neill, NSW
  • Senator Jacinta Collins, Vic
  • Senator Stephen Conroy, Vic

Of these, six are formally aligned to the Joe De Bruyn-led, virulently homophobic SDA – Polley, Bilyk, Bullock, O’Neill, Collins and Ketter. Of the other two, Gallacher confirmed his ‘no’ vote to the Herald, and Conroy voted no in 2012, without any clear signs he will change his mind in the near future.

The 2016 election will be of little assistance in changing these numbers. Bilyk, Bullock, Ketter, O’Neill and Collins’ terms all run until June 30, 2020. Of the three whose terms expire in mid-2017, Polley and Conroy have confirmed they are seeking pre-selection for the next election, and given this is currently Gallacher’s first term, we should start with the assumption that he will go around again too.

The 2010 Senate election result is also relevant because it was, overall, roughly a 50:50 split between the Australian Labor Party and Liberal-National Coalition.

That means, unless there is a pro-Labor landslide in 2016 (something which appears a receding prospect), the next Senate will have similar numbers to now, and the ranks of ALP Senators who support marriage equality will not increase unless:

  • There is a forecast for heavy snow in the underworld (ie the SDA drops its opposition to LGBTI equality and human rights) or
  • There is a binding vote.

Absent that binding vote, or a corresponding change of sentiment inside the Liberal Party, the numerical situation in the Senate cannot really change until the 2019 federal election, with senators elected at that poll taking their seats on 1 July 2020 (and, even if marriage equality was subsequently passed as quickly as possible, legislation would probably not take effect until early 2021).

Which is a long-winded (and certainly longer than I had originally planned) way of saying that, even if the Senate only narrowly defeated marriage equality under a conscience vote this term, it is certainly possible we could remain, agonisingly, a vote or two short of equality for the duration of the next term as well.

Now, I don’t know about you, but, having already been engaged for more than five years, I am not all that interested in planning an autumn 2021 wedding. Which is just one more reason why the ALP should consider adopting a binding vote in favour of marriage equality.

It would automatically change the equation – from July 27, 2015. In the current term, 25 ALP Senators, plus ten Greens and Xenophon and Leyonhjelm in favour mean the votes of only two of the undeclared/undecided cross benchers (Wang, Lazarus and Muir) would be required for it to pass. And that is without any Liberal Party conscience vote.

Even if one or two Labor Senators put their personal views above party loyalty and were consequently expelled, there would presumably be one or two Liberals who would cross the floor to support equality in any event (and yes, we’re looking at you Senator Smith). And, unless there is a pro-Coalition landslide in 2016 (which, thankfully, also appears a distant prospect), a binding vote within the ALP means marriage equality should pass the Senate in the next term too.

There is even the possibility that the Labor Party adopting a binding vote would actually pressure the Liberals into allowing a conscience vote – after all, it would be a crazy/brave political party to bind against a view held by 72% of the population and one on which your opponents have taken the popular position (for more on this, see the discussion under “The Strategy” here: http://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/ ).

So, far from ‘calling into question’ the push for a binding vote, the numbers revealed in today’s Sydney Morning Herald can in fact be seen as reinforcing the benefits of a bound ALP position, both in the current term and in potentially avoiding a long wait, until 2021, for marriage equality to finally become law.

There are two final comments which I would like to make.

First, it seems uncharitable of the Herald not to have highlighted the role of the calls by Tanya Plibersek, and others, for a binding vote in getting hitherto ‘silent’ supporters of marriage equality within the ALP (Bowen, Husic, Owens, Ripoll and Sterle) to ‘come out of the closet’, so to speak.

It is absolutely no coincidence that all five have declared their support in the fortnight after Ms Plibersek’s comments were widely-reported in the media – with some even explicitly linking their support for marriage equality with a campaign against a binding vote.

That is more progress within the ALP caucus than in the previous 12 months combined, and is at least partly a result of the push for binding.

