On September 26 2010, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young reintroduced her Marriage Equality Amendment Bill into the Senate, which would remove discrimination based on sexuality or gender from the Marriage Act, thus allowing gay marriage. She urged both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to allow a conscience vote on this issue - that is, allow each MP to make up their own mind, based on their own convictions and/or that of their electorate - but Gillard very quickly returned that Labor MPs would be voting along party lines on this issue. This would mean the bill would have essentially zero chance of success.
The only way that this decision will change is if Gillard and the Labor party in general are put under pressure by voters. There is still some time before any actual vote is taken, so I would urge you to contact your local member and/or the PM - or at the very least, sign this online petition - and show them how important this issue is to Australians. The more pressure we can put on, the more likely we are to succeed. With that in mind, and with a personalised one to my local member being sent shortly, I present an open letter to the Prime Minister:
Dear Ms Gillard
In its last term, the Labor party made a number of changes to welfare legislation that removed a great deal of discrimination against homosexuals. I’m sure you don’t need me to recount them to you, but this was all good work. When pressed at election time, your stated position was that you did not plan to legalise gay marriage; I thought that your record spoke volumes of your party’s tolerance, and that your hesitance in taking this final step was just another example of the wheels of democracy turning slowly. I could understand your position, which was one of the primary reasons I supported you being Prime Minister over Tony Abbott.
However, the situation has now changed. You are not in the middle of an election campaign. You are not the party that is introducing the changes to the marriage act - the Greens are. You do not even need to endure the accusations of backflipping that might result if you personally voted for the bill. All that you need to do is allow your party members to vote according to their conscience - it is very clearly a conscience issue. In terms of crude politicking, you have nothing to lose by allowing a conscience vote…which is why I am staggered as to why you are sticking to this line. I have been giving you the benefit of the doubt for some time, but decisions like this make it seem less like you are biding your time and more like you are simply homophobic. And if I am drawing this conclusion, you can bet that a lot of other people who have supported Labor in the past will be drawing the same conclusion.
A recent Galaxy poll showed that 60% of Australians support marriage equality - and amongst Labor voters, the figure is 64%. In a nation that quite clearly supports the right to marriage equality, your own voters support it more than average. Then consider the huge swing to the Greens at the last election - the vast majority of which came out of Labor’s share - and that 82% of Green voters support gay marriage. Make no mistake - the fact that Labor and the Coalition had the same policy did nothing to stop this issue from polarising voters; it was a major factor in the swing to the Greens. Australians are screaming for this absurdity to end - the leader who answers their call will be rewarded with votes.
I could make emotional appeals, and tell you heartbreaking stories about gay friends of mine. I could explain why it is discrimination, no different to racism or sexism, and that therefore it is your moral duty to change the law. But I know you’ve heard it all before - not least because the aforementioned gay friends are writing to you as well. The moral choice has always been on the side of marriage equality, and now the political path is clear as well. If nothing else, you are intimately acquainted with what happens to a Labor leader who stops leading strongly.
I personally am not gay. Neither are most of the other 60% of the country that support marriage equality. This is not a niche issue. This is not going away. I urge you to show some leadership and bring Australia’s laws into the 21st century, where its citizens live. Please - allow your members a conscience vote.