We search for leaders on our hands and kneesMarriage equality will happen, sooner or later, by any one of what seem now like a variety of political means.
- Richard Clapton Best years of our lives
There were only seven members of this government prepared to stick their necks out and bring on marriage equality. I leave them aside here, and also the jihadists like Abbott or Abetz or The Jack Man, and say: most of the others must realise it is inevitable.
One day, a vote on marriage equality will come before the parliament. Coalition MPs may vote for it, or they may not. People who weren't able to get married will do so. As in other countries, the institution of marriage will be strengthened rather than diminished. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Bill English, had voted against it but came to change his mind, and so too will they.
When that day comes, most current Coalition MPs will simply anticipate that they can shrug, concede they were wrong and expect to simply move on. Malcolm Turnbull will, I suspect, be in this number.
LGBTIQ people have done everything right in lobbying to change the Marriage Act: they have patiently petitioned MPs, joined political parties and engaged in polite public events. The fact that they have not yet achieved their aim is an indictment of our democratic processes, especially when you consider the 2004 change that made this change necessary came about within hours after underhanded lobbying from the Exclusive Brethren.
Those responsible for seeing this campaign through should be recognised as among the most capable organisers and representatives our society has. It will be interesting to see if they continue in politics by other means. The 1999 republic referendum not only gave us Turnbull and Abbott, but also Sophie Mirabella and David Elliott on the monarchist side, as well as Greg Barns and Jason Yat-Sen Li on the republicans. The monarchists made more of their people than the republicans did; you can blame Howard for wrong-footing the republicans if you will, but the fact is no promising politician arose from that movement to revive and sustain it. Lyle Shelton was a failed LNP candidate for Queensland state parliament, and people like Sally Rugg may yet switch to broader political engagement.
As Paul Karp notes, Turnbull has sought to justify the rights of LGBTIQ people in terms of whether or not a majority might accept them. This government has diminished rather than expanded our rights as citizens; they are awkward when reversing themselves. What's genuinely appalling is that LGBTIQ Australians are being treated like non-citizens.
Majoritarianism is the same basis on which our immigration policy is conducted: new immigrant groups cop hazing and are accorded few if any rights, until some ill-defined process occurs after many years whereby they are granted the status of True Blue Aussies, and another group of migrants cops the hazing. It should surprise nobody that the Immigration Minister was one of the main proponents of the mail poll, with its exorbitant cost, its lack of rigour, and its disdain for the people most affected. Never mind Liberal Party rhetoric about the freedom and dignity of the individual: Australian citizens must now petition the government for rights, rather than demand them and vote accordingly for representatives who share them.
Even if you agree with the Prime Minister and don't regard LGBTIQ rights as one of the most pressing issues of our time, consider those that are. Consider climate change, or economic stagnation (including, but not limited to, employee shares of corporate incomes), telecommunications and data security, education or healthcare, or changing geopolitical balances of power. In each case, this government has no real answers, and demonstrates no real ability to engage with complex, multi-faceted issues. In each case, for 15 of the past 21 years, Coalition MPs faff around, shrug, and change course - all with the clear expectation that whatever they do will and must be rewarded with perpetual electoral success.
The democratic measures by which we keep politicians in check have been blunted. That's the worst thing about this debate: a ferociously democratic people have been played into negation and acquiescence by unprofessional professionals who cannot be dealt out of the game by the usual means. It's a problem for our politics, and that includes the way politics is reported by those with press gallery access - but don't even get me started on that.