WEST Australian Labor Senator Joe Bullock, a vocal opponent to marriage equality and Safe Schools, has quit politics over his party’s impending binding vote policy in favour of marriage equality.
In a speech to Parliament last night, Bullock announced he was “morally obliged” to quit in light of Labor’s commitment to “homosexual marriage”, and said that staying in the job would require him to do something which he felt was wrong.
“How can I in good conscience recommend to the people that they vote for a party which is determined to deny its parliamentarians a conscience vote on the homosexual marriage question?” Bullock said.
“The simple answer is that I can’t.”
In a statement released this morning, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) called Bullock’s resignation “a sad day for tolerance”.
“It is tragic that someone like Senator Bullock, who has given his life to the Labor cause, has effectively been driven out of the party he loves because it no longer tolerates support for the timeless definition of marriage,” ACL director Lyle Shelton said.
Former WA Senator Louise Pratt, nominated to re-take her Senate seat last night after Bullock replaced her in 2014, but she was overlooked by Labor leader Bill Shorten in favour of Pat Dodson — a prominent Indigenous leader and the former chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
Pratt was the second out lesbian woman to be elected to Federal Parliament and the first to have a trans man as a partner. Bullock once questioned Pratt’s sexuality, but later apologised.
Dodson, a former Catholic priest, has also already confirmed his support for marriage equality.
Labor has sent an email… despite being a Roman Catholic priest, Pat Dodson supports marriage equality pic.twitter.com/AyV2TDGtVU
— Mark Di Stefano (@MarkDiStef) March 2, 2016
Don’t forget that Joe Bullock engaged in homophobic vilification of a party colleague. He’s a bigot, plain and simple.
— Bernard Keane (@BernardKeane) March 1, 2016
Just ran into Joe Bullock. “Onya mate” I said, in reference to him quitting. “Thanks mate”, he replied. Not sure he got my point..
— Osman Faruqi (@oz_f) March 1, 2016
The news comes after a tumultuous few days for LGBTI issues in Canberra.
The Safe Schools program has been the source of heated debate after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull caved in to pressure from far right Liberal backbenchers by ordering an inquiry of it.
The announcement was followed by an incident in which Shorten called South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi a “homophobe” and described the conservative attitude toward Safe Schools as a “ridiculous, absurd obsession”.
Dawson federal Coalition MP George Christensen likened Safe Schools to pedophile grooming in an address to parliament last Thursday.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott also entered the fray this week, calling for the program to be “terminated”.
Speaking to The Australian, Abbott described the program as “social engineering”.
However his sister, out lesbian City of Sydney councillor Christine Forster, told Buzzfeed News that Abbott lacked an understanding about the nature of gender and sexual identity.
“It’s my view that you cannot engineer a child into being transgender or homosexual,” she said.
“And it’s my experience. It’s not something that’s engineered. It’s something that’s inherent to a person.”
Abbott’s comments follow those of former PM John Howard, who told Sky News the Safe Schools program was “out of touch”.
“According to our culture and our society, those matters should be discussed by parents with their children”, he said.
Despite this, the former PM also gave his support for a free vote, rather than a plebiscite, on marriage equality.
“I would have preferred the matter dealt with by a free vote in parliament – I believe in representative democracy,” said Howard, who was PM at the time Federal Parliament amended the Marriage Act in 2004 so explicitly define marriage as one between a man and a woman.
Melbourne federal Greens MP Adam Bandt used Question Time last night to challenge the current PM over the issue.
“The Safe Schools program has been stopping bullying around the country and has helped many young people feel that they fit in,” he said.
“Prime Minister, is your commitment to socially progressive values so skin deep that you will put young people’s welfare at risk and throw a successful anti-bullying campaign under a bus just because the bigots in the conservative brotherhood tell you to?”
In his response, Malcolm Turnbull condemned bullying but defended his decision to review the program: “Members of this parliament on both sides of the parliament have raised concerns about some of the content in — that has been made available apparently or purportedly through — or in connection with this program.”