Friday, October 14, 2011

Conscience Votes for Life and Death Issues

The Star Observer, an important community publication, today published predictions by an anonymous senior Labor MP that prime minister Gillard would call a conscience vote on the issue of marriage equality. It was suggested that this was a political move, designed to minimise any possible damage to her popularity that could be caused by ongoing public debate over the issue and that she would otherwise find her own position at odds with the majority of her party.

The source quoted was apparently concerned that a conscience vote could be used in this way, as normally they are used only for matters concerning 'life of death issues.' Making a distinction of that nature though, is not as straight forward as it may sound. Certainly the prevention of marriage isn't in itself going to kill anybody. However, what is at stake here is the issue of discrimination. Upholding the right to marriage equality will bring about profound cultural change by freeing us from a sticking point that contributes to the perpetuation of socially constructed difference. Discrimination without social structure becomes an obviously unacceptable act of individual aggression and will recede. Discrimination and social stigma are life and death matters, arguably far more significant than the examples the source used, such as abortion. They are, therefore, worthy of a conscience vote. 

The prime minister's motivations in this matter are certainly going to be subject to a great deal of speculation. Political convenience is certainly a possibly, but it would seem out of character. This is a prime minister who has got a huge amount of legislation and reform passed under difficult circumstances. It's worthwhile considering that she in fact hid her support for a price on carbon until it became politically achievable. It is therefore entirely possible that she has done the same in this instance and is playing her hand carefully with the intention of making marriage equality a reality. When the opportunity does arise, change will occur and no doubt the prime minister's actions will be instrumental. The prime minister is obviously no great social conservative and probably isn't all that reverential toward the institution of marriage, since she hasn't pursued it with her partner.

Marriage equality will certainly be brought about within the next couple of years. There is enough public support and there are plenty of MPs beginning to support it. We all have to keep pushing for it in public debate, but we are now at a stage when we can do so with a great deal of confidence. 

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