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: https://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: <https://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: <https://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: <https://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: <https://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: <https://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: <https://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: <https://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: <https://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: <https://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… <https://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: <https://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: <https://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: <https://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: <https://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.

One of these things is not (treated) like the others

One of the most compelling arguments in favour of a binding vote for marriage equality within the Australian Labor Party also happens to be one of the easiest to make.

And that is simply noting the many, many examples of morally and ethically complex issues on which ALP parliamentarians are expected to abide by a binding vote – and then asking why marriage equality should be treated any differently?

The obvious answer: it shouldn’t.

Given the Labor Party binds its MPs and Senators on nearly every single policy issue that is debated and voted upon in Commonwealth (and state and territory) parliament, there are plenty of possible examples to choose from. This post will look at just four:

  1. Refugee policy

If there is a single issue in the contemporary political arena that raises profound questions of morality and ethics, then refugee policy is it. I have my own strong views on it, as do most members of the Australian community (many of whom I would vehemently disagree with, particularly when considering the results of the last federal election).

Inevitably, so do Labor members of parliament – there are some who would probably agree with boat ‘turn-backs’ (arguing that they prevent mass drownings) and offshore processing and resettlement, just as there are no doubt many ALP MPs and Senators who do not support these measures because they sincerely believe them to be inhumane.

But, despite these differences of opinion, and ignoring the strength of convictions on this topic, when former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the majority of the caucus decided to reinstate offshore processing in 2012, leading to the indefinite detention, processing and resettlement of refugees in Nauru and on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, there was no conscience vote.

Instead, all MPs and Senators were required to vote in favour of the ‘Pacific Solution Mark II’ – and if they hadn’t, they would have been expelled from the Party.

It is impossible for anyone to argue that, if ALP parliamentarians can be bound to support the offshore processing and resettlement of refugees (including, of course, the detention of LGBTI refugees in two countries that criminalise homosexuality), they cannot similarly be bound to support the recognition of the fundamental equality of LGBTI relationships under secular law.

Former Speaker Anna Burke, one of Labor's most outspoken critics of the offshore detention, processing and resettlement of refugees.

Former Speaker Anna Burke, one of Labor’s most outspoken critics of the offshore detention, processing and resettlement of refugees.

  1. Metadata

Turning to a more recent example – in March, the federal Labor Opposition voted for, and consequently guaranteed the passage of, legislation that requires the compulsory retention of, and allows law enforcement agencies warrantless access to, the metadata of every Australian citizen.

Argued for on the basis of preventing terrorism by a Government that seeks refuge in the welcoming arms of ‘national security’ whenever it encounters poll troubles (which makes it, at the very least, highly questionable policy), there were a number ALP MPs and Senators who internally expressed their opposition to this massive intrusion into our private lives (including at least one high profile inner-city frontbencher, whose personal stance against the data retention scheme was reported in the media: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/mar/25/exclusive-albanese-spoke-out-against-metadata-bill-in-shadow-cabinet-meeting ).

In a party that is founded on the principles of solidarity and collective action, those same MPs and Senators were nevertheless compelled to support the legislation in parliament, no ifs, ands or buts.

Once again, it is incredibly difficult for anyone to seriously argue that, if Labor parliamentarians can be bound to support the Abbott Government’s metadata laws (which, in the views of some at least, represent one of the biggest encroachments on the civil liberties of Australians, ever), they cannot equally be bound to vote for something, like marriage equality, that would actually enhance the rights of its citizens.

  1. Single parent payments

One of the more controversial Budget decisions taken by former Treasurer Wayne Swan was the change to single parent payments, that effectively forced single parents – and primarily single mothers – onto the dole when their youngest child turned 8.

As with the previous two issues, there was significant backbench disquiet when these measures were first raised, on the basis of economic injustice, although that dissent did not prevent its adoption by the caucus, and therefore its passage in parliament thanks to a binding vote of ALP MPs and Senators.

Fast forward to the ALP leadership contest in September and October 2013, and both contenders for the top job, Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten, argued (some might say acknowledged) that this decision had been a mistake (see: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/leadership-rivals-agree-cut-for-single-parents-was-wrong-20130922-2u81m.html ).

If the ALP can bind its parliamentarians to support a cut to single parent welfare payments, something that was strongly argued against at the time, and which was later conceded as a ‘mistake’, including by the current Opposition Leader, why can’t it bind its MPs and Senators to support a policy that does not take anything from anyone, but would instead only give happiness to those couples who choose to participate?

  1. Live animal exports

The fourth and final issue which raised serious moral and ethical concerns for many members of the ALP caucus (this time borne out of concern for animal welfare), but on which those MPs and Senators were nevertheless still bound, was live animal exports.

Specifically, in 2011 and following the ABC’s Four Corners report, both when the decision was taken to suspend the live export of cattle to Indonesia, and again when the decision was taken to lift that suspension, all ALP parliamentarians were expected to vote in favour of these policies.

