WHEN WILL WE SEE IRISH AYES HERE
It looks as though Australia may be about to say ‘we do’ to same-sex marriage and, surprisingly, it will probably be done on Tony Abbott’s watch, writes Dennis Atkins Those who have been waiting for this might tentatively start planning a late spring wed
S TONY Abbott about to have a Nixon Goes to China moment?
Often only conservative politicians can enact policies and laws that go against type, such as when the American right winger Richard Nixon went to China in 1971 and opened up the Middle Kingdom to the West.
Nixon never embraced China – he gave Mao Tse Tung diplomatic recognition – but he has gone down in history as the man who brought the country in from the cold.
Abbott, a renowned social conservative, looks like he’s about to give a diplomatic recognition to gay marriage.
Only days after Catholic, socially conservative Ireland voted two to one to legalise same-sex marriage, Abbott hinted he was accepting the inevitable and this change would come to Australia.
It won’t happen in the weeks ahead but most likely it will occur in coming months.
Those who have been waiting for this might tentatively start planning a late spring wedding.
Australia is poised to join a growing minority of nations worldwide to legalise marriage equality, a movement that started with the Netherlands in 2001.
Overall, 20 countries have enacted same-sex marriage laws or are about to do so and a further two have a substantial number of states where it has happened.
However, it has been centred on nations with a predominantly European heritage. There is only one African country with such laws – South Africa – and no nation from the Middle East or any part of Asia has joined the trend. he movement in Australia can be referenced to September, 2012, when the national Parliament voted down a Bill moved by Labor’s Stephen Jones 98 votes to 42 (it went down in the Senate with only 26 votes in favour and 41 against).
This result was skewed because the Coalition parties, under the leadership of Abbott, voted as a block causing marriage equality advocates, such as Malcolm Turnbull, to say “No”.
Now the best estimate is that the 42 “yes” votes has risen to at least 58, with some advocates of same-sex marriage saying they are actually only a handful of votes short of the necessary 75. Two things are causing opponents of marriage equality to accept change.
First, the shift in opinion among MPs who were opposed – a transition that has been most noticeable among Right Wing Labor MPs, many of whom are Catholics.
Politicians such as frontbenchers Tony Burke, Joel Fitzgibbon and Chris Bowen, Queensland’s Wayne Swan and Sydney MPs including Ed Husic, Laurie Ferguson and Julie Owens have all announced a change of heart in recent months.
So far only seven Liberals and LNP members have said they would support marriage equality if they were allowed a free vote – something that’s likely to be granted after the Parliamentary winter break. here was a tussle for ownership of the probably inevitable move to same-sex marriage in Canberra after the Irish referendum.
The Greens and Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm have legislation on the books in the Senate but neither the Coalition nor Labor will join them in getting it debated.
Instead, the main game is going to be in the House where Labor tried to get out ahead of the pack with leader Bill Shorten and his deputy Tanya Plibersek ready to move a motion for a same-sex marriage law on Monday.
There is both internal and community politics at play with this Labor move. Plibersek, an inner-Sydney Left Wing MP who has seen state seats in her electorate fall to the Greens, has signalled moving gay marriage at Labor’s July national conference – amending the 2011 decision to have a free vote for MPs so all members would be bound by prochange policy.
Shorten, who supports a free vote, is reasonably confident of the numbers but this move could remove the urgency of Plibersek’s action.
Labor also feels the electoral heat of the Greens,
T who are outflanking the ALP on the progressive left, making electoral ownership of the issue a key motif for repelling the Greens in specific electorates. bbott has been the most dramatic mover in the debate this week when he urged MPs to make sure such change, were it to happen, was not a partisan issue.
“If our Parliament were to make a big decision on a matter such as this, it ought to be owned by the Parliament and not by any particular party,” he said.
“I would ask the Leader of the Opposition and all members of Parliament to consider this as we ponder these subjects in the weeks and months to come.”
The LNP’s Warren Entsch, far north Queenslander and long-time campaigner for gay rights, is ready to take up the offer from Abbott to organise a bipartisan move – something he discussed with the Prime Minister on Monday night, before Shorten announced his intentions.
Entsch is talking with Brisbane Labor MP Graham Perrett about co-sponsoring a Bill with August pencilled as the time to move.
A sizeable group of Coalition waverers – MPs who support change but want ironclad protections for churches and religious organisations – are ready move if they get a free vote and their concerns are satisfied.
It looks as if Australia is about to say “we do” and it will probably be done on Tony Abbott’s watch.