So close but yet so far

Today politicians are reporting back to the House of Representatives the views of their electorate on the issue of same sex marriage. Regardless of the views expressed by individual members today it seems that the proposed amendment to the Marriage Act is unlikely to occur in the next decade. This might seem a rather odd comment, successive Labor MP’s have broken ranks over recent months and publically announced their support of the issue, successive ALP state conferences have voted in favour of the amendment, several opinion polls have indicated public support for the reform and three of the four crossbench MP’s whom Labor holds government with are outspoken advocates of the amendment. The inescapable truth is however that I cannot piece together a set of circumstances which sees 76 MP’s in the House of Representative vote in favour of it.

Given the fervor with which Tony Abbott opposes same-sex marriage and his current commanding lead in opinion polls it seems extraordinary and unlikely that any Liberal MP will defy the party leadership and cross the floor on this issue. It really falls to the ALP to raise the numbers if the bill is passed yet the government’s leader, and former leader both are on the public record as opposing the initiative. Throw in a smattering of backbenchers and it becomes clear that the only way for the government to pass the amendment would be invoke the power of the caucus and command its MP’s vote. This is actually the usual practice for the Labor Party but the Labor Party does not generally find itself in the position where the state executives and the national party present are at odds with the position of the national executive and federal parliamentary leadership.

It seems unfathomable to me that Gillard would command the caucus in favour of the proposed amendments, at the most she might call a conscience vote whereby she votes in favour of the amendments out of respect for the polling or the party conference or some other plausible excuse. That would however still leave ALP members John Murphy, Deborah O’neil, Kevin Rudd, Michael Danby, Kelvin Thompson and probably many more who are publicly opposed and in this hung parliament the ALP doesn’t command a majority on the floor of the house as is. At best the government could produce sixty seven ayes in a conscience vote, plus Bandt, Wilkie and Oakeshott leaving them with a mere seventy.

The chance of the amendment passing in this parliament therefore seems resting on the possibility of perhaps six, probably more Liberal MP’s crossing the floor, which is highly unlikely. Furthermore this government seems headed for an electoral defeat and as I suspect most people do, I believe the momentum for this issue needs to come from the Labor Party. The coalition has its roots too deeply entrenched in conservative Christian morality for anyone to have any real expectation of it taking the lead and historically the chances of a coalition government failing to last two terms are next to none. The only conclusion I can therefore draw is, despite popular support being at an all time high and an unprecedented number of prominent Labor Party figures endorsing the notion, I cannot envision a circumstance where same-sex marriage will be legalized over the course of the next decade.

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