Culture

Bill Shorten Seems To Be The Only Person Excited About Bill Shorten’s Marriage Equality Bill

Only five Coalition MPs came to his party today.

Last week, the news that Labor were putting forward a bill on marriage equality felt enormous. On the same day that the Greens announced a huge push on the issue, the leader of the Opposition came out of whatever cloakroom he usually eats his lunch in and slammed down a proposal for an amendment to the Marriage Act to be debated in Parliament within the week.

It was huge. It was a first for any major party leader. It felt like momentum was building, even if it was for something we’d all pretty much accepted a decade ago. Much like the news that Facebook existed and Marissa had died on The OC, support of same-sex marriage had finally reached Canberra.

But in just a few short days, everything fell flat. Though he didn’t explicitly rule it out, Tony Abbott effectively quashed any faint hope of a free vote on the issue within hours of it being announced, instead offering a cross-party alternative in August. And while that’s promising in and of itself, it effectively neutered everything the Labor Party had so proudly flourished in front of the nation.

And today, the fateful Monday he’s been waiting for, Shorten announced his private member’s bill to Parliament. After grinning for photo opps with the bill in the Labor caucus room, and hearing it read for the first time, he delivered a passionate speech that, at any other point in the last few years, would have sent the internet into a frenzy.

“The laws of our nation should give us hope,” he said. “The laws should tell our children what we believe. Our laws should tell strangers who Australians are. Our laws should be a mirror, reflecting our great and generous country and our free inclusive society. And our parliament should be a place where we make things happen, rather than sit back and let them happen.”

After running through a comprehensive timeline of other meaningful landmarks for LGBTI communities in Australian legislature, Shorten reasoned his case as to why “it’s time” for this next move; a phrase cribbed from the party’s progressive hero Gough Whitlam, which he repeated throughout.

“Currently, the marriage act is defined as between a man and a woman. Those eight words maintain a fiction that any other relationship is somehow inferior … To all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex Australians we offer change that says your relationship is equal under the law.”

“We know that two out of five young Australians who are gay have thought about self-harm or suicide. Two out of every five. We know a young Australian who identifies as gay is six times more likely to consider taking their own life compared to their sibling, friend or classmate … We say to all young gay people, we are proud of you for who you are. You belong. We say to you you have the same right to the same hopes, dreams and opportunities as every other Australian including the right to marry the person you love.”

But this would have been a lot more inspiring were he not speaking to an empty room.

“This is a moment bigger than politics,” he said while staring forlornly at this:

It’s a view so sad he could nearly feel the meat sweats coming on again from the time everyone forgot about his 10th birthday party at Maccas and he shame-ate nine cheeseburgers.

As the government’s already made it clear they don’t support the bill, there wasn’t any practical point for them to be around — though many have taken it as a show of disrespect to the issue itself. As The Age note, while Shorten was delivering his speech, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey were busy spriuking their budget perks for small businesses at a Harvey Norman down the road; the only Coalition MPs hanging around were Bob Baldwin, Darren Chester, Andrew Broad, Mal Brough, and Russell Broadbent. 

“This government’s absolute fundamental priority in the budget session of Parliament is to get the most urgent budget measures through,” the Prime Minister told the Sydney Morning Heraldwhile directing customers towards discount laptops. “We don’t have to do everything immediately.”

Even the Greens are a little lukewarm about the whole thing. Though they pledge absolute support for Shorten’s bill and are determined advocates of the issue at large, most prominent members of the party expressed familiar concern via Twitter this morning. Since Shorten announced the move, they’ve worried Labor’s duelling legislation effectively divides Parliament on an issue which needs unity.

The House of Reps have now voted to adjourn debate on the bill indefinitely, but that hasn’t stopped it being used as a bit of a political plaything in Question Time; the government are now accusing Labor of using the issue as a “distraction” from their budget.

All in all, it’s not really the reception Bill was hoping for.