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
SYDNEY NSW 2000
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.
Additional letters sent to:
The Hon Daniel Andrews Premier of Victoria Level 1, 1 Treasury Place East Melbourne VIC 3002 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hon Annastacia Palaszczuk MP Premier of Queensland Level 15, Executive Building 100 George Street BRISBANE QLD 4000 email@example.com
The Hon Mark McGowan MLA Leader of the WA Opposition Parliament House Perth WA 6000 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
Mr Andrew Barr MLA ACT Chief Minister GPO Box 1020 Canberra ACT 2601 firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr Michael Gunner MLA Leader of the NT Opposition GPO Box 3700 Darwin NT 0801 email@example.com
* And a very rapid response from the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, confirming his support for a binding vote: