IF all goes well, both houses of parliament will pass my Private Senators Bill some time later this year and make marriage equality a reality for Australia.
As a Liberal Democrat, the first person voted into an Australian Parliament on a libertarian or classical “small l” liberal platform, I have found allies on both sides of parliament on issues regarding personal freedom. This might prove to be the circuit-breaker that the marriage equality issue needs to lift it out of the usual left versus right rivalries.
We have no way of knowing yet if the Coalition will support a conscience vote, but I have been buoyed by the honest engagement with politicians from both sides since my announcement. While the Greens and people like Tanya Plibersek are highly supportive of marriage equality and a conscience vote for Labor MPs is assured, we cannot take for granted the support of a majority of Labor members.
Similarly, there are a number of Coalition members with libertarian instincts who may ultimately get the bill over the line. Others are inclined not to agree with marriage equality and have approached me with their concerns. If we can deal with these logically, one by one, we may be able to capture some crucial extra votes.
One of these concerns is that marriage equality will open the door to polygamy. We can assure them that our proposed legislation will take a minimalist approach, just removing references to men and women and not in any way making polygamy a possibility. There are hundreds of different state and federal laws governing family and relationships. Recognising polygamous relationships would require amending all these different laws, not just the Marriage Act. This is simply not going to happen.
Another concern is that celebrants or others who do not want to be involved in same-sex marriages could be penalised for their refusal to take part. We wish to make it clear that as libertarians, we want people to be free to make this choice without any official sanction.
The LGBTI community has had a long and proud tradition of fighting for personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and simply the freedom to be. I see my bill allowing freedom to marry as part of this tradition.
We hope that just as a substantial majority of the broader public has come to tolerate same-sex marriage, the LGBTI community will tolerate those who choose to opt out of any involvement. Once again, we are not asking for approval on either side of the debate, but tolerance from both.
To make this work, I ask that the LGBTI community understand our approach. In the past, decision makers have been made to feel they were being harangued for their moral failings by political opponents. This has been counter-productive. This time, we will be appealing to their reason and respect for personal freedom.
To this end, the Liberal Democrats are grateful to the people at Australian Marriage Equality who we are consulting closely both on the legislation and lobbying efforts. I understand a conscience vote could go either way, so the chances of success will depend on a coordinated and strategic approach to lobbying.
At the media conference to announce our intentions I made the point that this is more than a matter of principle, it’s a matter of doing the right thing for people we know: “Today, I challenge Labor Party members to look Senator Wong in the eye and tell her she does not deserve equal marriage rights. Today, I challenge Prime Minister Abbott and Liberal Party members to do the same with Mr Abbott’s sister, Christine.”
Most politicians understand that their job is to help constituents. If marriage equality is important to you or someone you know, you should feel free to see your local member or senator and politely ask them to explain their position. If they have specific concerns, then deal with them logically, or invite them to talk to myself or Australian Marriage Equality about these concerns so we can deal with them.
Marriage equality is an emotional issue for many people, but a coordinated response using politeness and reason is most likely to win us the day.
David Leyonhjelm is the Liberal Democrat Senator for NSW.
**This article first appeared in the September issue of the Star Observer. The October issue will hit the streets this Thursday (September 18) in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. Click here to find out where you can grab your free copy.