Senior Labor figures are divided on the question of whether the party should change its position on same-sex marriage, with a growing number of politicians and party elders calling for a conscience vote to be abandoned in favour of full support for marriage equality.
The division comes after AWU national secretary and senior Labor powerbroker Paul Howes openly called for the party to adopt same-sex marriage as binding policy in a speech to the Future of Marriage Equality Forum on Monday night, saying that he had erred in pushing for a conscience vote at the 2012 ALP National Conference and that Labor should fully support same-sex marriage as “a matter of basic social justice”.
“I am hopeful that many others like me who mistakenly supported a conscience vote will realise the error of their ways and realise that for Labor to have a conscience, we must not allow a conscience vote on this fundamental issue of righting a wrong that exists in our society,” Howes said in the speech.
“Frankly, if you find yourself believing otherwise then it is my strong belief that you do not belong with us.”
In the aftermath of Howes’ speech, which the Star Observer featured exclusively last week, both contestants for the Labor leadership, Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese, ruled out pushing for any change in party policy despite both men being personally supportive of marriage equality.
“My position on marriage equality has been long standing and consistent – it’s a reform whose time has come and the parliament should act. But equally, I believe this can best be achieved when all members and senators are given a free vote on any future legislation,” Albanese said when questioned.
However, former Finance Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate Penny Wong has joined Howes, saying that she has long believed the Labor Party should fully support marriage equality as “a matter of principle rather than a matter of conscience”.
The ALP adopted a conscience-vote position on same-sex marriage at the 2012 Conference. However, if the ALP had voted to adopt a binding policy of support, several failed attempts to legalise same-sex marriage during the tenure of the former Labor government may have met with success.