And, despite vocal criticism from a not insignificant number of backbench MPs at the time, ultimately crossed the floor against the position of the Government.

Just like the issues described above, if ALP MPs and Senators can be bound to support the live animal export of sheep and cattle, they can be bound to support the ability of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians to get married.

All four of these issues have raised, and continue to raise, profound moral and/or ethical issues for many members of the ALP caucus, whether those concerns relate to human rights (refugees), civil liberties (metadata), economic justice (single parent payments) or animal welfare (live animal exports).

There is nothing about the issue of marriage equality – which for most involves the question of LGBTI rights, but for others (however mistakenly) is solely about religious freedom – which makes it any more special, or controversial, or deserving of an opt-out clause from what would otherwise be a binding position of the Party.

In short, while one of these issues, marriage equality, might currently be treated not like the others, it is in fact exactly like the others – an important public policy issue, and one that may raise moral or ethical concerns for members of the caucus, but about which the ALP nevertheless adopts a position. There is absolutely no reason why that position should be made ‘optional’ with respect to marriage equality, especially when it is not for the other four.

Which means that, if the ALP can bind its MPs and Senators to vote for:

  • the offshore detention, processing and resettlement of refugees
  • the compulsory retention of and warrantless access to our metadata
  • cuts to the single parent welfare payment, and
  • the live export of sheep and cattle;

then it can also bind its parliamentarians to vote for LGBTI equality, including the equal recognition of our relationships in the Commonwealth Marriage Act.

Letter to State and Territory Labor Leaders Calling for Them to Support a Binding Vote for Marriage Equality

It is now almost three months since I wrote to the Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, calling on him to take the lead on marriage equality by supporting a binding vote within the Labor Party (https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/01/24/bill-shorten-will-you-lead-on-marriage-equality/ ).

While I continue to wait for a response to that correspondence, we should remember there are other parliamentary leaders of the Labor Party in Australia, who also have a duty to stand up for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) members of their respective communities, and for the LGBTI members of their state and territory branches of the ALP.

The following is my letter to these leaders, asking them to support a binding vote for marriage equality in the lead-up to the National Conference in July (with a slightly more detailed letter sent to the first out parliamentary leader of a Labor Party in Australia, and the first out head of any Australian Government, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr).

Mr Luke Foley, MP

Leader of the NSW Opposition

Parliament House

Macquarie Street

SYDNEY NSW 2000

leader.opposition@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Monday 20 April 2015

Dear Mr Foley

PLEASE SUPPORT A BINDING VOTE IN FAVOUR OF MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN THE LEAD-UP TO THE 2015 ALP NATIONAL CONFERENCE

As you are aware, there are now approximately three months left until the 2015 National Conference of the Australian Labor Party.

One of the issues to be considered at this event is actually unfinished business from the previous National Conference, held in December 2011, and that is the position that the ALP adopts on marriage equality.

While that gathering took the welcome step of making support for marriage equality an official part of the platform, it also immediately undermined that policy stance by ensuring all MPs were to be given a conscience vote when it came before Parliament.

That decision – to ‘support’ marriage equality, but then make that support unenforceable – guaranteed that any Bill would fail in the last Commonwealth Parliament, and continues to make passage in the current Parliament extremely difficult (even with any Liberal Party conscience vote).

However, you, and the delegates to this year’s National Conference, have the opportunity to help right that wrong. And make no mistake, the conscience vote is inherently wrong, not just because of its practical impact in making legislative change unobtainable, but also because it is unprincipled, and un-Labor.

Having a conscience vote on something like marriage equality, which is a matter of fundamental importance for many members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, says that our human rights are optional, our equality is optional.

A conscience vote makes it clear that homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are acceptable, that the second-class treatment of our relationships is officially condoned, that Labor Party MPs are free to treat LGBTI Australians as ‘lesser’ simply because of who we are. In essence, a conscience vote on marriage equality is unconscionable.

A non-binding vote on marriage equality is also ‘un-Labor’ because it is contrary to the principles of collective organising upon which the party is founded. The idea of solidarity is supposed to reflect core philosophy, not simply act as an empty slogan, and definitely not something that is abandoned simply because some caucus members cannot abide the thought LGBTI people might enjoy the same rights that they do.

A conscience vote on this issue, from a party that adopts binding votes on nearly everything else (from refugee policy to metadata and almost all things in between), also makes it difficult for the Australian community, and the LGBTI community in particular, to take the platform position in favour of marriage equality seriously.

This is something that can, and must, be changed at this year’s National Conference, given only it has the power to introduce a binding vote in favour of marriage equality for all ALP MPs.

Acknowledging that there will be groups both inside and outside the ALP who will strongly oppose any moves to support full LGBTI equality, achieving a binding vote on marriage equality will be difficult, and therefore requires the support of parliamentary leaders within the party who are willing to do just that, to ‘lead’.

Which makes the question at the heart of this letter: as leader of the NSW parliamentary Labor Party, will you help lead on marriage equality?