Second, I have just spent the best part of 1700 words discussing numbers, and tactics, and the positions of various parties, and of individual MPs and Senators, without even mentioning possibly the most salient point of the original Sydney Morning Herald article – and that is the position put by WA MP Melissa Parke:

“West Australian MP Melissa Parke, a vocal internal critic of Labor’s approach to asylum seekers, pushed back against binding vote doubters, reasoning that just as her Left faction had had to accept a tough policy on refugees, others should have to accept same-sex marriage.

“I don’t see why members of the religious right shouldn’t have to do the same on a matter of equality,” she said.”

Hear, hear. While it is easy to get caught up in discussing strategy, we should not forget that the primary debate on binding concerns a fundamental matter of principle.

As a party of collective action, built on the idea of solidarity, there is absolutely no reason why we should not unite in favour of the equality of all Australians, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. Thank you Ms Parke for reminding us of that.

Labor MP Melissa Parke, reminding us that, if the Party can bind its MPs on its refugee policies, it can bind them to vote in favour of marriage equality.

Labor MP Melissa Parke, reminding us that, if the Party can bind its MPs on its refugee policies, it can bind them to vote in favour of marriage equality.

2 Additional Arguments Against an ALP Binding Vote on Marriage Equality… And Why They’re Wrong As Well

I thought I had already debunked most of the major arguments that our opponents could be expected to use against a binding vote ahead of ALP National Conference in two of my previous posts:

and

But that was before I had the misfortune of reading Barrie Cassidy’s intellectually malnourished opinion piece on the ABC’s The Drum website on Friday, 1 May (“Why Plibersek’s Gay Marriage Pitch Will Fail”: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-01/cassidy-why-pliberseks-gay-marriage-pitch-will-fail/6436082 ).

Now, I don’t have time to fully rebut all of the silly things that Mr Cassidy wrote (including his unwarranted smear, linking Ms Plibersek’s long-standing support for marriage equality to base electoral considerations), but there are a couple of arguments which deserve a response, especially because they are likely to be raised by others in the lead-up to July’s conference.

  1. The ALP should not ‘waste time’ discussing a binding vote because it is a distraction from other issues

This is a variation of an argument that is commonly used against marriage equality per se: and that is that marriage equality is either not as important as, or does not affect as many people as, other issues (like health, or jobs, or education, or climate change etc etc etc), and therefore we should not use ‘valuable time’ discussing it. Instead, we can apparently get around to it when everything else is ‘fixed’ (whenever that is).

We’ve become very adept at responding to that argument over the years (including observing that most people can walk and chew gum at the same time), which means we are well prepared when Barrie Cassidy writes nonsense like this:

“And already merely raising the issue has shown how divisive it can be. The ALP’s national conference is a singular opportunity for its leader, Bill Shorten, to take centre stage with a developed plan for the future built around economic management. The issue of Palestine threatens to distract from that. Loading up the agenda with an unnecessary brawl around gay marriage is a further impediment” (emphasis added).

Well excuse us Barrie if we, the ordinary members of the ALP, think that prioritising the equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians, and how we can best achieve those rights, is worthy of being debated for one short section out of a three day political conference.

And we’re sorry (or more accurately, #sorrynotsorry) that such a discussion might be uncomfortable for those who either oppose LGBTI human rights, or don’t believe a centre-left political party should be doing everything in its own power to pass marriage equality legislation (which is exactly what a binding vote would be – the most that the ALP can deliver).

After all, that is what the ALP National Conference is, or at least what it should be: a decision-making political gathering, where people put forward the best case for change, and attempt to persuade the majority of delegates to agree. That is all that Ms Plibersek, and many, many others, are seeking, and it is no less than we deserve.

To suggest otherwise – that it is actually some kind of extended press conference, where Bill Shorten can “take centre stage with a developed plan for the future built around economic management” but separate from any genuine policy debate – is a pretty hollow conception of what party democracy should look like.

