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Home » Australian Politics » Why back all or nothing when you could have something?

Why back all or nothing when you could have something?

While I don’t support the concept of same sex marriage I do endorse the idea of civil unions so I found the conclusion to Malcolm Turnbull’s  Michael Kirby Lecture delivered at Southern Cross University last night is worthy of note:

Let me now turn to the politics of the matter. The Labor Party has resolved that there will be a conscience vote on this issue, although the party’s policy is to support gay marriage. The Liberal Party has resolved not to have a conscience vote on this issue, and the party’s policy is to oppose gay marriage.

Many argue that the Liberals’ lack of a conscience vote means the gay marriage bills will not pass. I don’t think they have the numbers to pass, but I am far from convinced that in the present Parliament they would have the numbers even if a conscience vote were permitted.

So what is to be done? In my judgement, while the numbers are not there for gay marriage in this Parliament, they are certainly there for civil unions. We should not miss the opportunity to legislate for civil unions for same-sex couples in this Parliament. I recognise that will be seen by many as not good enough. But it is better than nothing and, as I said in the House last week on another issue, it is a great mistake to allow your conception of the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

It is said by the ”marriage or nothing” advocates that if the Parliament were to legislate for civil unions there would never be a move to marriage. On the contrary, it appears that most jurisdictions which have legislated for gay marriage have first provided for civil unions, including the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway and Canada. The United Kingdom and France, which recognise civil unions, are both proposing to legislate for marriage.

Personally I think that  civil unions should be enough in their own right rather than changing the marriage act  but that is just my position. However I suspect that as the zealots for this cause who  have been banging the “all or nothing drum” with unseemly vigour for the last few years will find  that they will end up with nothing.

Cheers Comrades


  1. deknarf says:

    I suspect that neither option will get up and that the fight will continue. At the very least same sex couples should have exactly the same rights and privileges as any other couple, and if that includes the right to marriage — so be it.
    As usual the politicians (largely followers of trends) are trailing behind the general public on this issue.

  2. Iain Hall says:

    I tend to agree with you about the final outcome Deknaf but I also think that Turnbull is pretty right about the politics of the issue and that what he says about the feelings of MPs probably holds true for the general public, namely there would be far less objection to the idea of civil unions than there is for same sex marriage.

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