A BODY representing Liberal student clubs from around the country has warned against shutting the Liberal Party out of the marriage equality debate as it could “destroy” the movement’s chances of success, after voting in support of a conscience vote on the issue for Liberal MPs.
On Tuesday, the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation (ALSF) passed the motion at a meeting of the group’s federal council at the University of Melbourne.
“It’s a step in the right direction on the issue, I would say. It’s not going to be in the party room tomorrow… but it’s another nail in the coffin in support of change to the Marriage Act,” he said.
While the federation is not officially part of the Liberal Party, it is viewed by some insiders as an indication of the future direction of party policy. It is also common for sitting MPs to come up through the party after starting out in campus Liberal clubs affiliated with ALSF.
Although support for marriage equality has remained consistent among Liberal students, Lesh said in the recent absence of significant public debate on the issue it was difficult to gauge whether there was movement within the Liberal Party.
“I think it’s really important that people who want to push up the marriage equality debate (understand) that you need to build wide societal support, and the best way to do that is through every political party, every possible forum,” he said, pointing to New Zealand and the UK, where marriage equality passed with the support of conservative parties.
“So trying to push Liberals out of the marriage equality debate is probably going to destroy any chance of marriage equality becoming a reality.”
Lesh said marriage equality as an issue should appeal to both the liberal and conservative elements of the Liberal Party, in terms of the rights of individuals and the importance of strong civil society.
“I think among the grass roots (of the marriage equality movement) there can be a conceptualisation that the Liberals are ‘evil’ when it comes to same-sex marriage or they’re evil when it comes to gay rights issues,” he said.
“Of course, that’s not historically precedented, and it’s certainly not the feeling within the party.”
Australian Marriage Equality has applauded ALSF’s position.
“The Liberal Students’ Federation has highlighted an important home truth to its seniors in the Coalition: marriage equality is about core the Liberal values of enhancing personal freedom and reinforcing family values,” said national director Rodney Croome.