It’s time for you, and the other state and territory leaders, to use the influence of your positions to help support a binding vote in favour of marriage equality, thereby declaring once and for all that LGBTI human rights are not optional, that LGBTI equality is absolutely not optional.

Doing so would signal to the many hundreds of LGBTI members of the NSW ALP, and the many, many thousands of LGBTI members of the NSW community, that the Labor Party will stand up for all people, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Adopting a binding vote for marriage equality would send an incredibly powerful message, showing that the modern Labor Party is a genuinely inclusive, and genuinely progressive, political movement, and one that is fit to lead in the 21st century – and simultaneously show how backwards, and out-of-touch, the Liberal and National Parties are on this issue.

In short, the option to support a binding vote on marriage equality is full of opportunity, with multiple benefits and few, if any, adverse consequences. I sincerely hope it is an opportunity you, and other state and territory Labor leaders, are willing to grasp, and grasp firmly.

If you do, you can help make marriage equality a genuine possibility in 2016 or early 2017, rather than something which will continue to be delayed until 2018, 2019 or even into the 2020s.

For the benefit of my fiancé Steve and myself, and the thousands of other LGBTI-inclusive couples who are still waiting for the same right to marry which other couples can simply take for granted, please support a binding vote in favour of marriage equality at the 2015 National Conference, and help make our long-overdue weddings a reality.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who announced he supported marriage equality in February. Will he now back that up with support for a binding vote to help make marriage equality a reality?

NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who announced he supported marriage equality in February 2015. Will he now back that up with support for a binding vote within the Labor Party to help make marriage equality a reality?

Additional letters sent to:

The Hon Daniel Andrews Premier of Victoria Level 1, 1 Treasury Place East Melbourne VIC 3002 daniel.andrews@parliament.vic.gov.au

The Hon Annastacia Palaszczuk MP Premier of Queensland Level 15, Executive Building 100 George Street BRISBANE QLD 4000 thepremier@premiers.qld.gov.au

The Hon Mark McGowan MLA Leader of the WA Opposition Parliament House Perth WA 6000 leader@loop.wa.gov.au

The Hon Jay Weatherill MP Premier of South Australia GPO Box 2343 ADELAIDE SA 5001 Online contact form: http://www.premier.sa.gov.au/index.php/contact

The Hon Bryan Green MLA Leader of the Tasmanian Opposition House of Assembly Parliament House Hobart TAS 7000 bryan.green@parliament.tas.gov.au

Mr Andrew Barr MLA ACT Chief Minister GPO Box 1020 Canberra ACT 2601 barr@act.gov.au

Mr Michael Gunner MLA Leader of the NT Opposition GPO Box 3700 Darwin NT 0801 opposition.leader@nt.gov.au

* And a very rapid response from the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, confirming his support for a binding vote:

IMG_0042

4 More Arguments Against an ALP Binding Vote on Marriage Equality… And Why They’re Wrong, Too

Last week I wrote about, and responded to, four of the most common arguments that will be used by opponents of a binding vote on marriage equality between now and the ALP National Conference in July (see: https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/04/09/4-arguments-against-an-alp-binding-vote-on-marriage-equality-and-why-theyre-wrong/ ).

Well, they are not the only arguments that will be employed by people resisting any move to a bound Labor Party vote in favour of full LGBTI equality. This post looks at four more arguments that we are likely to hear… and explains why they are wrong, too.

  1. A conscience vote on both sides is the only way marriage equality can happen

The current make-up of Commonwealth Parliament, with a large Liberal-National Party majority in the House of Representatives, means that marriage equality cannot be passed in this term without a formal conscience vote within the Liberal Party. It is no surprise then that so much effort, from Australian Marriage Equality and others, has gone into trying to secure that outcome.

But, even if the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, grants a ‘free vote’ – and that remains a pretty big if – it does not mean marriage equality will necessarily pass.

In fact, looking at the numbers, it would be very difficult (although not impossible) for it to succeed, even with a conscience vote on both sides – largely because the number of moderate Coalition MPs voting in favour is unlikely to be enough to get it over the line, especially given the significant minority of socially conservative ALP MPs that would still use their conscience vote to oppose it.

Which means it is incumbent upon us to consider other ways of reaching 75. One would be for the ALP to adopt a binding vote for marriage equality, ensuring all 55 of its lower house MPs support it, and for the Liberals to adopt a conscience vote, meaning the votes of only 1 in 5 Coalition MPs would be required for passage. Of course, the inherent risk of this strategy is that, once Labor adopts a binding vote in favour, the Coalition continues to embrace a ‘party vote’ against.

And that might happen. But it is by no means guaranteed – there is no reason why the decision of one side should automatically be reflected by the other (noting that we are already 3 and a half years into a period of ‘asymmetry’, with a bound vote on one side and conscience vote on the other). There will also be some MPs, with surnames like Gambaro, O’Dwyer and Turnbull, who would have a compelling electoral reason to keep trying for a conscience vote in any event.

