Following an extensive Liberal-National Coalition party room debate triggered by backbench MP Warren Entsch’s announcement, we find out his intention to introduce the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 into Parliament next week. Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that the Coalition government would be prepared to hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. This follows the Coalition party room’s decision to vote together in support of the current government policy position of marriage as being between a man and a woman in Parliament if the matter was to be raised.
The result of the Coalition party room vote for the government not to support MP Warren Entsch’s bill for same-sex marriage was 60 against to 3o in favour with an even split among the frontbench.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also reaffirmed that “it is nevertheless the standard position of our party that if a frontbencher cannot support the party’s policy, that person has to leave the frontbench,” and “obviously our backbenchers are entitled to vote in the end, whichever way they want.” A small number of Liberal MPs have announced their intentions to defy the Prime Minister and to cross the floor when the bill is introduced; however, it is unlikely that there will be enough numbers for it to succeed.
This stands in contrast to the Labor Party in which all MPs will be expected to vote in favour of same-sex marriage after 2019. As the proposed bill is a private members bill, Tony Abbott has restated that it is “unusual” for such proposals to go to a vote in the Parliament.
With the finalising of the Coalition policy on same-sex marriage for the remainder of this electoral term, debate continues as to the effectiveness of a plebiscite amid claims. Claims that Tony Abbott is attempting to delay the inevitable legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia. In what could be described as a potentially rare attempt of Tony Abbott to keeping his pre-election promises, a plebiscite would ensure that the Coalition’s position of no change to marriage laws are maintained. Also, allowing for the government to test the waters to gauge public opinion on this controversial social issue whilst maintaining support of conservative sections of Australia.
Despite the Prime Minister’s announcing, that the government would commit to a plebiscite which may actually be welcoming news for the pro-same-sex marriage and homosexual lobby. The announcement was treated as Machiavellian and undemocratic in a sign of the ironic intolerance which has plagued the debate.
Liberal MP Warren Entsch has conceded his cross-party bill to allow same-sex marriage is doomed to fail.
The Prime Minister’s announcement of a potential future plebiscite has been seen by some conservatives as attempt to hold true to its 2013 election promises, clearly outline populist opinion regarding the issue. Also, it keeps the National Party which are largely opposed to same-sex marriage happy in the Coalition government. The Coalition may also be trying to avoid the criticism that the Labor Party faced over its decision to not ban asylum seeker boat turn backs as it seeks to maintain a difference between the two major parties. They are avoiding being dominated by minorities within its own party whom support the Greens and Labor Party on this issue.
A plebiscite would also reduce the pressure placed on politicians from lobby groups surrounding this issue. This can be interpreted as potentially a sign of unwillingness to act on behalf of the Australian people.
Additionally such national vote, would give way for a better informed debate on same-sex marriage and potentially further inflame tensions with the widespread and unhelpful accusations of bigotry that pro-same-sex marriage supporters have used to label supporters of traditional marriage. Both the supporters of traditional marriage definition and pro-same-sex marriage, are claiming to have subjected to victimisation in the course of the debate.
The Prime Minister’s support for a plebiscite can also be interpreted as a potential sign of weak leadership especially, from those within the Liberal Party. Some within the Liberal Party have stated that this issue has caused much division and irritation within the party room. Although, it is unlikely that any ministers would resign from the front bench to cross the floor in a vote on same-sex marriage.
Strong arguments on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate from conservatives seeking to preserve the traditional definition of marriage or libertarians wanting smaller government and less state control over individuals’ decisions, one thing that is growing increasingly likely is the populist view that the Abbott government will only in office for a single term.
Whether or not same-sex marriage is eventually legalized in Australia, not only will the issue of homosexuality and the representation of minorities remain unresolved but also, the critical question of whether our politicians should be serving as the electorate’s trustee or delegates will continue to divisive for many years ahead.