Today in Canberra nine people – eight Labor and one from the Greens – will set themselves up to decide marriage policy affecting the entire nation.
Capitalising on the normal disruption of a change of federal government, the ACT government will introduce a bill for same-sex marriage into the territory’s 17-member assembly. With no residency requirement, the Labor-Greens government is mischievously creating a problem for interstate people who will not be married when they cross back over the border.
The Liberals, sensibly, are not buying into it and will oppose the bill on constitutional grounds.
The commonwealth parliament has the power to override territory legislation and, because marriage is a federal responsibility, it should do this. It is not in Australia’s interest to have a hodgepodge of marriage laws. It is concerning that same-sex marriage advocates say they would rather see an ACT law challenged in the High Court so that judges, not elected people, can settle the issue. Clearly, the strategy is legislation by fatigue and, if that doesn’t work, bypass democracy and get it before judges.
The last thing Australia needs is US-style judicial decision-making on issues of social policy. The federal election and this week’s descent into farce means there is now an opportunity to put the debate about changing the definition of marriage behind us and move on.
Kevin Rudd made gay marriage a signature campaign issue by promising to legislate within 100 days if re-elected. He pushed it all the way to election eve and the issue received prominent and overwhelmingly positive media coverage.
But the electorate was underwhelmed. Labor returned its lowest primary vote in 100 years and the party of same-sex marriage, the Greens, suffered a 3 per cent swing.
Where was the pink vote?
A poll commissioned by Australian Christian Lobby and conducted last week by JWS Research asked people to identify what issues were most important to them when they voted on September 7. The poll confirmed what parliamentarians in touch with their electorates have always said: same-sex marriage is a low-order issue outside a handful of inner-city seats.
The poll found that 13 per cent of voters rated it as a top-three issue. Just 4 per cent of Coalition voters thought it was important. Among Labor voters, 85 per cent don’t think it is a high priority and 72 per cent of Greens voters are not energised by it.
But we already knew this.
In August last year, MPs reported back to parliament after surveying their electorates on the issue. Greens member for Melbourne Adam Bandt had a motion carried in the parliament requesting MPs to undertake this.
Of 30 who reported back, 24 revealed where their electorates stood. Six MPs claimed majority support for same-sex marriage but 18 said their constituents were opposed to change.
In the seat of Dawson, George Christensen reported opposition of 456 to 78; in O’Connor, member Tony Crook reported 523 to 115; in Deakin, Mike Symon reported 1015 to 65; in Blair, Shayne Neumann reported 580 to 115; in Cook, Scott Morrison reported 850 to 50; in the seat of Cowan, Luke Simpkins reported 903 to 103; and in Fowler member Chris Hayes said 90 per cent of his electorate supported marriage between a man and a woman. Bandt had kicked an own goal in demanding MPs survey their electorates.
Soon after, same-sex marriage bills were defeated in the House of Representatives and in the Senate by almost two to one.
Same-sex marriage advocates claim that since the election they have 50 confirmed supporters in the House of Representatives, an increase of eight on the previous parliament.
However, the chamber has 150 members and, despite the war of attrition being waged on MPs by the gay lobby, they remain well short of the numbers needed to change the Marriage Act.
Despite continually claiming Australians want it, same-sex marriage advocates oppose putting it to a referendum.
What is rarely talked about is that there is no discrimination in Australian law against same-sex couples. This was completely removed in 2008 under the attorney-general at the time, Robert McClelland. As he pointed out during ACL’s pre-election webcast, the gay-marriage debate is not about discrimination, it is about definition, and regardless of who legislates the matter will end up in the High Court to decide what marriage meant in 1901.
“I don’t think that’s a comfortable place for the High Court to be,” McClelland said.
It will take extraordinary judicial gymnastics to rule it is anything other than man-woman. There are bigger issues for organisations such as ACL to pursue with the new government, such as its election-eve cutting of $4.5 billion in overseas aid to people in extreme poverty.
Same-sex marriage is far from inevitable despite what the public is constantly told.
There is no mandate for change. It’s time to move on.
Lyle Shelton is the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby. This article originally appeared in The Australian and is republished with permission.