All of which means that it is unclear whether marriage equality can be achieved this term, and if so, under what circumstances. What is clear, however, is that, given there is a real risk it will not be passed, we need to be actively considering what happens at the 2016 election, and how marriage equality might best be achieved in its aftermath.

The most direct path to marriage equality is for the ALP to adopt a binding vote at this year’s National Conference, and for it to win the 2016 federal election. In that scenario, marriage equality is passed, no ifs or buts.

Even if the election result is close either way –a small Labor victory, minority government/hung parliament, or a small Coalition victory – an ALP binding vote still probably means marriage equality is passed (because most crossbenchers are in favour, and a handful of Liberal Party backbenchers would likely cross the floor to support).

On the flipside, a conscience vote within the Labor Party, and either a conscience vote within the Liberal Party or a Coalition vote against marriage equality (with a small number of dissenters), would still leave marriage equality in plenty of doubt, and some doubt even if Labor wins the election next year.

So, while there is obviously a strong case for people to be pushing for a Coalition conscience vote on marriage equality at the moment, it is by no means the only way to achieve this important reform – and, in some scenarios, it might not be needed at all.

  1. If Liberal MPs enjoy a conscience vote, Labor MPs should have one too

This argument is related to the first, and suggests that, if and when Tony Abbott (or his successor) eventually grants a conscience vote within the Liberal party room, giving his colleagues a ‘free vote’ on the issue, Labor Party parliamentarians would also deserve a conscience vote.

Leaving aside the fact that marriage equality concerns the rights of LGBTI-inclusive couples, not the supposed ‘rights’ of ALP MPs and Senators, there are two main problems with this approach.

First, as we have already seen, there is no reason why the decision by one side of politics to grant a conscience vote (or not) must automatically be reflected by the other. It has been more than three years since the ALP granted its parliamentarians a conscience vote on this issue, something that has still not been replicated by either the Liberal Party or National Party.

Just because the Liberal Party might adopt a conscience vote in the future does not mean the ALP must keep theirs.

Second, using this rationale to argue against a binding vote within the ALP is effectively giving power to Prime Minister Abbott to determine both whether the Liberal Party has a conscience vote, and whether (or at least when) the ALP moves to a binding vote.

I can think of very few policy issues where the delegates to ALP National Conference would happily cede their authority, on an issue of fundamental importance to a large number of ALP members, to Tony Abbott. Here’s hoping they don’t do this, on marriage equality, come July.

Why should Tony Abbott get to decide, on one hand, whether Liberal MPs get a conscience vote, and on the other, whether Labor MPs should be bound?

Why should Tony Abbott get to decide, on one hand, whether Liberal MPs get a conscience vote, and on the other, whether Labor MPs should be bound?

  1. Passing marriage equality through an ALP binding vote would place it in danger of being repealed in the future

I have heard this argument a few times – that, if we manage to secure marriage equality solely, or even primarily, because of a binding vote within the ALP, then we risk it being repealed by a subsequent Coalition Government.

In reality, there is very little danger of this happening. If the ALP adopts a binding vote at the 2015 National Conference, and marriage equality is passed this term, it means, at a minimum, that the Liberals have granted their MPs a conscience vote (and, given the direction of progress across society, it is unlikely they would retreat from that commitment in the future).

Labor is also highly likely to narrow the gap in terms of numbers in the House of Representatives at the 2016 election, further entrenching this reform under a combined bound vote/conscience vote approach.

If the Liberal Party does not agree to a conscience vote now, and marriage equality is instead passed via a binding vote under a new Labor Government in 2016, it is nevertheless hard to see it being repealed at a later date.

That would involve the Coalition returning to power in 2019, maintaining its ‘party vote’ against equality (which, with the passage of another four years, will be increasingly difficult to sustain) and ensuring no Liberal or National backbench Senators cross the floor to prevent repeal. Which is an unlikely combination.

It also dramatically underestimates how quickly marriage equality would become an accepted part of the law, and culture. With approximately two thirds of the population already supportive, even some people who are presently opposed would be left wondering, in a relatively short timeframe after it was passed, just what all the fuss was about.

Indeed, the only comparable situation I can think of is Canada, where the Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, won minority Government in January 2006, just six months after Parliament passed its nation-wide marriage equality legislation.

Elected with a promise to hold a parliamentary vote on ‘re-opening the same-sex marriage debate’, within months it was clear that opposition had diminished, and acceptance of equality had grown, even within his own party.

By December 2006 a vote was indeed held – and lost by 175 to 123 – leaving Mr Harper to admit “I don’t see reopening this question in the future”. And, almost ten years later, it is clear he was right.

Australia would almost definitely be the same – once passed by Parliament, it is highly unlikely a future Parliament would vote to repeal marriage equality.

