For some time now questions have been raised why the Liberal Party, with a proud history of a ‘conscience’ vote on so-called ethical and moral issues, refuses its members the opportunity to vote according to their conscience on marriage equality. Let’s set aside for a moment the very reasonable argument that marriage equality is a social justice and human rights issue, and religious ethics and morals should have no bearing on this subject in a modern, sophisticated secular and liberal democracy.
While we all suspected the answer to this perplexing question, Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg let the cat out of the bag this morning during a Radio National Breakfast interview, and arguably he’s not the first one to do so.
He acknowledged there is a decisive shift within the Liberal Party, and in community attitudes, in favour of marriage equality and it’s only a matter of time before it is legalised in Australia.
This leaves the Liberal Party in an unenviable position, given their strong conservative, religious constituency, exemplified by the recent email campaign that’s believed to have saved Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership.
Under the pressure of their allegiance to conservative and religious groups, and knowing that allowing a conscience vote on the issue by members of the Liberal Party could now possibly result in the legalisation of marriage equality in Australia, Tony Abbott and the socially conservative members of the party find themselves in a catch-21 situation.
On the one hand, they are buried under an avalanche of public support for marriage equality and growing support within their own party, which now may have reached a tipping point where there is a chance that marriage equality could pass through Parliament if it was put to a genuinely free vote.
On the other hand, the Liberal Party, and Tony Abbott personally, are beholden to a conservative, religious base which would, without doubt, be utterly infuriated if marriage equality was legalised under the watch of a conservative Liberal government. I suspect that such an outcome would be seen as a significant failure by the Liberal Party, and a breach of faith and trust by Tony Abbott personally.
So where does this leave marriage equality in Australia? This cartoon, all the way back from December 2013, sums it up well …