The gay vote – not a guarantee

by on 8 August, 2013


by Bertel Torsten in Canberra

A few days ago, the ALP Deputy Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, Andrew Barr, urged his party to make same sex marriage an election issue, claiming that it could help Labor win seats.

Barr, who is openly gay, identified specifically the seats of Brisbane, Denison, Melbourne and Melbourne Ports. According to his website, one of his “proudest achievements” was in 2011 when, with Finance Minister Penny Wong – also openly gay – he successfully moved a motion at the ALP National Conference supporting gay marriage.

A lot of nonsense has been written about the so-called “gay community” and there seems to be in some circles almost a presumption that they do, and will, vote for candidates who support gay marriage. It completely ignores the fact that gay people are much like everybody else and that their concerns are about rather more practical issues like the economy, the refugee issue, health issues and the like.

Prime Minister Rudd said back in May before his recycling that he had had his road to Damascus moment and now supported gay marriage. In a transparent attempt to collar the “gay vote”, Rudd has said he will consider a referendum if Abbott does not allow a free vote of his Parliamentary Members and Senators.

There has been an attempt to portray Abbott as an intransigent bigot on this issue – yet there was no similar attempt to paint then PM Julia Gillard in the same way despite the fact that their views happened to coincide. The political agenda is clear.

Back in May, that Abbott described as a “significant evolution” his announcement that the Liberal party room would decide the issue after the election. Abbott’s openly gay sister Christine Forster, who is in a same-sex relationship, has spoken publicly of the support and love she has received from him.

When Queensland Liberal Senator Sue Boyce crossed the floor in June to support a Greens Bill to recognise gay marriages performed overseas, Abbott refused to admonish her saying, “ … people on our side of the political fence have always had the right – if they feel strongly enough about something – to make their own decision.”

Liberal MPs who have announced their support for gay marriage include, apart from Boyce, Kelly O’Dwyer, Malcolm Turnbull, Wyatt Roy and Simon Birmingham. 

To further blur the lines about just who supports what, the only openly gay Liberal MP, West Australian Senator Dean Smith, has said that while he supports a conscience vote, he does not support the principle of gay marriage. He holds the traditional view of what marriage is and should be which must be infuriating for gay marriage advocates because they can hardly lampoon him as a bigot.

Other high profile Liberal supporters of gay marriage include the NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, and Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle.

Inside the ALP, there are also very significant differences of view despite the 2011 National Conference decision. The Greens’ Bill that saw Boyce cross the floor in the Senate also saw a fair number of Labor Senators voting against.

When the House of Representatives cross-party Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee reported last month on the issue, Chair and Labor MP Graham Perret said, “It was not an inquiry to determine the merits of same sex marriage…” and that it was a matter for the Parliament. Two Labor members of the Committee – Shayne Neumann and Mike Symon – said, “We do not believe there is anything like sufficient community consensus which would justify change to such a fundamental societal institution as marriage.” 

The assertion that making gay marriage is a seat-winning election issue for the ALP, one only has to look at the four seats identified by Andrew Barr to show the bankruptcy of this claim. 

He must have forgotten that Melbourne Ports is already an ALP seat held by Michael Danby who has flip-flopped on the issue, abstaining in September 2012 on the gay marriage issue, justifying it as a decision “primarily about politics”. Subsequently he has said he is in favour, “You can call it political expediency, I call it political gravitas or timing,” he said.

He is facing an openly gay Liberal candidate and gay marriage advocate so, presumably, determined supporters of gay marriage should vote for him.

Melbourne is held by Greens MP Adam Bandt and his party has been a strident advocate for gay marriage. If Barr thinks the ALP could “out gay” Bandt and win the seat on that basis, he is dreaming

The Independent MP for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, as far back at October 2010, declared that Labor and Coalition opposition to gay marriage was “a breakdown in democracy”

The Liberal MP for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro, said back in November 2010, “Same sex couples rightfully demand the practical benefits and social respect that heterosexual couples enjoy. I believe those in my electorate would demand such equal rights are adhered to and I support the views of the community in relation to any proposed changes to the specific definition of marriage.”    

Gay marriage is a divisive issue, a conscience issue, and if any major party agreed with Barr’s view and made it an election issue it would be anything but a vote winner.

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