One final point on this argument, and that is to note that we have been here before.

When John Howard first introduced legislation containing his homophobic ban on the right of LGBTI-inclusive couples of get married in 2004, the ALP hastily acquiesced. The primary argument used for that capitulation was the need to avoid a messy internal division, especially with a federal election to be held shortly thereafter.

Except that agreeing to support the marriage ban didn’t really help at the ballot box then – and the only long-term electoral consequence of that decision was to give the Greens a massive fillip, and decade-long recruiting tool, something that has been particularly evident at the recent Victorian and NSW elections.

We shouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Holding this particular debate now might be a challenge for some. But shying away from this fight will have much worse outcomes in the long run.

  1. The ALP should agree to a wider range of conscience votes

This argument has reared its head occasionally in recent years, including from the Member for McMahon and Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen.

Apparently, rather than agreeing to marriage equality being treated in exactly the same way as nearly every other policy issue, the ALP should instead significantly broaden the range of topics on which we allow individual MPs and Senators to vote solely according to personal preference (or individual whim).

And Barrie Cassidy appears to agree. On Friday he wrote:

“As voting patterns change, parties need to be more diverse. The broad church imperative grows, not diminishes. That means, at times foregoing discipline for flexibility; being more open to conscience votes, not less so.

“Insisting that conscience votes should be limited to matters of religious belief – life and death matters like abortion and euthanasia – is far too limited. They should apply to a range of debates not directly religious, but more a matter of morality and, yes, conscience; issues where feelings are deeply personal and immutable, like surrogacy, adoption, stem cell research, cloning and genetically modified food.”

It’s funny (or more accurately, not amusing in the slightest) that even when pressed to come up with suggestions for additional issues that could attract a conscience vote, all Mr Cassidy could name are further examples where religious conservatives are likely to disagree with the majority Labor position – plus ‘genetically modified food’ which is tacked on rather bizarrely at the end.

For Mr Cassidy, and presumably others like him, things like the offshore processing and resettlement of refugees, the passage of privacy-invading metadata legislation, or even the decision of whether or not to go to war, are not issues ‘where feelings are deeply personal and immutable’.

This goes to the heart of the problem with proposals like those of Mr Bowen – the net outcome of an increase in the use of conscience votes within the ALP is likely to simply be an expansion of the number of issues on which religious or conservative MPs and Senators can undermine the chances of progressive reforms – and that includes on LGBTI policies, too.

This is not about increased party democracy, it is instead about further ways to restrict the ability of left-wing and progressive members of the party, both inside and outside Parliament, to effect change.

And that is before we even deal with the philosophical weakness of the case for more conscience votes, which was so eloquently highlighted by the Member for Griffith, Terri Butler, during the week (discussing marriage equality at 8 minutes, 50 seconds onwards: http://media.smh.com.au/news/federal-politics/childcare-policy-and-marriage-equality-6484325.html ):

“I can’t think of too many issues that we vote on in the Parliament that aren’t moral issues…

“Everything we decide has a moral dimension because it’s always a question of what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to the nation and the Australian people.

“I think that quarantining out same-sex marriage on morality basis, it just is jarring when you are asking Members of Parliament to vote on other issues that are equally significant to them and to their constituencies.

“…Every single piece of legislation that we consider as a caucus must be considered from a perspective of what’s right for our nation and what’s right for our constituency.”

Hear, hear.

Perhaps the editors of the Sydney Morning Herald should have watched this video, on their own website. It might have helped avoid a second major clanger of the week (after their column on Wednesday, which I was compelled to respond to here: http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/29/tanya-pliberseks-principled-stand-threatens-to-achieve-progress-on-marriage-equality/ ).

