On Penny Wong, and other MPs who stand for discrimination

On the subject of Penny Wong and her I don’t believe in marriage equality either remarks, it’s important to be fair. The fact that she’s gay herself doesn’t make her support for discrimination any worse than that of any other MP. All MPs who failed to vote for the Greens’ marriage equality bill last year (which is all of them except the Greens) deserve to lose the support of every fair-minded Australian.

Let’s be clear: there is no rational justification for the government to discriminate against gay and lesbian Australians. Not one. There is not a single logical argument in favour of the present indefensibly discriminatory legislation. Marriage as regulated by government should not be subject to religion – which is why we have civil marriage in this country. It is an enduring mark of shame for our nation that in the second decade of the twenty first century, even after many countries around the world have enacted equality (without losing elections), all our government could manage was lame legislative tinkering around the edges.

But there are two points about Penny in particular. First, like every other MP or public figure who’s made a point of going on the record arguing against equality – not just voting with the party, but specifically advocating for discrimination to continue – she deserves criticism. If she was too gutless to stand up for principle, she could’ve just said “the party has a clear position on that subject”. Or nothing.

And, secondly, how can an openly gay person not understand just how serious it is for gay Australians to be treated as second class citizens? She can’t even rely on the ignorance (I don’t know enough gay people to realise they’re just like the rest of us) or religious (my God says it’s wrong) explanations – there’s simply no explanation in her case other than cowardice. She’s also someone the Labor Party put up as a reason for gay and lesbian Australians to vote for them, on the “hey we’ve made one of you a Minister” line – so you can understand why they feel particularly betrayed by her.

That said, every MP who voted against marriage equality in 2010 deserves our contempt. Penny’s just one of many.

PS: Another reason to have contempt for Ms Wong is her shameless shouting down of Christine Milne on Q&A last night.

ELSEWHERE: George Washington explains why it’s vital to all of us that we give “to bigotry no sanction”.

UPDATE: News Ltd’s Samantha Maiden chimes in with this lame attack on those criticising Wong, on the basis that two of the betrayed and angry gay and lesbian people resorted to somewhat racist gibes against her ON THE INTERNET. She snidely dismisses Bob Brown saying he’s “horrified” by Wong’s advocacy against equality as being “sanctimonious” – apparently the News Ltd put-down for “principled”.

And she approvingly (“the only one making any sense”) quotes Graham Richardson’s lame defence of Wong on Q&A, which was basically “hey, you don’t know what she’s done for you behind the scenes!” Well, Richo, whatever that is, it’s no excuse for standing for discrimination in public, and voting against it in Parliament.

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27 responses to “On Penny Wong, and other MPs who stand for discrimination

  1. It’s probably not even what she really thinks, but God, who knows. She’s a smart enough political operator to understand that they’re in an election campaign and they need to avoid the almighty wedge. Which is exactly what this would be used as in an infantile media in precisely 000.2 seconds. In this election more than ever, there is absolutely no room for nuance or complexity. Penny knows instinctively that this is not the time for her (gay or not) to say, actually no this is a bit dodgy. Christ knows whether or not this is what she really thinks though. Perhaps when this shitty election is finally over and done with we might at some point find out what some of these people actually believe in. No way beforehand though. Too risky!

    I totally agree though that her attitude towards Christine Milne on qanda was unambiguously contemptuous.

  2. Let’s be clear: there is no rational justification for the government to discriminate against gay and lesbian Australians. Not one. There is not a single logical argument in favour of the present indefensibly discriminatory legislation.

    Really – that’s all that needs to be said on this issue. There is plenty of argument against gay marriage, but none of it boils down to anything more significant than “I don’t like it so it shouldn’t be allowed.” There, quite simply, is no legitimate argument against it.

    I am, however, a little more sympathetic to Wong. It’s not inconcievable that she believed that a small evil in this case was necessary to protect a greater good.

  3. It would seem Jeremy that this is another example of Big Politics suppressing an individual’s personal beliefs. Witness Peter Garrett. The suppression of his personal beliefs in the name of party politics was/is very sad.

    I guess they (Wong and Garrett) take the pragmatic view that to make any meaningful change they have to be a member of one of the two mains. I seem to remember Garrett essentially saying something along these lines.

    Unfortunately that membership, and the ability to effect any meaningful change , brings with it the requirement to often follow party lines that they find personally distasteful.

    Having said that, I think Wong handled herself with dignity in relation to that particular question and while I disagree with the ALP’s stance on this issue, I find it difficult to have contempt for Wong. I would take a more pragmatic view.

  4. Maybe Penny is seeing the bigger picture here – like, there’s nothing she can do about the issue if she’s not in government.

    It’s easy for Brown to harrangue and criticise from a position of a minority party that is not running the country but I think Wong deserves respect for the work she has done and for not being so stupid as to risk losing government by dividing the party over an issue that, as it stands, is hardly going to decide the election.

    It might decide the election though if Wong were to split ranks and hand Abbott the opportunity to blow it up.

  5. If socially conservative, heavily Catholic, machismo soaked Argentina can do it, then what the fuck is our problem?

    This country is being shaped by a tiny noisy minority and it sucks.

    Cheers.

  6. I think you answered your own question Marek.

    Perhaps with a proclaimed atheist steering the ship things may slowly change.

    Emphasis on slowly…

  7. But the tiny noisy minority already hates Labor, hates Gillard.

    I think there are as many small l liberal votes to steal from the Liberal party as there are social conservative votes to lose.

    And, most importantly, it’s clearly The Right Thing To Do.

    Seriously, tinkering around the edges in 2010 is simply lame and gutless. The answer is obvious – full equality – and the time for it is LONG SINCE PAST.