  1. A binding vote on marriage equality would ‘split’ the Labor Party, and therefore shouldn’t be pursued

Again, I have seen this argument used a few times recently, and it deserves a response. From a marriage equality advocate’s point of view, this possibility should be assessed through the prism of whether it helps, or hinders, the passage of marriage equality legislation. Nothing more or less.

And from that perspective, it is difficult to see a potential ‘split’ harming the cause. This is because, in 2012, more than 40% of the ALP caucus failed to vote in favour of marriage equality. Even assuming the proportion of MPs backing reform has risen since then, and that perhaps up to three quarters of House of Representatives ALP MPs would now support it, that still leaves 14 out of 55 who would likely exercise their ‘conscience vote’ against LGBTI equality.

I have seen no reports or estimates, anywhere, to suggest that 14 or more ALP MPs would cross the floor against a binding vote and therefore be expelled from the Party (and an additional number in the Senate). And I don’t think any serious commentator genuinely believes the number of people willing to break the rules of their political party, over this matter, would be that high.

Which means that, even accounting for a very small handful of MPs and Senators who could conceivably leave the Party over this issue, the number of votes for marriage equality would nevertheless be higher under a binding vote than under a conscience vote, thereby making passage through the parliament easier. End of story.

Of course, as someone who is both a marriage equality advocate and a long-term ALP member, the issue of a potential ‘split’ raises other considerations. I wrote about these in greater length in my post “Hey Australian Labor, it’s time to bind on marriage equality”, last year (https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/ ), and I do not propose to repeat all of those arguments here.

However, I would make the following brief points:

a) The number of MPs and Senators who end up crossing the floor against a binding vote, and being expelled from the party, is likely to be much smaller than many people think. Despite repeated claims that ‘at least half a dozen Senators’ could cross the floor, we should note that only two caucus members – Mr Chris Hayes MP and Senator Joe Bullock – have so far put their names publicly to this threat (and even they have not repeated these claims recently).

The inflated numbers that appear in stories in the lead-up to National Conference, without names attached, should be seen for what they are – attempts to intimidate or ‘blackmail’ the Party into backing down from making support for LGBTI equality a core Labor value.

b) The people making this threat (publicly or otherwise), were also quite happy for a binding vote to be imposed on progressives who supported equality, from 2004 to 2011, and did not object to Senators Penny Wong and Louise Pratt being forced to vote against their own human rights. To argue now that it is okay to bind progressives, and even members of the LGBTI community, against equality, but that binding religious conservatives to support equality is unacceptable, is hypocrisy at its worst.

c) Any decision by an MP or Senator to cross the floor in contravention of a decision by ALP National Conference, the supreme decision-making body of their chosen political party, and contrary to the broader philosophy of a party and movement founded on collective action and solidarity, would be an act of profound disloyalty and one that I, and the vast majority of ordinary Labor members will never, can never, respect.

The fact that it would be done because the parliamentarian(s) concerned could not abide the idea that couples like Steve and I might have the same rights – under secular law – that they enjoy, simply because of our sexual orientation, makes their prospective choice all the more disreputable.

All of which is to say that I concede there may well be some MPs and Senators who feel compelled to cross the floor on marriage equality, and therefore be expelled from the Australian Labor Party as a result.

But it will be a very small handful who choose to ‘split’ themselves from the party, and they would be doing so on the basis of hypocrisy, and disloyalty, and for a motivation that very closely resembles prejudice. To be frank, the loss of a few such individuals would not be much of a loss at all. And it is even less of a reason not to pursue a binding vote for marriage equality at this year’s ALP National Conference.

An ALP binding vote for marriage equality should not include a ‘right to abstain’

Earlier this month, Michelle Grattan’s piece in The Conversation, looking at controversial issues in the lead-up to ALP National Conference, included the following paragraph in relation to a potential binding vote on marriage equality:

“But moving away from a conscience vote would be very risky for party unity, and would require a get-out-of-jail card. Some Catholic MPs would not be able to support a bill for gay marriage – but if they voted against in defiance of a ‘binding’ position they would, under Labor rules, be expelled. A decision to bind MPs would need a qualification such as an explicit right to abstain. It would be less complicated for Shorten if the conscience vote stayed intact” (emphasis added, full article: http://theconversation.com/grattan-on-friday-shorten-faces-testing-issues-as-labor-conference-approaches-39694 ).

Michelle Grattan

Michelle Grattan of The Conversation

My first reaction was WTF? My second was to check the date – alas it was published two days too late to be an April Fool’s Day joke, even if the idea of a binding vote that includes an explicit right to abstain is absurd enough for April 1st.

Of course, it is difficult to apportion blame to Ms Grattan for coming up with the idea – given her decades of experience in covering politics I am confident that this idea must be being pursued by some within the ALP, and discussed with her, rather than being an intellectual frolic of her own.

In which case, someone needs to explain to those behind this push that a binding vote does not mean what they think it means, if they genuinely believe it can incorporate an ‘explicit right to abstain’.

