Despite unprecedented levels of support for gay marriage in the community, a significant number of Australians are still opposed to it and even those who support it, don’t believe it should be a top priority for government.
Christine Forster says she cannot marry her partner Virginia Edwards because her brother’s party has refused to allow a conscience vote – the only public policy issue where they have been denied this right. Ms Foster also believes Labor’s refusal to fight for progressive policies has slowed progress.
“Look, politicians are human beings at the end of the day. They want to get elected. They’ll chase votes and if [gay marriage] is not a vote winning issue it’s lower down the priorities,” said Ms Forster.
“[Gays and Lesbians] are a minority of the population. For the majority of the population they’re more concerned about how much their electricity bill is [or] whether their kids are going to have a job. But for me, obviously, it’s an important issue.”
Asked if she thought that her brother was living up to Menzies progressive vision of the party – the reason it is called the ‘Liberal Party’ and not the ‘Conservative Party’, she side stepped the question.
“Well he’s leading the party. It’s the party’s position. Sure it’s his position. But it’s also the party’s position. The party was asked and the party came to a position.”
Ms Foster also said, “I never shirk the topic if I am asked about it. I’m always very up front about where I stand. I do my best to support the gay and lesbian community if needed. I’m not a gay activist by profession. I’m a politician. I’m a Liberal politician. I’m a local Councillor, that’s my main role in public life.”
Despite this she firmly believes “People have the right to be married and they have the right to choose who to get married to and if I could marry Virginia I would. That is my right.”
For obvious reasons, Ms Forster doesn’t support the Liberal Party’s decision not to allow a conscience vote on the issue. “People should be able to debate and people should be able to exercise their conscious. There is a range of views obviously within our parties.”
This flies in the face of the overwhelming support for marriage equality that 72% of Australians say they want.
At the first leader’s debate, Kevin Rudd promised to introduce a Bill into Parliament to amend the Marriage Act within the first one hundred days, if he forms government on September 7.
By contrast, Tony Abbott would not commit to changing his party’s position on a conscience vote.
Since the debate, sitting members of the ALP such as Chris Hayes, Joel Fitzgibbon, Anthony Bryne, David Bradbury, John Murphy, Kelvin Thomson and Laurie Ferguson, have all said they would not support a change to the Marriage Act.
With the exception of Burnie Ripoll and Kevin Rudd, few politicians have altered their position on marriage equality since the Federal Parliament lasted voted on the issue.
A Labor MP from Western Sydney who did not wish to be named, told SameSame.com.au: “If I was in another electorate, I would support it.” Following a redistribution of his electorate by the Australian Electoral Commission, he now holds his seat by a very small majority.
A staffer of another Labor MP who holds a marginal seat in Melbourne said: “I think he is pro. He only abstained last time because it wouldn’t get up.”
Labor MP Kelvin Thomson places the blame firmly on the shoulders of the Opposition. “It seems clear to me that no Bill has any prospect of passing until the Liberal Party agrees to give its MPs a free vote.”
He does have a point.
But one could also say, the lack of courage shown by Labor MPs, makes Kevin Rudd’s promise to introduce a Bill amending the Marriage Act, virtually worthless.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way and in the absence of any real political will, there’s no way Christine Forster will be able to marry the woman she loves, at least in the foreseeable future.