So the tide has turned and that the majority of the Australian public is ready for marriage equality. But today, the Prime Minister tells us: “For me, politics isn’t about making decisions based on opinion polls, it’s about making decisions you feel are right.”
Australians keen for marriage equality made sure a query about same-sex marriage was among the questions submitted for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to answer in a unique live chat on Google+ and YouTube this morning.
This question by Shane Bazzi received the most votes – over 12,000 individual votes – of the hundreds of questions submitted by members of the public, so was a key one for the Prime Minister to address in the wide-ranging online video discussion.
“Prime Minister, poll after poll indicates that the overwhelming majority of Australian support same-sex marriage, including the House of Reps and Senate enquiry into marriage equality.
“While I acknowledge and appreciate the many Labor reforms removing discrimination of same-sex couples, we must not say to gay and lesbian Australians that ‘almost equal is good enough.’ Because almost equal is not good enough.
“So Prime Minister, my question to you: as the first female, atheist, unmarried Prime Minister of Australia, and leader of a self-described socially progressive party, how do you explain your opposition to same-sex marriage and ‘deeply held’ belief that same-sex couples should continue to be discriminated against by a piece of legislation (being the Marriage Act)?
“Why are heterosexual relationships more valued than same-sex relationships?”
Heard over the Google+’s video hangout, here’s the Prime Minister’s reply to that question in full:
“Shane, I don’t think that heterosexual relationships are more valued than same-sex relationships. I think people who are in loving committed relationships – all of those relationships should be valued. I think my relationship should be valued, and I’m not married. So I don’t see, through my eyes, the discriminator about whether a relationship is valued, whether or not a couple, heterosexual or same-sex, is married.
“I’ve got a view about the cultural status of marriage in our society, so it’s not about my view about valuing relationships, it’s my personal view about the cultural status of marriage in our society. You don’t agree with me – a lot of other people don’t agree with me. And you’ve pointed to opinion polls about all of this. But for me, politics isn’t about making decisions based on opinion polls, it’s about making decisions you feel are right. And we wouldn’t have done some of the big tough things we’ve done as a government if we just got out the opinion polls every morning.
“But this issue, it goes to some deeply personal questions – for some, deeply personal questions about their religious views; for some, deeply personal questions about what they want to do with their own lives. For you, it’s about presumably what you want to do in your own life, so these are very individual, personal perspectives on the world.
“To respond to that, what I’ve said is that there should be a conscience vote in Labor, so we will have a vote on changing the marriage act before the end of the year. It’ll come up through a Private Member’s Bill – that Bill is in the Parliament now, and Labor people will be able to vote any which way that they want to. And I suspect many will vote for change, some won’t vote for change. It would be good if we could just see everybody do that across the Parliament, going in and exercising their own personal choice about what they think should change in the Marriage Act.
“Certainly, I do understand community views are changing. Many community members will be in pretty deep dialogue right now with their local member of Parliament or with the Senators from their state about what they should do in that vote. And so I’d say to you, there’s plenty of opportunity to make sure your voice continues to be heard as the Parliament moved towards that day of voting.”
The discussion’s moderator, Fairfax political reporter Misha Schubert, continued the topic with a follow-up question.
“It’s not just community views that are changing on that issue, is it though PM? Your ally President Barack Obama used to have a very similar view to yours about the cultural status of marriage, in part derived from his personal religious beliefs,” she pointed out.
“But in May, he turned that position on its head and said that one of the issues that has made him evolve his position was having close friends and members of his own staff that were in same-sex relationships – very committed couples who were raising children together.
“Do you ever see a time when you might reach such a personal evolution in your own view?”
Julia Gillard’s reply: “Look, president Obama did change his mind, and he’s explained his personal journey. I obviously hugely respect President Obama and we get the opportunity to spend a bit of time together, I certainly very much value his wisdom and views.
“I do have a different view and I’ll be called on to exercise that different view, not in the long distant future, but in the Parliament this year.”
The original questioner Shane Bazzi then got in with a supplementary statement:
“Prime Minister, the difference between your relationship and my relationship is that you are given the choice to choose if you want to marry your partner or not, whereas I am denied that choice.”
Countered the PM: “Shane, I certainly understand that argument and that point of view. It’s been put to me on many occasions. When we auction things for charity at the National Press Club Ball I hosted a dinner for same-sex couples at The Lodge, who bought it through GetUp!, and we had a long and deep discussion about these questions.
“I do still find myself with a different view about the cultural status of marriage and about how it would therefore be best to acknowledge the relationships of others. So, not changing the cultural status of marriage, but if you like, creating new ways that our society can recognise loving and committed relationships. So I know my view’s different to yours, but it is deeply held and it is how I will vote in the Parliament later this year.”
Finally, Shane got the last word…
“Just as long as you remember you’ll be on the wrong side of history.”
The full hour-long hangout with Julia Gillard can now be viewed via YouTube below. The marriage equality question comes at 40:45”.
You can make a difference in the campaign for marriage equality my contacting your local Senators.