Australian Parliament House

Is this Parliament’s last chance to stop playing political games with the lives of LGBTI people?

In the drawn-out battle towards marriage equality, a few significant events took place yesterday which offer the Parliament of Australia what may be their last chance to stop playing political games with the lives of LGBTI people.

Yet again, two separate private member’s bills were introduced into Parliament either of which, if passed, would legalise marriage equality in Australia.

The first, the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, was introduced by Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition.

Immediately after came the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 [No. 2], introduced by Adam Bandt of The Australian Greens, on behalf of a cross-bench coalition of MPs.

Yes, you are allowed to have a serious déjà vu moment because we have seen many such bills (14 to be exact, with these latest two bills taking the number to 16) introduced into Parliament, only to see them fail due to an unhappy mix of political cowardice and partisan grandstanding.

On the same day, a coalition of LGBTI community leaders, professionals, and celebrities had published a full-page advertisement in The Canberra Times calling on Parliament to reject the plebiscite, and hold a parliamentary vote instead to pass marriage equality.

The Canberra Times petition

I am a proud signatory to this call. I am in very good company with many prominent and respected contributors to the decades-old fight for LGBTI equality, such as Shelley Argent, Michael Barnett, Rodney Croome, John Ebert, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, Kerryn Phelps, and Doug Pollard, just to mention a few, and a new generation of LGBTI people asserting their right to equality, including author Benjamin Law, Olympian Matthew Mitcham, and comedian Magda Szubanski, among the nearly 200 LGBTI community members and leaders who stepped forward and signed the open letter.

I have made my strong opposition to the plebiscite known many times in the past. I won’t detail my arguments today, but you can read them here:

While I want to marry my man of 18 years, the love of my life, more than anything in the world, I am concerned about becoming too single-minded, and seeing marriage equality as an end that justifies any of the means it may take to achieve it.

As elders of the LGBTI community we have a larger responsibility to all members of our community, not just to ourselves, or those of us wanting, hoping to marry (and especially not the few who may try to use the fight for marriage equality to further their own political aspirations).

Young LGBTI people have already been targeted over the Safe Schools program with incredible bile and vitriol, and I am reasonably concerned they are being attacked as a proxy for the upcoming marriage equality plebiscite battle. They are the most vulnerable of groups, and it is our responsibility as elders of the community to make sure the next generation is protected as much as possible from the hate we ourselves lived and experienced in the past.

Transgender youth have also been in the firing line, and there are strong indications that the extremist Christian groups that oppose marriage equality will target them as part of their hateful campaign, in the same awful style they have been under attack in the United States lately.

We must consider more than just our personal desires when we look at the ways marriage equality may be achieved, including the long-term interests of the entire LGBTI community as a whole.

The recent PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) survey of the LGBTI community clearly indicated I am not alone in this view, with 85% of the participants rejecting the plebiscite, preferring to wait for a free vote.

An online petition organised by Australian Marriage Equality and GetUp!, calling for a free parliamentary vote, instead of the maligned plebiscite idea, has also attracted over 60,000 signatures, with a formal petition presented to Parliament yesterday.

A huge online poll on the ABC’s Facebook page for Lateline, which attracted over 91,000 responses, also indicates overwhelming support for a parliamentary vote:

Meanwhile, the Coalition started to implode again over the utter farce that the proposed marriage equality plebiscite had become, after religious leaders and his own backbenchers accused the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of trying to back down from a promise of public funding for the ‘No’ campaign.

The idea of taxpayers’ money fuelling a homophobic hate-campaign leading up to the proposed plebiscite makes my skin crawl and fills me with dread. Sadly, Cabinet appears to have earmarked $7.5 million each for the ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ campaigns last night.

LGBTI groups campaigning for marriage equality already made it clear that, if a plebiscite is forced upon the LGBTI community, they unequivocally oppose any public funding for either side.

So here we are in a ‘bloody’ mess, to adopt the most suitable Australian vernacular for the situation, but it is a mess of the Coalition’s own making, and you would be hard pressed to find people in the LGBTI community who feel sympathy for them over the needless political quagmire they fabricated.

Unfortunately, while the mess is the Coalition’s making, the LGBTI community is being sucked into a whirlpool of unnecessary despair and pain as a consequence of the malicious and calculated actions on Tony Abbott, and the hard-right, religious conservative faction of the Coalition.

They must understand by now that they are losing the fight because the Australian public had clearly come to accept the LGBTI community, and understand that the equal right of marriage does not represent a threat to anyone.

Nevertheless, the opponents refuse to stand down. They are going out with a good old-fashioned fight to the bitter end – if they can’t have it their way, they are going to leave us salting the earth on they way out …

With a tone-deaf Coalition, and Malcolm Turnbull, refusing to back away from the toxic plebiscite idea, reportedly approved by Cabinet last night to go ahead on 11 February next year, only Parliament can put an end to this travesty now by rejecting the enabling legislation.

In fact, our Parliament could do one better, and pass one of the two marriage equality bills before it.

The numbers are potentially there, both in the House of Representatives, where the Coalition governs with a majority of … one, and the Senate, where the government fell far short of the controlling numbers it hoped to achieve (despite changing the Senate voting rules, and calling a double-dissolution election).

There are three gay Coalition Members in the House of Representatives, one each from New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Trent Zimmerman for North Sydney, Trevor Evans for Brisbane, and Tim Wilson for Goldstein. There are also a number of strong straight allies among the Coalition’s ranks, such as Warren Entsch.

Given they are all backbenchers, technically they are free to vote with their conscience on the issue, making the passage of a marriage equality bill through the House of Representatives possible – provided those backbenchers of the Coalition who support marriage equality follow their conscience, and their publicly espoused principles, instead of continuing to play political games with the lives of the LGBTI community.

In the Senate, there is Dean Smith, the Coalition Senator for Western Australia who is also gay, and indicated he may be willing to cross the floor. Together with other Liberal allies such as Senator James Paterson and Labor, The Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team, and Derryn Hinch, marriage equality could pass the Senate as well.

If Parliament started listening to the Australian community at large, ignored the loud, minority voices rooted largely in uninformed, historical cultural and religious anti-LGBTI prejudices that have no place in a 21st century progressive, liberal, secular democracy, and stopped playing political games with marriage equality and the lives and rights of the LGBTI community, we could have the most magnificent summer of gay weddings ahead of us …

Update – 15 September 2016

This 7 News Australia Facebook poll only came to my attention recently, but it further reinforces a long line of polls and surveys which indicate that the position taken on marriage equality by the Coalition, and various other opponents, is completely out of step with the views of the Australian public.

As of 15 September, the poll attracted over 130,000 responses, and over 90% of the repondents are in favour of marriage equality.

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