LIKE almost everyone, I support marriage equality.
I hate the fact I’m legally equal to my peers in almost every way. The fact that I am almost equal is really just salt in the wound.
For me, it’s simply a matter of results. If we really want to achieve marriage equality, do we honestly think forcing people to vote in its favour will get us there? I think the answer is no.
The concept of binding for ALP MPs and senators is one in which they can be forced to vote a particular way, regardless of what they believe. You have an internal argument, one side wins, and then the whole caucus votes as a bloc.
It’s a crude tool but can be very effective.
But like any tool, you use it for a purpose. If the aim of binding is to secure marriage equality, then it will fail.
The goal has never been to get every ALP MP to vote for marriage equality. The goal is to get a marriage equality bill through Federal Parliament.
One of the better arguments for binding is that about 70 per cent of Australians support marriage equality, so just make it happen. But let’s not fall victim to our own success — it’s a number that’s open to misinterpretation. The simple reality is, those 70 per cent of people aren’t spread evenly across all 150 federal electorates. You will find some electorates, like Sydney, with incredibly high support. But you will also find plenty of areas with much, much less.
Saying there is 70 per cent support nationwide is not the same as saying 70 per cent of voters will vote for you if you support it. Voters have loads of issues going through their minds when they vote at the ballot box. Just because they support our cause for equality when a pollster rings, does not mean they will vote for it when it’s up against every other issue at election time. And that 30 per cent that are opposed to it? They are vocal. It’s easy to lose against a campaign of hate. This is an issue that will see the progressive movement lose seats to the conservatives.
MPs know how this can play out in their communities. Believe it or not, some don’t even care and are happy to vote for equality if it means losing their seat. And that’s great — they’re standing up to discrimination and are happy to pay a price.
However, 70 per cent public support won’t make equality happen.
What we need is at least 76 of the 150 MPs in the lower house to vote for it. Only 55 of the 150 belong to the ALP. A strong majority of this 55 already support marriage equality. There are also those who quietly support it and will vote for it if they think it will win but aren’t willing to cop the community backlash for nothing. They want gain for their pain.
Assuming binding is 100 per cent effective (it isn’t), it will secure 55 ALP votes at best. In reality it will be less, as there are MPs who will revolt against being made to vote for something they so inherently disagree with.
Even assuming 55, that’s still well short of the minimum 76 votes needed to win. If we want equality, there’s only one way that’s going to happen and that’s if Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Coalition allow a conscience vote.
For now, they are bound to vote against it. No matter if they want it or not, every Coalition MP has to vote against marriage equality, and that includes Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose electorate has a very large number of gay residents.
Why aren’t we talking about that? And how are we supposed to get the Coalition to allow a conscience vote if the ALP is doing the exact opposite?
Tony Abbott and the Coalition need to get onboard. We need to get people talking about why the Coalition won’t support a conscience vote. It’s not good enough to just be a supporter of marriage equality, MPs within the Coalition need to become champions of equality.
All this talk of binding for ALP MPs is just playing at the edges and is avoiding the hard conversation: getting to 76 votes and winning.
We’re fighting the wrong battle. Binding isn’t the issue. It’s the Coalition.
I want to win. I want equality. But binding isn’t how we get there.
There are true champions for marriage equality out in the community arguing the case for binding, both straight and gay. Our cause will never be won without their help. We need it and we should all be grateful for it. But in this one circumstance, this one approach, I don’t agree with their tactics.
I’m over being discriminated against and I imagine it’s the same for you. Marriage equality is just one form of discrimination that we face on a daily basis. But this is important and we need to do it right.
If you are like me, and this isn’t about protesting but about winning, then we need to change minds — not bind them.
Jeffrey Von Drehnen is an active member of the ALP.
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