The Marriage Equality Plebiscite (2)

The Marriage Equality Blindness of Messrs Shorten and Morrison

The Leader of the Opposition, having conceded that the Liberal-National Coalition has won enough seats to form a Government, is still hanging out for his political opponents to allow a Parliamentary “conscience vote” on same-sex marriage. Given that a plebiscite was part of the Coalition’s election platform, it is remarkable that the Labor leader is now asking his opponents to forsake their election promise. His view is: let the Liberal-Coalition, or better the PM, demonstrate moral perversity by legislating marriage equality my way. But such a suggestion is political perversity.

Mr. Shorten says that since 81 members of the new House of Representatives have come out in favour of “marriage equality”, that will be enough to resolve the issue. Let the Coalition allow a free vote and the issue can finally be dealt with. After the legislation passes, Parliament can get on with all the other exciting things that Parliament will have to deal with in this new term. Mr Shorten makes these kinds of media “demands” – they are more like innuendos – and he hasn’t actually told us yet what his legislation is going to look like? He has not told us what its provisions will be or if he has, he doesn’t want them openly debated, yet. Isn’t there always a yet? He seems to be assuming it is just a simple matter of nomenclature.

The Labor leader also makes a point of saying that the Liberal and National parliamentarians must be “transparent” and tell all about any deal they negotiate in their Coalition agreement. Fine let them be “transparent”. In the meantime, and while we are discussing “transparency”, let the Labor Party openly discuss their own u-turn on this other issue that seemingly can be dealt with so swiftly. I suppose asking for Labor transparency about why u-turns are made (on this and other issues) is a bit like asking people to confess their pragmatic principles.

Actually, both major political blocks have failed to articulate a transparent account of their own party’s view of marriage. For decades they have simply avoided the political task of develop a comprehensive political argument about the crucial importance of the marriage institution to the public interest as one bill after another has come to the Parliament seeking to change the Marriage Act’s definition of lawful marriage. No matter that there are now no public entitlements that are ascribed to married couples that are not ascribed to those in civil unions. We have not actually had a discussion that explains how the marriage institution itself functions in the midst of all our social responsibilities. Isn’t that a most important aspect of the debate? We have not been presented with coherent public policy that affirms marriage in terms of the public interest. And yet we still have this persistent demand to change that definition. Why? Where’s the injustice? Or is it that we are simply embarrassed because we are not running ahead with the progressive pack (Canada, New Zealand, UK, USA)? Might we fall behind the neo-liberal global initiative if we don’t get in line with these other polities on this issue? Is that it?

If all we had to go on was the mutual political silence on the issue by Labor and of the Liberal-National Coalition – I mean their respective parties – we would have to wonder why we even have a Marriage Act in the first place. And let us not forget that, in recent years, Labor has made a dramatic u-turn on the issue. Look up Wikipedia and see who voted against same-sex marriage when it was politically expedient for Labor to maintain a party line. Does not the Labor Party, that privileged public relations firm, have a duty to explain that historic u-turn by outlining the now seemingly faulty view they previously held of the public interest consequences of retaining the Act’s definition of marriage? Do they not have to tell us why justice demands “marriage equality”? Or is it that the Labor Party is simply afraid of being labelled “homophobic” and wants to use its stance on “marriage equality” to advertise its support for, and gain votes from, the LGBTI “community”?

What after all is “marriage equality”? That question needs to be explored and become part of the public discussion. We might have hoped that Mr Shorten’s new crop of Labor’s elite might have come to appreciate the importance of genuine public debate. And since Labor’s bank account is soon to receive the public funds from their election campaign fiasco, do they not owe the country a detailed explanation of the way their own party now proposes to conduct itself on this issue? Why have they changed from their previous view?

But it seems that both “sides” of politics do not think that “marriage” is a topic for political debate. They shrink from debating marriage in public-legal and political terms. The Liberal-National Coalition are not much better than Labor. The Treasurer, Mr Morrison, a self-declared Christian, says that he does not support “marriage equality” but if the majority of Australian citizens say “yes” to “Marriage Equality” in a plebiscite then he will have to say “Aye”. Amazing. That is not simply a vox populi cop-out. It is a view that indicates we cannot take seriously his support of the current definition of marriage in the Marriage Act. We don’t even know what the wording is on this matter and he says he’ll vote in Parliament in line with whatever the majority says! That’s not political debate – that’s a view that says that marriage is to be defined by whatever the majority says. That’s moral majoritarianism pure and simple. So much for political debate.

But I guess that gets us close to the point. Mr Shorten for Labor and Mr Morrison for the Liberals don’t really think there is a political argument to be made about marriage and so the legislation is simply to endorse the view that whatever marriage is, it is a private matter and by legislating “marriage equality” Parliament will safe-guard the right of private couples to their private definition about a private institution. Legislation will supposedly safeguard this privacy. How is it that Australia (let alone the rest of the “western world”) can endorse such an incoherent political argument about an institution that on all sides is said to be a fundamental part of our way of life?  

BCW

11.7.2016

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