In today’s editorial (http://www.smh.com.au/comment/smh-editorial/the-shoppies-union-and-labors-samesex-marriage-flaw-20150501-1mxphs.html ), which primarily focussed on the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, the preferred union of the Catholic Right, they actually wrote this:

“So angry are many in modern Labor that deputy federal leader Tanya Plibersek decided this week to go public with a plan to match the Shoppies’ use of Labor’s policy and rules forums to force federal MPs into a binding vote in support of same-sex marriage, as opposed to the current conscience vote.

“Unfortunately, Ms Plibersek’s method was equally undemocratic.”

The unavoidable conclusion of this argument – which describes simply seeking the authority of the ALP’s supreme decision-making body to make a policy position binding, in exactly the same way that nearly everything else is, as “undemocratic” – is that any binding policy is similarly undemocratic.

In essence, the Sydney Morning Herald editor(s) are arguing for a political party to be based entirely on conscience votes. Perhaps they, and Mr Cassidy and Mr Bowen for that matter, should be reminded that we had a political party that was based on this philosophy – the Australian Democrats – and they were deregistered by the Australian Electoral Commission last month.

For the rest of us, who still believe in a Party, and movement, based on collective action and solidarity, the case for a binding vote for marriage equality is as clear as ever. And it remains up to us to make that case, as loudly and as frequently as possible, in the three months left til National Conference.

Barrie Cassidy, whose The Drum opinion piece this week could charitably be described as 'not his best work'.

Barrie Cassidy, whose The Drum opinion piece this week could charitably be described as ‘not his best work’.

#ItsTimeToBind – The Quick Guide

During the course of April, I have written a series of articles, and letters, on the subject of a binding vote for marriage equality within the Australian Labor Party, in the lead-up to the expected debate on this topic at ALP National Conference in July.

These posts were accompanied by some (very) simple social media graphics which outline the main points of this campaign, including why the arguments against a binding vote (which we are already hearing, from both inside and outside the Labor Party), are wrong.

In this post I have brought together these graphics, and included the links to the original articles, as a ‘quick guide’ to the #ItsTimeToBind campaign. As always, if you support this campaign, then please feel free to share it far and wide (and if you do, please include the hashtag). Thanks, Alastair

Hey Australian Labor

The original post “Hey Australian Labor, It’s time to bind on marriage equality” from July 2014: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/

Bill Shorten, Will you lead on marriage

My letter to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, from January 2015: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/01/24/bill-shorten-will-you-lead-on-marriage-equality/

Disappointingly, while he hasn’t replied to my correspondence, as at Thursday 30 April, it appears Mr Shorten has decided not to support a binding vote: <http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tanya-plibersek-push-on-samesex-marriage-faces-defeat-amid-labor-leadership-split-20150430-1mww0s.html

Although it should be remembered, of course, that National Conference in 2011 decided to change the platform despite the opposition of its then Leader (former Prime Minister Julia Gillard) so there is no reason why National Conference can’t decide to change the Party’s rules, by supporting a binding vote, this year.

150403 50 percent versus 100 percentA letter to all ALP MPs and Senators (well, all except five) calling on them to support a binding vote in favour of marriage equality: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/03/letter-to-alp-mps-and-senators-calling-for-a-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality/

Thank you Tanya Plibersek for supportingA thank you to the Deputy Opposition Leader, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, for supporting a binding vote: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/05/thank-you-tanya-plibersek-and-penny-wong-for-supporting-a-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality/

And also a response to a later Sydney Morning Herald editorial that attacked Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek for standing up for the principle of a binding vote: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/29/tanya-pliberseks-principled-stand-threatens-to-achieve-progress-on-marriage-equality/

%22Senator Wong's longstanding position is

If the woman on the left could be bound

Letters to the two Labor parliamentarians (Chris Hayes and Senator Joe Bullock) who have publicly threatened to cross the floor rather than vote for marriage equality: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/07/the-mp-and-the-senator-threatening-to-cross-the-floor-rather-than-vote-for-marriage-equality/