  8. “Lame and gutless”

    Maybe Jeremy, but going in hammer and tongs on an issue that shouldn’t be, but is, as devisive as this will, at this point in time, earn any party a right head kicking.

    As much as you and I might disagree with it, Australia is still a very conservative country, populated, in a large part, by people whos heart’s and mind’s reside in the 50’s.

    I mean just look at Bolt’s army of lap dogs.

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there some quietly introduced reforms post election. (assuming an ALP victory…)

  9. … are some quietly introduced reforms…

  10. Assuming the Greens win the “balance of power”, you mean.

  11. “Assuming the Greens win the “balance of power”, you mean”

    Yeh, probably

  12. ‘Cos, you know, the ALP is in government now.

    Not sure when this magical “better time” to do it is going to be.

  13. “the ALP is in government now”

    Oh, okay, thanks for that.

    I’m not saying that post election will be a “magical time”, just that it would be politically dumb for any party to go to an election backing what is, a very devisive issue.

    Post election, they will (may) have time to implement reforms.

    Not saying that’s what will happen, just saying that’s what may happen

  14. Look, they’ve always got an excuse. It’s just not good enough. Plenty of countries have shown us the way. It isn’t complicated. It isn’t expensive. It isn’t like there’s even a single coherent argument against it.

    The discrimination is indefensible and they deserve to cop criticism until they get rid of it.

  15. you dont find it concerning someone betrays their own beliefs to hold power?

    if a black politician voted to continue apartheid, what would you make of it?

    I dont know if I would be happy with the cop out
    “I am part of a party and I support the party’s policies”

  16. Exactly. But be prepared for the lame retort that gays aren’t brutally assaulted or murdered by the state like black people were under apartheid, so the analogy is invalid.

    (It’s not, but that’s the fatuous comeback people have been relying on on Twitter.)

  17. “you dont find it concerning someone betrays their own beliefs to hold power?”

    Not saying I’d do it myself, just saying that’s what’s happening.

    Am I concerned? Not really. I see that as a pragmatic way of trying to effect change.

    Someone like Wong can grit her teeth and try to effect change through her party as long as it maintains power or she can bleat inneffectually from the sidelines.

    I think she’s made that call.

  18. “It isn’t like there’s even a single coherent argument against it.”

    That’s not what half of the voting public think Jeremy.

  19. Where’d you get that figure from? Latest polls are that more than 60% are in favour of full equality.

    And for the rest – well, bigotry isn’t an argument to which governments should pander.

  20. Someone like Wong can grit her teeth and try to effect change through her party as long as it maintains power or she can bleat inneffectually from the sidelines.

    I think you might be creating a false choice there Phill.

    There are a number of choices inhabiting the middle ground between those two alternatives that you are ignoring in order to present Wong’s decision as the only one she could have rationally made.

  21. Yeh, you’re right Jeremy, it’s 60% who support same sex marriage as of 2009.

    “There are a number of choices inhabiting the middle ground”

    Yes, but if those choices are not the choices of her party, what is she to do?

  22. By the way; that website that my name links to is not me. Something’s gone awry in my WP account…

  23. jordanrastrick

    Jeremy, looking at what Senator Wong is quoted as actually saying in the article:

    ======

    “On the issue of marriage I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious, historical view around that which we have to respect,’’ she told Network Ten today.

    ‘‘The party’s position is very clear that this is an institution that is between a man and a woman.’’

    Senator Wong said she respected Labor’s view of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman.

    ‘‘I am part of a party and I support the party’s policies.’’

    ======

    I don’t know how you got to:

    “I don’t believe in marriage equality either”

    Nowhere does she express a personal view about gay marriage. She says “the reality is… blah blah… respect cultural… blah blah… I support all of my party’s policies.”

    A.K.A. “I refuse to tell you my own personal views about gay marriage, and as a Cabinet member I’d look pretty idiotic openly criticizing my own party’s policy platform in the middle of an election campaign…..”

    Personally, I think she should have gone with the more open “I would myself like to one day live in a country where homosexual and heterosexual people have an equal right to marry, but I respect that not everyone agrees with me and I wholeheartedly support my party’s policy of maintaining the current definition of marriage between a man and a woman”, or something on those lines.

    However given the standard of campaign coverage this would have become

    “WONG WANTS GAY MARRIAGE” as the headline in every major newspaper for three days, which would be a distraction from the other facile media coverage of non-issues which is itself a distraction from the substantial debate about real issues we could be having if our political process wasn’t broken.

  24. She could’ve just said “the government’s policy is X; I support the govt”. She didn’t need to tell us we should “respect” the bigots who insist on discriminating against gay and lesbian Australians. There’s no reason to “respect” that stupid, illogical, nasty view at all.

  25. Blast Tyrant

    She didn’t need to tell us we should “respect” the bigots who insist on discriminating against gay and lesbian Australians. There’s no reason to “respect” that stupid, illogical, nasty view at all.

    Exactly. Bigots should be given no ground of sympathy or even the concept that maybe their bigoted ideas have any place in our society.

    Imagine people saying:
    “I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious, historical view around that which we have to respect,”
    during the civil rights movements.

  26. Chin up Penny, Milnes cheap political point scoring on this issue demonstrates her lack of integrity. Does she really expect a cabinet minister to espouse personal opinions on qanda? If it gets too much you can always join Christine’s “we will always be more right then every one else party” but you may just die bitter and lonely.

  27. I refer you to BT’s comments above.

    We’re not talking here about personal opinions about some esoteric bit of policy: we’re talking about government indefensibly discriminating against people because of their gender and sexuality.

    It’s not “cheap political point scoring” to stand up for principle. It’s cheap politics to constantly duck it, no matter the real people who are hurt, because you think it’ll be too hard.

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