Does the Australian Labor Party really support gay rights?

Does the Australian Labor Party really support gay rights?

There is a large section of the gay community who seem to think that gays should always vote for the Labor Party because they support the gays.  Clearly these people haven’t heard of Joe De Bruyn, but leaving organisers and machinists aside, what’s the reality of the situation?  Is the only way to protect gay rights in this country to vote ALP?

Numbers don’t lie, so here is our state-by-state breakdown of the ALP caucus’s position on gay-marriage.  We’re going in no particular order.

In the New South Wales delegation of the ALP:

  • 48% support marriage equality
  • 35% oppose marriage equality
  • 16% are yet to declare their position

Some members don’t want to be open about their intention to vote against gay-marriage.  Take Ed Husic for instance: Husic’s electorate was named after one of the greats of the ALP (Chifley).  However he said “I’m personally not opposed, but I have to represent the views of my electorate [and] it isn’t ready to embrace the concept.”

There are also members like John Murphy who said, “Labor members who support marriage equality should join the Greens.”  Even though I disagree with Mr Murphy in the strongest possible terms, at least he is being upfront about his intentions to vote against marriage equality, unlike many ALP members who seem to hide behind their electorates.

Here is are the current voting intentions of ALP members from NSW

ALP Members – New South Wales

For marriage equality

Against marriage equality

Anthony Albanese, Member for Grayndler Chris Bowen, Member for McMahon
Greg Combet, Member for Charlton Chris Hayes, Member for Fowler
Janelle Saffin, Member for Page David Bradbury, member for Lindsay
Jill Hall, Member for Shortland Deb O’Neill, Member for Robertson
Julie Owens, Member for Paramatta Jason Clare, Member for Baxland
Laurie Ferguson, Member for Werriwa Joel Fitzgibbon, Member for Hunter
Mike Kelly, member for Eden Monaro * John Murphy, member for Reid
Peter Garrett, member for Kingsford Smith Michelle Rowland, member for Greenway
Sharon Bird, member for Cunningham Tony Burke, Member for Watson
Sharon Grierson, member for New Castle Ed Husic, Member for Chifley
Stephen Jones, Member for Throsby Senator Ursula Stephens
Tanya Plibersek, Member for Sydney
Senator Doug Cameron Undeclared– Craig Thomson*, Daryl Melham, Justine Elliot, Robert McClelland, Senator Bob Car* Thomson resigned from the ALP, but has not voted against them yet
Senator John Faulkner
Senator Matt Thistlethwaite

Ok, 48% isn’t a win, but what about Labor’s spiritual home of Queensland?

The ALP was formed durring a sheerers strike, under a tree in the small outback town of Barcaldine.  The organisers were facing the threat of state violence (including killings), so you might expect members from Queensland to be passionate and readily prepared to stand up and state their position.


In the Queensland delegation of the ALP:

  • 46% support marriage equality
  • 31% oppose marriage equality
  • 23% are yet to declare their position

To be fair some members of the Queensland delegation are tireless campaigners for “Labor values”, of fighting for minorities and standing by those who are doing it tough.  Senator Claire Moore, for instance, is an incredibly strong support of gay rights.  Senator Jan McLucas is also a very strong supporter.

Unfortunately though there are some who are adamantly opposed: Craig Emerson, Shayne Neumann, and Wayne Swan have all had the courage to admit their opposition.  Senator Mark Furner on the other hand refuses to answer media questions on the matter, while attending (and sometimes speaking at) anti-gay rallies like the one yesterday.

The voting intentions for the Queensland delegation looks like this:

ALP Members – Queensland

For marriage equality

Against marriage equality

Bernie Ripoll, member for Oxley Craig Emerson, member for Rankin
Graham Perrett, member for Moreton Shayne Neumann, member for Blair
Kirsten Livermore, Member for Capricornia Wayne Swan, member for Lilley
Senator Claire Moore Senator Mark Furner
Senator Jan McLucas
Senator Joe Ludwig
Undeclared – Kevin Rudd, John Hogg, Yvette D’Ath

What about Victoria?  Our most cosmopolitan city of Melbourne is the libertarian state and home of small-l liberalism in Australia.  It is the jewel in the liberal crown.  Surely the centre-left party is going to be a strong supporter of gay rights.