The question Chris Hayes should be asked

Myth_ The ALP always binds on 'gay

A post discussing four of the main arguments used against a binding vote on marriage equality within the ALP, and explaining why they’re wrong: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/09/4-arguments-against-an-alp-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality-and-why-theyre-wrong/

Myth 2_ The ALP never binds its MPs and-2

Myth 3_ Marriage equality is too-3

Myth 4_ ALP MPs and Senators should have-4

Myth 5_ The only way to achieve marriage

Another post examining four additional arguments against an ALP binding vote in favour of marriage equality, and why they’re wrong too: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/16/4-more-arguments-against-an-alp-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality-and-why-theyre-wrong-too/

Myth 6_ If Tony Abbott gives Liberal-2

Myth 7_ If marriage equality is passed-2

Myth 8_ A binding vote for marriage-5

Myth 9_ The ALP should not 'waste time'-2

And an additional post looking at two more arguments against a binding vote and, you guessed it, explaining why they’re wrong as well: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/05/02/2-additional-arguments-against-an-alp-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality-and-why-theyre-wrong-as-well/

Myth 10_ The ALP should introduce

A binding vote should mean exactly that-2

A look at the suggestion by some that a binding vote should include an ‘explicit right to abstain’ for socially conservative MPs and Senators. Umm, I don’t think ‘binding’ means what you think it means… <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/13/an-alp-binding-vote-for-marriage-equality-should-not-include-a-right-to-abstain/

People 'conscientiously object' to-3

NSW ALP Leader Luke Foley, Will you lead-2

Letters to all State and Territory Labor Leaders, calling for them to support a binding vote on marriage equality in the lead-up to National Conference: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/20/letter-to-state-and-territory-labor-leaders-calling-for-them-to-support-a-binding-vote-for-marriage-equality/

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Will-2

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszcuk,-4

WA Opposition Leader Mark McGowan, Will-2

SA Premier Jay Weatherill, Will you be a-2

Tasmanian Opposition Leader Bryan Green,-2

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, as the-2

* And I am happy to confirm that Mr Barr was very quick to tweet his response: “Yes”.

New NT Labor Leader Michael Gunner, Will-3

If the ALP can bind its MPs and Senators-2

A comparison between marriage equality and other morally and ethically contentious issues, like refugees and metadata, that the ALP nevertheless adopts a binding vote on: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/22/one-of-these-things-is-not-treated-like-the-others/

If the ALP can bind its MPs and Senators-3

If the ALP can bind its MPs and Senators-4

If the ALP can bind its MPs and Senators-5

#ItsTimeToBind-2

Letters to unions affiliated to the NSW Labor Party calling on them to support a binding vote, because LGBTI members of the ALP, and of the union movement more generally, deserve solidarity too: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/26/letter-to-unions-affiliated-to-nsw-alp-calling-on-them-to-support-a-binding-vote-for-marriage-equality/ )

150501 IT2B solidarity

& soon-3A look at how far we’ve fallen behind other countries on marriage equality, posted on the day of the US Supreme Court hearings and in the lead-up to the Irish referendum: <http://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/28/its-time-to-bind-to-stop-us-falling-further-further-behind/

In Australia, we don't need the highest-6

And finally, if you are anything like me, the most important reason why now is the right time to push for a binding vote in the ALP:

#ItsTimeToBind Because we've waited long

Tanya Plibersek’s Principled Stand Threatens to Achieve Progress on Marriage Equality

This morning’s Sydney Morning Herald editorial (“Tanya Plibersek’s Misstep Threatens Progress on Samesex Marriage”), which attacks Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek for calling for an ALP binding vote for marriage equality, is misguided and mistaken – about as misguided and mistaken as its pre-2013 Federal Election editorial (you know, the one where they advocated for the Australian people to vote to make Tony Abbott Prime Minister).

The editorial itself appears to be making two main arguments, both of which are wrong:

  1. That Ms Plibersek’s call for an ALP binding vote will prevent the Liberals from adopting a conscience vote. This is a complete misdirection of blame.

