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the ‘people’s vote’: abbott’s gay marriage red herring


Image via Wikimedia

Image via Wikimedia

Pop your champagne bottles and kiss the closest same-sex friend, because according to this breaking news from Yahoo, gay marriage is pretty much legal in Australia!

That’s right, same sex marriage in Australia is ‘almost certain to become law’ after sources reported that the ‘people’s vote’ is probably going to be a plebiscite vote rather than a referendum held after the next election. Probably.

So, not quite legal yet. But, hey, when it’s not ‘Breaking News’ its just news. And when it’s barely that, its just…words. Thanks Channel Seven for your words.

What’s ‘almost certain’ is that our government’s fence-sitting stance on same sex marriage is a farce. We hear about Abbott making ‘concessions’ as if it’s a positive step forward. But it’s a term used to imply he’s doing the public a favour rather than developing policies guided by what roughly 70% of Australians are already in favour of, as if he’s a benevolent autocrat rather than a democratically elected leader. Provided we vote him in again. What a great guy.

Let’s not forget that before the previous election, Abbott paraded his wife in the media as a same-sex marriage red herring. ‘It’s a conversation Australia needs to have’ she told the Sunrise Program before the headlines bled rainbow to construe it as Liberal support for gay marriage. The conversation, strangely, never took place.

Instead, the ‘people’s vote’ both starts and finishes the conversation. A look at the statistics of referendums show the results work in Abbott’s favour. Only 8 of the 44 referendums held resulted in change. In this light, a plebiscite vote (meaning a yes or no ballot with no change to the constitution – not that any is needed anyway) is more likely to result in a yes result. However, according to this analysis the result is not binding, and still the only way to legalise same-sex marriage is for the Parliament to amend the Marriage Act.

Some, like Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch, think that the ‘people’s vote’ is simply another delaying tactic. Given the conditional nature of Abbott’s promise, the vote is less an example of the Liberal party’s ‘strong dispositions’ but more a strategy to placate the increasing discontent growing not just in the public, but within his own party.

Warren Entsch is leading the internal charge to legalise same sex marriage. His bill to amend the marriage act has no hope of passing, but was intended as a public demonstration of cross-party support for the amendment.

His move follows a six-hour meeting held by the Liberals in which they decided not to allow a free vote on the issue. Instead, prominent party members attempted to show that everything’s coming up Milhouse in the Liberal ranks by voicing their support for ideas that sort of relate to same sex marriage.

Julie Bishop, for example, claimed she is ‘philosophically not opposed’ to same sex marriage, despite voting it down at every turn.

Clearly, this is an issue that needs to be dealt with at the level of parliament. Democracy is only convenient to our current government when it can be used to serve their interests of obfuscating an issue that the majority already see with perfect clarity.

The only way that same sex marriage can become legal in Australia is to amend the Marriage Act in parliament. Across public life, across social media, across the party lines – the rising rainbow tide is speaking out in favour of marriage equality. We don’t need any more stalling on the issue, and we don’t need any more red herrings to throw us off course. What’s the point in ‘the people’s vote’ when the people have already spoken?

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