Thankfully in Victoria, ALP members are broadly representative of Australian views on marriage equality:

  • 63% of ALP members support gay marriage
  • 15% of ALP members oppose gay marriage
  • 22% of ALP members are undecided

ALP Members – Victoria

For marriage equality

Against marriage equality

Alan Griffin, member for Bruce Anna Burke*, member for Chisholm
Brendan O’Connor, member for Gorton Julia Gillard, Prime Minister and member for Lalor
Catherine King, member for Ballarat Kevlin Thomson*, member for Wills
Darren Cheeseman, member for Corangamite Mike Symon, member for Deakin
Harry Jenkins, member for Scullin
Jenny Macklin, member for Jagajaga
Laura Smyth, member for La Trobe
Maria Vamvakinou*, member for Calwell
Mark Dreyfus, member for Isaacs
Michael Danby, member for Melbourne Ports
Nicola Roxon, member for Gellibrand
Richard Marles, member for Corio
Simon Crean, member for Hotham
Steve Gibbons, member for Bendigo Undeclared – Anthony Byrne, Bill Shorten, Martin Ferguson, Rob Mitchell, Senator Jacinta Collins, Senator Stephen Conroy
Senator David Pheeney
Senator Gavin Marshall
Senator Kim Carr

Some of these classifications are going to be contraversial.

Anna Burke is technically undeclared.  Ms Burke said “I will not determine my position until I see the actual bill and have a greater appreciation of my community’s sentiment”.  On the surface this seems fine: after all 64% of Australian voters support marriage equality, so you might ask, why is she in the opposed column? Every politician to use that line so far has declared their position against marriage equality, call me a cynic but I’m not hopeful.

Martin Ferguson is an interesting case – he is personally supportive of same-sex marriage.  However, the only people making representations in his electorate are opposed to lifting the gay marriage ban.  I have put him in the undecided column because I don’t know if he is prepared to lose his seat on this issue.  While I recognise he is in a difficult position, I hope he has the moral fortitude to do what is right.  My instinct is that he will vote against marriage equality.  Mr Ferguson, in case you’re reading this – you’re one of my favourite ALP members and (in my mind at least) a possible future Prime Minister: please don’t make me reassess my opinion of you.

Kelvin Thomson is another interesting case in the opposed column.  Technically he hasn’t declared – he did send out a confusing press release saying that marriage equality is a matter of natural justice, but that his electorate opposes it.  Bill Shorten also sends mixed messages: he tells religious groups that he understands their objections to gay marriage, yet in the same interview will tend to argue that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and that gay people deserve equal rights.  Perhaps these politicians are trying to have it both ways?

So why is Mr Shorten in the “undecided” column, because it’s obvious to those of us who track these things that Mr Shorten is litterally undecided, while Mr Thomson is clearly leaning towards voting no.  However, I’ve also put Maria Vamvakinou in the supporter’s column in spite of her not publicly declaring a position.  Ms Vamvakinou reportedly went with Senator Doug Cameron, Garaham Perrett and Gavin Marshall to a heated meeting in the Prime Minister’s office to register her disgust with the party’s position of trying to have it both ways (officially supporting marriage equality, yet not requiring that MPs support marriage equality).  Ms Vamvakinou also has a long history as a social-progressive.

However, Mike Symon and our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard are very strongly opposed to marriage equality.  At least Mr Symon can cite religion as a influence, our first female Prime Minister, who happens to be an unwedded atheist has never explained her sudden opposition to gay marriage and “long-held personal view that marriage is between a man and a woman” that sudden appeared after becoming Prime Minister.

South Australia is home to some of the best Australian wineries, some of the most socially aware people in the country.  Incidentally, perhaps irrelevantly, South Australians elected two Senators named Penny (Senator Penny Wong and Senator Penny Wright).

South Australia is also home to Paradise Church and most of the most ardently anti-gay organisations in the country.  In fact, Adelaide has more churches per capita than any city outside of the Vatican.

So how does the South Australian ALP delegation score?

  • 36% support gay marriage
  • 27% oppose gay marriage
  • 36% are undecided

ALP Members – South Australia

For marriage equality

Against marriage equality

Kate Ellis, member for Adelaide Nick Champion*, member for Wakefield
Mark Butler, member for Port Adelaide Senator Alex Gallacher
Senator Anne McEwen Senator Don Farrell
Senator Penny Wong
Undeclared – Amanda Rishworth, Steve Georganas, Tony Zappia

Obviously I expected more opposition to same-sex marriage from South Australia.  But, let’s take a moment to discuss some controversy.  In June last year Nick Champion said that he would vote purely on party platform.  When he gave that interview the ALP party’s policy was strongly opposed to marriage equality, that’s why I’ve put him in the opposition column.

Tasmania is known as the Apple Isle, it is home to my third-favourite gay-rights advocate (yes, I do rank them.  For the record it’s Rodney Croome, OAM) and was the last state in the country to decriminalise homosexuality in 1997.  In fact getting Tasmania to change the law required the UN Human Rights committee’s involvement.  The Committee declared that the laws against homosexuality were a breach of the international human rights standards.