The editorial implies that what Labor does on this issue (ie whether it binds, or retains a conscience vote) will determine what the Liberals do. Except that we have already had three and a half years of an ALP conscience vote on marriage equality (during which legislation to introduce it was heavily defeated), and the Liberals have yet to even properly debate it.

The only people who are able to decide whether there is a Liberal Party conscience vote on this issue are Tony Abbott and the members of the Liberal party room; the last time I checked Ms Plibersek didn’t have a vote there. And, even if the ALP votes as a bloc, the last three and a half years clearly demonstrates there is nothing to prevent the Liberals from simultaneously granting their MPs a free vote.

If the Herald is so concerned about the lack of progress on a Liberal Party conscience vote on marriage equality, perhaps they should apportion responsibility for this where it belongs – to Tony Abbott and his Liberal Party colleagues, and no-one else.

  1. That Ms Plibersek’s call for an ALP binding vote is an imposition on the freedom of conscience of her Labor Party colleagues. Once again this completely misunderstands the issue.

What the Herald is really trying to say is that forcing ALP MPs and Senators to vote for marriage equality even where their personal religious beliefs do not support it is an unacceptable imposition on their freedom of religion.

Except that it is not. Nothing in any marriage equality legislation proposed to date would compel any religion to conduct same-sex weddings, or to recognise those marriages within their religion.

If those churches – and the parliamentarians, including some inside the Australian Labor Party, who are members of them – do not want to support marriage equality within their religion, they will be absolutely free to continue to do so.

All that marriage equality legislation would do is amend the secular law of this country to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. It will allow those Australians for whom marriage is not a religious institution (and, with 72.5% of marriages conducted by a civil celebrant in 2013, that is an overwhelming majority of the country), including LGBTI Australians, to be able to choose whether to marry, or not, for themselves.

And, just as importantly, it would recognise the freedom of religion of those faiths and churches who wish to be able to marry LGBTI-inclusive couples, to do so too.

The alternative, to suggest that the personal religious beliefs of individual ALP MPs and Senators is a justification for them to withhold the right to marry from an entire class of people, from their fellow citizens, simply because of who they love, is not freedom of religion – it is the imposition of a particular religious view on the rest of country.

And that is what is unacceptable in this debate.

So, no, Sydney Morning Herald editor(s), Tanya Plibersek has not made a ‘misstep’ in calling for a binding vote for marriage equality, and she has definitely not derailed progress.

What Ms Plibersek has done is stand up for the principle that the secular law of this country should finally recognise the equality of our relationships, irrespective of who we are.

What Ms Plibersek has done is call for the Labor Party to support the human rights of all Australians, and to do so through collective action, because fundamental equality should not be optional, and because there is absolutely no reason why the ALP, which binds its parliamentarians on nearly all issues, should not bind on marriage equality too.

What Ms Plibersek has done is stand up for the values of me, and thousands of other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI), as well as progressive, members of the Labor Party, and the labour movement more broadly, who are pushing for this change to happen at National Conference in Melbourne in July.

And, contrary to the assertions in the editorial, that is not a failure to demonstrate leadership – instead, this is exactly what leadership looks like. It is a profound shame that the Sydney Morning Herald cannot recognise it.

(To read the full Sydney Morning Herald editorial, click here: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/smh-editorial/tanya-pliberseks-misstep-threatens-progress-on-samesex-marriage-20150428-1mut6z.html )

Deputy Opposition Leader, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, who is demonstrating leadership by calling for a binding vote for marriage equality inside the ALP.

Deputy Opposition Leader, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, who is demonstrating leadership by calling for a binding vote for marriage equality inside the ALP.

It’s Time To Bind, To stop us falling further & further behind

The US needs their Supreme Court for full marriage equality. Ireland needs a referendum. Australia just needs our parliamentarians to do their job.

Tonight, Australian time, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case to determine whether marriage equality exists, as a constitutional right, across all 50 states.