Instead, what they are pursuing is an entirely new principle, or rule, within the Australian Labor Party – the idea of optional or ‘opt-out’ policy. And it flies in the face of more than 120 years of Labor Party history, and the concept of solidarity that applies to the ALP, and the labour movement, generally.

I struggled for several days to even come up with an appropriate analogy for this truly bizarre idea, because it is so anathema to traditional ‘labour values’. But here goes anyway:

MPs and Senators abstaining rather than voting for formal ALP policy is like union members calling in sick rather than going on strike with other employees. Sure, the employer doesn’t get a day’s work from them, but nor do they do anything to advance the cause of their fellow worker. They selfishly collect their own pay cheque, while abandoning the interests of the collective. And that makes them no comrade of mine.

There are many things about such a proposal that I find offensive, not least of which is the blatant hypocrisy. From August 2004 until December 2011, the Australian Labor Party did have a binding vote on marriage equality – it bound its MPs and Senators to vote against equality.

All of them. There was no conscience vote, and definitely no ‘right to abstain’, not even for those MPs and Senators who were obliged to vote against their own personal equality, on the basis of their sexual orientation, and against the equality of their relationships.

Nor was there a ‘right to abstain’ for those progressives who supported the full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians. And we shouldn’t underestimate how deeply that belief – that all people should be treated equally, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status – is held by many people within the ALP.

In fact, it would be hard for anyone to assert that religious beliefs are more deeply held, or more important, than the fundamental belief that all people are equal, and should be treated as such.

Yet I cannot recall a motion at either the 2007 or 2009 ALP National Conferences, held during the period of the operation of the binding vote against marriage equality, seeking an ‘explicit right to abstain’ for those who supported equality. Perhaps those trying to promote this option now could produce evidence that they supported such a proposal at the time?

It would also be difficult to assert that an explicit right to abstain should exist to allow religious conservatives to oppose the equality of LGBTI relationships, but not to allow progressive members of caucus to abstain from policies which allow the offshore detention and resettlement of refugees to Australia, or indeed on a range of other issues.

And, if the Labor Party were to start making a number of its policy positions optional, or ‘opt-out’, then it would start to resemble something very different to what it is today, what it has been for decades, and unrecognisable from the party I joined 13 years ago.

What is almost as offensive as the double standard above is that the position of anyone seeking to push for a right to abstain on the basis of religious belief is also, at its core, illogical.

There is absolutely nothing about a binding position on marriage equality which would force someone to celebrate the marriage of LGBTI-inclusive couples within their religion; none of the marriage equality Bills to date have proposed that religions should be compelled to conduct LGBTI-inclusive weddings.

Those MPs and Senators opposed to equality could continue to believe, as part of their faith, that LGBTI relationships are second-class and not as worthy of celebration as those of cisgender heterosexual couples. They could even continue to judge same-sex ‘acts’ as sinful (even if, for many of them, their religious leader has recently asked ‘who am I to judge?’).

All a binding vote would do is compel ALP MPs and Senators, as members of a secular party, sitting in a secular parliament, to recognise LGBTI relationships as being equal under secular law. Nothing more and nothing less.

Their personal religious beliefs should not prevent them from being able to vote for secular equality. And if they can’t, then maybe they have chosen the wrong profession.

Even now, ten days after reading Ms Grattan’s article, I am having trouble reconciling how people within my party could be considering trashing the ALP’s traditions, all because they are so opposed to the idea that couples like Steve and I might enjoy the same rights that they currently take for granted.

Indeed, it is almost flattering that they are so threatened by LGBTI relationships, as if we are so radical, and powerful, that the simple act of us getting married will somehow wreak havoc on their world (instead of the reality that many of our relationships are as ordinary, with the same ups and downs, and love, and yes even arguments, as everyone else’s).

But hopefully, come July, such flattery will get them nowhere. The ALP National Conference in Melbourne should adopt a binding vote in favour of marriage equality, and there is absolutely no reason why it should make that position optional by including an ‘explicit right to abstain’ for certain MPs and Senators.

4 Arguments Against an ALP Binding Vote on Marriage Equality… And Why They’re Wrong

The arguments in favour of a pro-marriage equality binding vote within the Australian Labor Party are incredibly strong.

Marriage equality is about the fundamental equality of all Australians, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, and therefore it would be inappropriate to give a ‘free pass’ to some MPs within the ALP to vote against it.

The Australian Labor Party, as a collectivist organisation, also binds its MPs to vote together on nearly all issues – and there is no legitimate reason why marriage equality should be an exception to this principle.

And, strategically, a pro-marriage equality binding vote within the ALP is probably necessary for this reform to pass in either this or the next term of Parliament.

But, despite the above, there will still be many people, both within and outside the Party, who will try to argue against a binding vote between now and when it is finally voted upon at ALP National Conference in July.

This post looks at four of the most common arguments which will be made – and why they are unambiguously wrong.

  1. The ALP never binds on ‘gay issues’

There are two insurmountable problems which face anyone who attempts to raise this argument.

