THE hypocrisy of some Labor MPs really is staggering. After years of dragging their feet on support for equality, allowing the right faction to stack Senate vacancies with anti-gay marriage advocates, and booting respected senators in favour of “deeply homophobic” unionists, you have to wonder whose side they’re really on.

Shadow Justice Minister David Feeney was the latest Labor frontbencher to reprimand Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek yesterday after she backed a binding vote in favour of marriage equality. It’s interesting that Feeney considers himself an expert on how best to legalise same-sex marriage given he’s either abstained or voted against every major vote on it in federal Parliament, despite representing one of Victoria’s most LGBTI-centric electorates.

Up until 2010, when MPs like Plibersek and Senator Penny Wong continued to back their party’s opposition to same-sex marriage (and were denied a conscience vote on the issue), they came under unrelenting attack from the LGBTI community. I was working as a journalist at the Star Observer at that time and we ran a front page splash on Wong, headlined “Betrayed”, which stoked the fires and had our message boards overflowing with ugly attacks.

The likes of Plibersek and Wong showed an unwavering loyalty to their party in the face of fierce criticism. Now that they’re are unashamedly championing our cause – one that’s now enshrined in the ALP’s national platform – and taking heat for it from within their own party, the community should be rushing to defend them, regardless of who they vote for.

The idea that this is some kind of power play from the deputy leader is as predictable as it is ludicrous. When, if not prior to the party’s national conference, are these type of internal debates supposed to take place?

Of course, the hypocrisy isn’t isolated to the ALP. Gay Liberal Senator Dean Smith, who had vehemently opposed same-sex marriage until two months ago, has also suddenly become an expert on the best way in which to usher in reform. He told Fairfax Media this week that it was Plibersek who had “wrecked” progress on the issue of a gay marriage conscience vote within the Liberal Party.

This idea put forward by certain MPs and commentators that a switch to a binding vote for Labor MPs may impact on the Liberal partyroom is a red herring. This debate isn’t about the sanctity of conscience votes – which many argue should be restricted to life and death issues, such as abortion of euthanasia. Those pushing for a free vote within Liberal ranks aren’t likely to suddenly not want their voices heard on the issue simply because Labor support for marriage equality becomes unanimous.

If LGBTI voters, their families and their supporters want a conservative government, they’ll vote for a real one, not pretenders. Labor is bleeding votes (and losing wonderful candidates) in inner-city electorates while its right faction plays with the lives and ambitions of gay and lesbian couples. Labor either believes in equal rights and protections for all, or it doesn’t. A half-hearted response to equality will no longer do for a supposedly progressive party. It’s time they choose.

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