The decision will probably be handed down in June – and, based on current predictions, it is more likely than not that the United States will have marriage equality, nationwide, before the Australian Labor Party’s National Conference convenes in Melbourne in July (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/27/same-sex-marriage-us-supreme-court-arguments-constitutional-right?CMP=share_btn_tw ).

The US Supreme Court, which will hear arguments about marriage equality tonight (28 April). In Australia, the High Court has confirmed that only the Commonwealth Parliament can deliver genuine marriage equality.

The US Supreme Court, which will hear arguments about marriage equality tonight (28 April). In Australia, the High Court has confirmed that only the Commonwealth Parliament can deliver genuine marriage equality.

Another country that is expected to make progress in the coming months is Ireland, which will hold a national referendum on May 22nd. Required by their constitution, current polling puts the ‘Yes’ case there ahead.

Even though prominent figures such as Panti Bliss have expressed their nervousness in the lead-up of the vote (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/comedy/features/drag-queen-panti-bliss-on-the-irish-samesex-marriage-referendum-international-fame-and-the-changing-gay-scene-10168417.html ) it is nevertheless likely Ireland will soon join the ranks of countries that have left Australia far, far behind on this issue.

And, sadly, it is not a short list. As at 28 April, the full list of countries where marriage equality has been introduced (or at least passed, awaiting implementation) includes:

  • Argentina
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Iceland
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • South Africa
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden, and
  • Uruguay

Marriage equality is also legal in three regions of Mexico, in England, Wales and Scotland within the United Kingdom, and in 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, in the US.

The longer this list grows, the greater our nation’s embarrassment at being a homophobic and discriminatory backwater.

And each and every time this list expands, our determination should correspondingly strengthen to amend our nation’s appalling laws, which actively exclude people from equal recognition of their relationships, solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Unlike the US, the path to doing so will not involve the nation’s highest court. Without a Bill of Rights, or even a comprehensive Human Rights Act, there is no scope for Australia’s High Court to mandate marriage equality in Australia.

And unlike Ireland, we do not need to hold a referendum (or plebiscite) in order for marriage equality to be lawful.

The High Court decision in December 2013, which struck down the ACT’s same-sex marriage legislation (and therefore overturned the marriages of 31 couples), found that the Commonwealth Parliament, and the Commonwealth Parliament alone, has the power to introduce genuine marriage equality in this country.

Which means that it is up to the 226 men and women who sit in our House of Representatives and Senate to step up and fix this mess.

Or at least the bare majority of them.

And it is not too much to ask, as a gay man who has been engaged to be married for more than 5 years, and as someone who has been a member of the Australian Labor Party for 13, that all 80 MPs and Senators from my political party should be part of that majority.

In fact, despite the bleatings of people opposed to a binding vote, this is the bare minimum which we should expect from a centre-left political party, one that has delivered the vast majority of LGBTI law reform in this country, and a party, and movement, which is based on the organising principles of solidarity and collective action.

This is exactly what we, the LGBTI members of the ALP, the progressive members of the Party, and labour movement, and LGBTI and/or progressive members of the broader community, should be asking demanding of the Australian Labor Party at the upcoming National Conference: that the ALP support the full equality of LGBTI people, and of our relationships, and most importantly that every single ALP MP and Senator will vote to make this happen.

If we are successful in July, and a resolution to bind is passed, then the ALP will be able to campaign for the following 12 months with the very simple promise: if you vote for us at the 2016 federal election, we will deliver marriage equality. No ifs, ands or buts.

And then finally, more than 15 years after the Netherlands, more than a decade after countries like Canada and South Africa, and three-plus years after our Trans-Tasman neighbours, Australia will be able to join the 21st century, where entry into marriage is not restricted on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

That’s what I, and most Australians, would like to see. And that’s another reason why I believe #ItsTimeToBind.

