Gay-friendly wedge politics
With another round of disappointing comments from Kevin Rudd and further reticence from NSW Labor on state-based registration, it’s time to ask the obvious question: Is there really any difference between the major parties on gay and lesbian rights at a federal level?
Both the Coalition and Labor have never ever policies on same-sex marriage, neither will countenance civil unions at a federal level, and both say they will end discrimination short of the above in the near future -“ though the Liberals have certainly been more cagey on the details.
Such changes are no longer the wedge issue they used to be -“ even the Australian Christian Lobby now views the recommendations of the HREOC report as inevitable. In comparison, Rudd is yet to even read it.
But could there be a different gay rights wedge for a floundering federal Government to exploit in the lead-up to a knife-edge election that may hang on just a handful of seats?
While legal inequality keeps so many of us tied to the political Left, it’s a mistake to assume all gay men and lesbians are natural ALP voters. Many are business owners, self-employed or have the kind of skills that may give them an edge under a competitive WorkChoices regime.
Some hold conservative views on a range of issues other than sexuality. And some may even see the Government’s tough on immigration stance as a way of deterring migrants from homophobic countries who could have a dilutative effect on Australian democracy when it comes to tolerance of sexual minorities.
So, playing devil’s advocate, how could the Coalition wedge Labor on gay rights in a way that would help claw back the support of both conservative and small l Liberal voters, and gay and lesbian voters at the same time?
Allowing the Democrats’ Same Sex: Same Entitlements Bill to pass into law on a conscience vote before the election would do just the trick.
Doing so would bring Labor’s federal gay rights pledge back to nought (registries being reliant on the states) without any significant blowback from Christian voters as it would not officially be the Government’s fault.
Labor would then be forced into a difficult position -“ go one better and propose some sort of federal relationship scheme, or offer nothing and risk a mass defection of left-wing gay voters to the Greens, while making it safe for conservative-minded gays and lesbians to vote Liberal.
The same goes for their supportive heterosexual friends and family members -“ and making gay rights a non-issue in this way has been an important strategy for other Centre Right parties overseas against incumbent Labour governments.
Both the New Zealand Nationals and UK Conservatives made electoral gains by matching their opponents on gay rights but stopping short of same-sex marriage -“ making it safe for economically conservative but socially progressive voters to vote for them again.
Whether Warren Entsch and the Member for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull, can sell such a policy to their parliamentary colleagues is debatable -“ but stranger things have happened in an election year.
Email: [email protected]