One of the issues currently dominating the political discourse of Australia is whether or not the country should legalise same-sex marriage. The actual substance behind this discussion is not the question in most people’s minds, as poll after poll has shown a healthy majority of Australians in support of marriage equality. Indeed, in recent weeks the case has become even more overwhelming as, although opponents of equality often cite their sincerely held religious beliefs, a poll by Galaxy Research found that a majority of Christians in Australia supported equal marriage. Rather than policy substance, the debate has shifted to how equality is introduced. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that there will be a non-binding postal vote plebiscite on the issue and some have since argued that such a vote should be boycotted. I would strongly recommend not to do that.
A few days ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled that she may drop her opposition to a vote on marriage equality after she said at a debate that her party was discussing the issue at length. At this same debate Merkel argued that she favoured a conscience vote on the issue. Almost all the Chancellor’s political opponents support marriage equality and after her announcement sought to gain political capital from her decision. They pressured for a snap vote on the issue and, much to my surprise, she permitted one.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is often lauded in the Western press as an example of a strong national leader that proudly stands up for socially liberal values. This was most notably demonstrated by the approach many organisations took to her decision to welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees into Germany, much to the opposition of other EU states. However for advocates of LGBT equality there has always been a black rain cloud above Mrs Merkel when she is described in such glowingly positive terms as she and her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have always opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage. The news yesterday was that the CDU may change this position.
Elections for the city council of Berlin produced some interesting results than need to be unpicked. The overarching trend was that the biggest two political parties in the city, the SPD and the CDU, lost a significant number of seats and that the anti-refugee far-right AfD picked up a number of seats and entered the city council for the first time. Thankfully no political party has agreed to work with the AfD in a coalition, both at a local and a national level, which has essentially locked them out of power. The good news is that the overall outcome of the election, in relation to the new administration, is a shift to the Left.
The House of Commons currently contains 650 MPs. At the last general election the Conservative manifesto said that they wanted to reduce this number to 600 in order to make government cheaper. This was easy to sell to the electorate because everybody dislikes politicians and successive scandals like Cash for Access and the Expenses Scandal have increased the hostility towards politicians. But what the Tories are doing is redrawing the electoral map to make it harder for Labour to win at a general election. This has to be challenged.
Malcolm Turnbull has been dealt a political blow this week after the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) withdrew its support for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. The NXT join the Greens and Labor, which all support marriage equality but oppose Turnbull’s desire for a plebiscite. Normally I would be criticising these political parties for getting in the way of a democratic vote on this issue but because of the structure of the Australian political system, the opposition parties are right to be unforgiving.
Despite countries across the world legalizing same-sex marriage, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is still passionately committed to being on the wrong side of history. In a joint meeting of the Coalition parties, MPs voted to deny a free vote on the issue of same-sex marriage in this parliamentary session, thus appearing to prevent Australia from having marriage equality for same-sex couples until August 2016 at the earliest.
With Abbott’s favourability consistently below 50%, reaching a low of 24% in February, and with around 68% of the Australian public supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage, Mr Abbott is sticking to his homophobic principles at the expense of electoral success. If rapid progress on this issue is to take place the Australian people need to throw the Coalition out of government and send Tony Abbott back to Warringah.