Letter to Unions Affiliated to NSW ALP Calling on Them to Support a Binding Vote for Marriage Equality

ALP National Conference, to be held in Melbourne from July 24-26 2015, will decide whether or not the Party’s platform position, which supports marriage equality, will be made enforceable on its parliamentarians.

The people making this decision includes Party Leaders, as well as delegates elected from across ALP State and Territory branches. Given the ALP’s proud history, and continued role, as the party of organised labour, it will also be made by delegates representing those unions that are affiliated to the Labor Party.

The following is my letter to the Secretaries of the ALP-affiliated unions in my state (NSW) asking for them, and their unions, to support the push for a binding vote on marriage equality.

In short, for a party and movement founded on collective action and solidarity, there is no reason why LGBTI people, and issues, should be excluded from these principles.

Dear Secretary

Please Support a Binding Vote in Favour of Marriage Equality

I am writing to you, and through you to your union, about an issue that is important to me, and thousands of other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians: marriage equality.

Specifically, I am writing to call on you and your union to support the principle of a binding vote in favour of marriage equality at this year’s ALP National Conference in Melbourne on July 24-26.

The previous ALP National Conference, in Sydney in December 2011, took the important first step, of amending the platform to officially support marriage equality, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

However, the 2011 conference resolution that “any decision reached is not binding on any member of the Party” effectively guaranteed that marriage equality would not pass during the last term of parliament, and continues to make passage almost impossible today.

This resolution was wrong in principle. It took a matter of human rights – of the equality of LGBTI people – and treated it as something that was ‘optional’, rather than fundamental.

There is absolutely no reason why the question of whether to recognise LGBTI relationships under secular marriage law should be left up to the personal opinions of individual ALP MPs and Senators.

The 2011 conference resolution also ignored the proud traditions of the Australian Labor Party, and the Australian labour movement more broadly, as organisations and movements based on collective action.

As the Secretary of a union, I have no doubt that the principle of solidarity is something that you hold dear.

It is also something that is highly valued by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) members of your union, and LGBTI union members (like me) right across the country.

And solidarity is a core belief of the many, many LGBTI members of the Australian Labor Party (again, just like me) found in every State and Territory Branch.

There is absolutely no reason why the core principles of the ALP, of solidarity and collective action, should not apply to issues which are important to LGBTI members of the community, of the Party, and to LGBTI members of the union movement.

In short, there is no justification why the platform position of the Labor Party, which supports marriage equality, should not be made binding on its MPs and Senators – as nearly every other policy position is – simply because it concerns LGBTI rights.

Solidarity should mean exactly that, and explicitly include solidarity to help achieve the full and equal rights of all Australians – including ALP members and union members – irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

For these reasons, I urge you and your union to support a binding vote at this year’s ALP National Conference. If you do, and if a new resolution is successful, then not only will it help to hasten the passage of marriage equality, but it would also be a powerful symbol of the growing acceptance of LGBTI people.

Imagine all of the MPs and Senators of Australia’s oldest and proudest political party standing as one, voting as one, to say that they will no longer tolerate the second-class treatment of LGBTI people or their relationships. That would be an incredible moment in the history of our country, of our party, and of the movement – our movement – that helped deliver it.

I write ‘our party’ and ‘our movement’ because I have been a member of the Australian Labor Party for 13 years, and a member of my relevant unions for roughly the same period (ie the entire time I have been in the workforce).

For over seven years, or more than half the time I have been a Party and union member, the ALP did have a binding vote on marriage equality; MPs and Senators were bound to vote against.

Now that the majority of the Australian community, including no doubt the majority of union members, a majority of Labor Party members, and a majority of its MPs and Senators, are in favour of marriage equality, there is no legitimate reason why there should not be another binding vote, only this time in support of equality rather than discrimination.

In 2015, rather than simply having a history of binding against marriage equality, the Australian Labor Party should make history by binding for it.

I hope that you and your union will be part of bringing about this historic change by supporting a motion for a binding vote at National Conference in July.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie