The Times They Are A-Changin': Same-Sex Marriage

The Times They Are A-Changin': Same-Sex Marriage

Alex Capper

As you have probably heard by now, Ireland has legalised same-sex marriage. Yes, the country whose Constitution was written by Catholic priests has become the 19th nation in the world to legalise gay marriage, and the first to do so through national referendum. Perhaps more importantly, the result of Ireland’s referendum has unleashed global shockwaves for gay rights support.

Gay rights activists have been left asking themselves a question: if fundamentally Catholic, socially conservative Ireland has legalised gay marriage, why hasn’t every other developed nation?

Well, in truth, most have legalised it. Ireland has joined the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and 35 states in the US in legalising same-sex marriage. Australia is on track to be one of the only developed nations that does not legally recognise marriage equality.

As such, Australia’s social discourse has been dominated by support for Ireland’s progressivism and calls for change to our ‘behind-the-times’ laws. Even staunchly right-wing journalist Andrew Bolt has come out in support for its legislation... kind of.

Support for gay marriage has been climbing in Australia for a long time now. In 2004, one-third of Australians supported gay marriage and in 2014 support had doubled.

However, it required some spoon feeding from Ireland before Australia took any real political action towards legalising gay marriage. Labor leader Bill Shorten, a Catholic, and deputy Tanya Plibersek will introduce a bill to the House of Representatives on Monday.

Now, is Shorten piggybacking on a politically trendy topic for the reward of political popularity? Yes, and transparently so.

It would be naively optimistic to suggest this bill would still have been introduced regardless of Ireland’s referendum and Australia’s consequential uproar for similar results. Furthermore, Shorten's move was likely engineered to paint Labor as being in touch with what the people of Australia want, a valuable trait considering that one of Tony Abbott’s biggest flaws is his seemingly out-of-touch stance with real social issues. Shorten piggybacking on a politically trendy topic for the reward of political popularity? Yes, and transparently so.

But, really, if Shorten is doing this for political gain, so what? If political manoeuvring is what it takes to give Australia’s same-sex couples equality before the law, and bring Australia up to speed with the rest of the world, then so be it.

Same-sex marriage bills are currently in a confusing state of flux in Canberra. Greens MP Sarah Hanson-Young has already introduced a bill to the Senate, who are scheduled to vote on November 12, yet Shorten’s bill is the one that has gained attention and political momentum.

Major party sponsorship of the bill was perhaps the goal for the Greens and Hanson Young anyway, who adamantly believe 'the only way to achieve a common goal and secure marriage equality in Australia is to work together across party lines'.

And, in a rare display of Greens-Liberal cohesion, Tony Abbott agrees.

In what is a promising sign of social progressiveness (or political awareness) from the conservative Prime Minister, Abbott has acknowledged that same-sex marriage is a matter that 'ought to be owned by the Parliament and not by any particular party' and will most likely allow his MPs a free vote on the matter.

Of course, the last thing Tony Abbott would want to do is cause more fractious tension within the Liberal Party by forcing his MPs to toe a party line, especially considering the leadership spill in February this year.

Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see that MPs, especially the Prime Minister, are beginning to put personal preferences aside and focus on what the people of Australia want. This cross-party work is probably the only chance same-sex marriage has of being legalised, because Australia doesn’t have the luxury of copying the Irish with a referendum on the matter. As Australia’s marriage laws are not within the Constitution, a referendum is rendered pointless. Additionally, referendums need Parliament approval, and because they're expensive administrative nightmares neither the Coalition nor Labor would support that option even if they could.

So, alas, the vote on marriage equality for the people of Australia is left in the hands of our elected politicians. Thankfully, though, it appears that they are finally getting in touch with the issue.

Thanks to the luck of the Irish, same-sex marriage is on the verge of becoming an overdue reality in Australia.

Alex Capper, once affectionally called by Ross & John of 3AW as the '7 foot fucker', loves the Essendon Football Club, stalking reddit and dabbing. He thinks he can speak French, but he can't.