First, it’s simply not true. The two biggest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) law reforms which have ever been passed by the Commonwealth Parliament, namely:

  • the recognition of same-sex relationships (outside of marriage) in the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws – General Law Reform ) Act 2008 (and related changes to superannuation and family law), and
  • the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 which introduced federal LGBTI anti-discrimination protections for the first time

were passed by the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments – and both were achieved through binding votes.

Second, even where there were conscience votes related to ‘homosexuality’ – for example, in states and territories when sex between men was being decriminalised – in order to successfully use that as a precedent for another conscience vote today means effectively saying that it was ‘right’ that some ALP MPs were historically allowed to vote for the continued criminalisation of people solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.

So, if you are basing your supposed ‘right’ to vote against the full equality of LGBTI relationships now on the fact that other people voted, unarguably, on the basis of homophobia in the past then you should expect to be called out on it – because that is the not-so-proud tradition with which you are associating (for more on this argument, see It’s Time to Bind: The Merits, here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/ ).

  1. The ALP never binds on ‘marriage’

This is perhaps my favourite of the pro-conscience vote arguments, and it has been ever since then Prime Minister the Hon Julia Gillard employed it during her speech at the 2011 ALP National Conference to argue against a binding vote. And by favourite, I mean the most laughable.

In essence, Ms Gillard attempted to argue that, because ALP MPs had been given a conscience vote on the Marriage Act 1961 when it was introduced, and when amended by the Family Law Act reforms of the mid-1970s, ALP MPs should have a conscience vote today (full text of the speech here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/archive/national-affairs/julia-gillards-address-to-the-alp-national-conference-on-a-conscience-vote-for-gay-marriage/story-fnba0rxe-1226213001184 ).

Leaving aside the fact that a lot had changed during the previous five decades, Prime Minister Gillard also managed to completely overlook the 2004 Howard Government amendments to the Act – which introduced a definition of marriage and about which, as Ms Gillard well knew at the time of her speech, the ALP bound its MPs and Senators to support.

If the ALP can bind its parliamentary members on something as fundamental as the legislative definition of the word marriage, as recently as 2004, then this argument is completely and utterly bogus.

Nicola Roxon, the Shadow Attorney-General who, in August 2004, first told the National Marriage Forum the ALP would be supporting Howard's homophobic legislation.

Nicola Roxon, the Shadow Attorney-General who, in August 2004, first told the National Marriage Forum the ALP would be supporting Howard’s homophobic legislation.

  1. The issue of marriage equality is so controversial the ALP cannot bind its members on it

Okay, so there is no consistent history of conscience votes on LGBTI issues, or even of marriage-related conscience votes, but maybe by combining these issues – and making the argument specifically about the issue of marriage equality – opponents of a binding vote might be more successful, right?

Wrong. As we all know (far, far too well by now), the 2004 definition of marriage introduced by the Howard Liberal-National Government, with the bound support of the Australian Labor Party Opposition, was the first major substantive vote on, and sadly against, marriage equality in the Commonwealth Parliament.

But it was by no means the last. It was followed by a series of votes, over more than seven years, in which all ALP MPs and Senators – including those who were LGBTI themselves, as well as those who were progressive and simply supported the fundamental equality of people irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status – were bound to vote against marriage equality.

Even though this position was overturned by the 2011 ALP National Conference, the modern Labor Party has still had a binding vote on marriage equality for more than twice as long as it has had a conscience vote.

And if it can bind its MPs against marriage equality, less than four years ago, there is absolutely no reason why it cannot bind its MPs for marriage equality in 2015 (and, if necessary, beyond).

  1. Marriage equality is about ‘choice’, therefore MPs should be given the choice whether to support it or not

This argument was made most recently by Andrew Probyn in The West Australian who, as well as repeating the rumour that ‘half a dozen Senators’ would cross the floor rather than vote for marriage equality (though as usual naming only Senator Joe Bullock), made the following comment: “[f]orcing a vote on an issue that is ultimately about choice would be dumb indeed” (story here: https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/opinion/a/26807957/tony-abbott-the-anti-hero-on-gay-marriage/ ).

His argument has at least the merit of being distantly (and I mean very distantly) related to something that is true. Marriage equality is indeed about choice – the choice lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians should be able to exercise, to decide for themselves whether (or not) to marry their partner.

LGBTI people should be given the exact same choice that cisgender heterosexual couples currently enjoy. Because LGBTI people deserve to be treated equally under the law.

And it is the last point that is the most important. The issue, at its heart, is not about choice, it is about equality. The equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, and the legal equality which should apply to our relationships.

And it is offensive to suggest that ALP MPs and Senators should, on the basis of their own personal beliefs, be free to choose to deny the equality, and consequently the human rights, of their fellow citizens solely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Equality, and the recognition of fundamental human rights, should not be an ‘optional extra’ for a contemporary centre-left political party.

