WHAT do you call it when the so-called conservative Catholic countries of Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Ireland pass marriage equality legislation before the secular, and apparently more progressive Australia?
Some have called it a national embarrassment. Others a blight on our democratic leaders. But I give it a different name: the monumental failure of a movement that should have won years ago.
[showads ad=MREC]It is for this reason that I was stunned when reading Australian Marriage Equality’s “new” strategy released on Monday.
You may notice I put “new” in inverted commas. Reading the strategy I could not help but get a sense of déjà-vu. This “new” strategy seems very similar to the old one — lobbying politicians to get them to change their position. According to AME national director Rodney Croome we just need “another eight votes” and then same-sex marriage will become a reality.
After years of failure you would think it may be time for a rethink, but apparently not. In doing so I suspect we may not see marriage equality for a long time yet.
Previous marriage equality strategies have been based on two ideas: get a free vote in both parties and then convince enough MPs to vote yes when that happens. This strategy however, while seemingly solid, has failed for two reasons.
First, a free vote was always too weak an ask. Focusing on a conscience vote let the ALP largely of the hook, then squeezing out any room for the Coalition to manoeuvre. With their conservative base, the Coalition were never going to agree to all our demands. Fighting for a binding vote therefore would have let them have a conscience vote as a compromise — an opportunity we took off the table from day one.
These issues are particular pertinent when met with the second problem, the weak public pressure placed on our politicians. Most work has been done in the corridors of Parliament, and while marriage equality has remained an issue of public debate it has not become a vote-changing one. This is why Malcolm Turnbull was able to dump a conscience vote with little to no change in his popularity or electoral chances. There is simply not enough strength in the movement, resulting in little pressure on our political leaders.
It is these same issues I see with AME’s “new” strategy. The strategy sticks to the old plan — lobby politicians, change individual MP minds, and somehow hope that that leads to reform.
You have to ask, why will it be different this time? The strategy in particular misses any real plan for how to convert new MP support into an actual vote in Parliament — once again placing all bets on the slim chance the Coalition will opt for a free vote. With no real ground game to put pressure on Malcolm Turnbull in particular (who has largely received a free pass since his ascension to the Prime Ministership) to make that happen, this hope seems very faint indeed.
So what is the alternative? If we want marriage equality as soon as possible there are two options.
First is to defeat the Coalition at the next election. Parliamentary votes are now so close that the issue is no longer numbers, but who controls your vote. That means that, if marriage is your big issue, you are better off giving your preference to an anti-marriage Labor candidate than a pro-marriage Liberal one. Even if they vote against marriage (and I highly doubt any Labor MP would vote against their own Prime Minister’s first legislation) the mere existence of a vote is currently what is important. An anti-marriage equality Labor MP (or even better a pro-marriage Labor or Green one) is therefore better than a pro-marriage Liberal MP sitting on the back bench with no power to create the change.
However, I think there is an even better alternative. I know people don’t like this, and for good reason, but we still have time to push Malcolm Turnbull to make a plebiscite occur at the next election. This would not only force both parties to act straight after the election, but would also do one thing the current strategy has not — get us on to the street to engage voters one by one. This not only has the capacity to pass marriage equality but would also have the longer-term impact of changing people’s views of homosexuality and queer relationships. That, to me, is far more valuable that spending thousands of dollars to change the minds of eight Parliamentarians.
Time to get out of the halls of Parliament and into the streets. That’s how marriage equality will happen.[showads ad=FOOT]