The battle for the electorate of Melbourne Ports in the upcoming Federal election has become a front in the marriage equality struggle, as openly gay Liberal Party candidate Kevin Ekendahl runs against sitting Labor Party MP since 1998, Michael Danby. Danby angered many in the LGBTI community by abstaining from last year’s House of Representatives vote on marriage equality, but said in May he supported the issue.
Star Observer spoke with Kevin Ekendahl about the marriage equality debate in Melbourne Ports, and about why the area has become such a focal point for the issue. Ekendahl contested the seat in the 2010 election, coming second to Danby with 37.8 per cent of the primary vote.
“The area certainly has a very large gay and lesbian population, so I think any candidate that wants to be successful needs to be mindful and supportive of that section of the community,” Ekendahl said.
As well as marriage equality, Ekendahl said youth homelessness was an issue facing many LGBTI young people in the electorate.
“There are a lot of people from the outer suburbs and from regional and rural areas who are coming out—a lot of their families have disowned them, and I’ve met people whose families, even in 2013, are not very happy that their son or daughter has come out as gay or lesbian,” he said.
“They leave home, they’ve got nowhere to go, they come into the city and they meet a few friends—these are the people you don’t see that are couch surfing, calling all sorts of different places home but nowhere in particular.”
Ekendahl said he has received positive responses to his campaigning for marriage equality from both his Liberal Party colleagues and from Melbourne Ports residents, and argued against the issue being solely the domain of left-wing politics.
“There is this perception that the Liberal Party is against gays and I can tell you it’s not the case at all,” he said, asked
“I think that [the perception] is fairly recent… John Howard passed legislation to recognise marriage between a man and a woman and define it as such, which had bipartisan support.
“But because it was John Howard who was the Prime Minister at the time there has been this perception. There have been people in the Liberal party who have been less than favourable, as there has been in the Labor party… It just shows the marriage equality debate and the gay and lesbian agenda is not about a left-wing/right-wing thing, it’s about the different people in these parties and the makeup of these parties.”
Ekendahl argued that although support for marriage equality from Liberal Party politicians such as Kelly O’Dwyer is only a recent development, support for the issue within then Liberal Party more broadly is not something new.
“It’s not recent that you’ve had Liberals pushing for this sort of thing. I remember when I was a Young Liberal back in the year 2000, we were passing motions at a Young Liberal convention about marriage equality back then.
“It’s only recently you’ve had some high profile people come out about it… political parties are a reflection of their members. If you have a lot of socially progressive people come into the party the party become socially progressive.”
Liberal Party leader Tony Abott has consistently spoken against marriage equality, and in 2010 said he felt “theatened” by homosexuality.