In the Tasmanian delegation of the ALP:

  • 60% support same-sex marriage
  • 40% oppose gay marriage
  • No one is “undecided”

This makes Tasmania the most decisive state in the Commonwealth (tied with Western Australia).

ALP Members – Tasmania

For marriage equality

Against marriage equality

Julie Collins, member for Franklin Dick Adams, member for Lyons
Sid Sidebottom, member for Braddon Geoff Lyons*, member for Bass
Senator Anne Urquhart Senator Catryna Bilyk
Senator Carol Brown Senator Helen Polley
Senator Lin Thorp
Senator Lisa Singh
Undeclared – None.

Geoff Lyons has not said “I oppose gay marriage”, but he has come close – in fact last year he said “60 per cent of my electorate opposes same sex marriage, so I’m going to stick with the Labor platform at the moment”.  At the time, the ALP platform was anti-gay marriage.

Western Australia is as decisive as Tasmania.  In short, WA is a mining state.  It’s capital city, Perth, is the most geographically isolated city in the world.  And, perhaps most interestingly, it’s much closer to South-east Asia than it is Canberra.  Remember the state of gay rights in Asian Olympic nations?

The Western Australian delegation of ALP parliamentarians looks like this:

  • 71% support marriage equality
  • 29% oppose marriage equality
  • No one is “undecided”

ALP Members – Western Australia

For marriage equality

Against marriage equality

Gary Gray, member for Brand Senator Glenn Sterle
Melissa Parke, member for Fremantle Senator Mark Bishop*
Stephen Smith, member for Perth
Senator Chris Evans
Senator Louise Pratt
Undeclared – None.

Senator Mark Bishop has stayed off-the-record in media, but signed the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s minority report opposing marriage equality.  One only signs a minority report if they want to dissent from the main recommendation (in case that the gays should be allowed to marry).  Senator Bishop also spoke against gay-marriage at the ALP conference.  It’s also worth noting that Senator Bishop is part of Joe De Bruyn’s faction, which is ardently anti-gay (oddly enough Mr De Bruyn is the national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employee’s association – that’s right, he is the head of the retail workers union!)

This only leaves the territories – Australian Capital Territory and The Northern Territory.  These two places are very different.  Canberra is a city that was designed to settle an argument between Sydney and Melbourne.  It is a small place, purpose built to be our capital, while the Northern Territory is indescribable unless you’ve been there.  The word “vast” isn’t enough to describe the distances.  Imagine being able to drive for 10 hours at highway speed without seeing another soul.  However, they both have a sizable population of fly-in, fly-out workers: in the NT they’re in mining, and in the ACT they’re in Government.

ALP Members – The Territories

For marriage equality

Against marriage equality

Andrew Leigh, member for Fraser (ACT)
Gai Brodtmann, member for Canberra (ACT)
Senator Kate Lundy (ACT)
Senator Trish Crossin (NT)
Undeclared – Warren Snowden (NT)

So, what’s the picture like nationally?

Pie chart showing number of ALP members that support gay marriage

Do you get to the the party of “gay rights” when only 54% of your members support gay rights?  Do you get to be the party that stands for “a fair go” when 27% of your members are foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of same-sex marriage?

No, you don’t.

With some notable exceptions, like Senators Moore and McLucas (two people for whom I have the deepest admiration and almost unlimited respect), the ALP can’t really lay claim to being the party with a strong history supporting gay rights.  In fact, the 2004 marriage act amendments opposing same-sex marriage only passed because of ALP support for them.  But let’s face it the ALP have moved so far to the right that they can’t even recruit former Democrats.  It’s so hard to differentiate between Labor and the Nationals these days: after all one of them keeps true to their right-wing agrarian socialist roots while the other started life as an agrarian socialist party.

Next time I will write about the Liberal-national coalition member, unfortunately things are even less positive there.  Which brings me to what I want you to take away from this: if you’re gay, or gay rights are an important consideration when casting your ballot, voting for a major party because the “brand” supports gay rights is folly.  In fact, choosing to vote for a major party for gay rights is like choosing between syphilis and gonorrhoea.  If you want change, then need to vote for individuals, not a political party.

Some of those 18% need an excuse to side with us, and some of those 27% are hiding behind our collective silence, claiming that gay rights are a non-issue.  You need to tell your representatives that gay marriage is a vote-changer for you, and that we are no longer going to settle for crumbs from the table (like state-based registered relationships).  That’s why I’ve written a handy guide on how to lobby them and (hopefully) changing their mind.


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