The MP, and the Senator, threatening to cross the floor rather than vote for marriage equality

In the lead-up to this year’s ALP National Conference, and the debate about whether to adopt a binding vote in favour of marriage equality, expect to hear a lot about the supposed ‘significant’ minority of ALP MPs and Senators who would be willing to cross the floor – and therefore be expelled from the party – rather than vote for the full equality of LGBTI relationships.

Indeed, the same The Saturday Paper article in which the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP and Senator the Hon Penny Wong confirmed their support for a binding vote, included the following statement: “[o]ne senior Labor figure estimates up to six senators would abstain or cross the floor in parliament rather than voting for same-sex marriage if the party chose to enforce its official policy” (<http://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2015/03/28/pressure-builds-same-sex-marriage-libs-and-alp/14274612001683#.VR234boxGX0 ).

Which is somewhat academic, irrelevant even, if those MPs and Senators aren’t willing to put their names to this sentiment. And, as far as I can tell, there have been only two current ALP parliamentarians who have publicly declared they would cross the floor rather than support marriage equality:

I have written the below letters to both Mr Hayes and Senator Bullock asking whether they would now abide by a decision of this year’s ALP National Conference to support a binding vote and, if not, whether they would do the honourable thing and resign. I will post any response from each that I receive.

As for the other MPs and Senators – who apparently threaten to cross the floor, but only do so behind closed doors, and who will not identify themselves to ordinary ALP members – then I suggest we ignore them, and their idle threats (or, to put it more accurately, their blackmail attempts), in the same way that they are more than comfortable in ignoring our right to full equality, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Finally, if you know of any other MPs or Senators who have made public threats to cross the floor against marriage equality, please let me know in the comments section below (including a link to any public record, if possible). Thanks.

Mr Chris Hayes MP

Member for Fowler

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Chris.Hayes.MP@aph.gov.au

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Dear Mr Hayes

Would you abide by an ALP National Conference resolution to adopt a binding vote in favour of marriage equality?

I am writing to you about marriage equality, and specifically the issue of a binding vote within the Australian Labor Party, which is expected to be debated at this year’s National Conference in Melbourne from July 24-26.

Specifically, would you abide by a decision of the ALP’s supreme policy-making body to agree to a binding vote in favour of marriage equality?

I ask you this because it was reported, in the Sydney Morning Herald prior to the 2011 National Conference, that you would ‘never vote for gay marriage, even if party policy dictated it’.

I also ask the question sincerely, especially given many others, from US President Barack Obama to NSW Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley, have seen their positions on marriage equality ‘evolve’ during the past three and a half years.

Perhaps, even if your personal view of marriage equality may not have changed since 2011, you might be more inclined to accept the democratic decision of delegates to ALP National Conference this year.

However, if your views have not changed, and you remain committed to breaking party solidarity and crossing the floor contrary to any potential resolution to bind in favour of marriage equality, then I ask: in that event, would you resign?

I believe that, if you genuinely believed that you could no longer remain a part of the collectivist organisation of which you enjoy the privilege of being a parliamentary member, resigning would be the honourable course of action.

I also believe that, given you have made public remarks indicating your intention to cross the floor (albeit prior to the last Conference), you owe it to the members of the Australian Labor Party to clarify what actions you would take if this year’s National Conference did agree to a binding vote for full lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this correspondence.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

The Member for Fowler, Chris Hayes MP

The Member for Fowler, Chris Hayes MP

Senator Joe Bullock

PO Box 6100

Senate

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

senator.bullock@aph.gov.au

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Dear Senator Bullock

Would you abide by an ALP National Conference resolution to adopt a binding vote in favour of marriage equality?

I am writing to you about marriage equality, and specifically the issue of a binding vote within the Australian Labor Party, which is expected to be debated at this year’s National Conference in Melbourne from July 24-26.

Specifically, would you abide by a decision of the ALP’s supreme policy-making body to agree to a binding vote in favour of marriage equality?

I ask you this because last year it was reported in The Australian that, prior to your election to the Senate, you said, “[i]f the party decides it [marriage equality] is not a conscience vote and expels me, so be it.”

I also ask the question sincerely, because, even in the space of 12 months, it is possible for people’s views on this topic to ‘evolve’. It is also possible that, now you have performed the role of Senator for more than nine months, you may have a different view of your responsibilities towards the party of which you are a parliamentary member.

However, if your views have not changed since making those comments, and you remain committed to breaking party solidarity and crossing the floor contrary to any potential resolution to bind in favour of marriage equality, then I ask: in that event, would you resign?

I believe that, if you genuinely believed that you could no longer remain a part of the collectivist organisation of which you enjoy the privilege of being a parliamentary member, resigning would be the honourable course of action.

I also believe that, given you have made public remarks indicating your intention to cross the floor, you owe it to the members of the Australian Labor Party to clarify what actions you would take if this year’s National Conference did agree to a binding vote for full lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this correspondence.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Western Australian Senator Joe Bullock

Western Australian Senator Joe Bullock