A Labor senator who is opposed to same-sex marriage says she has been urged by senior MPs and members of the ALP’s organisational wing to pretend to be in favour of changing the Marriage Act.
Tasmanian senator Helen Polley told The Australian she was maligned in the party because of her views and had been told she would cost Labor votes at the next federal election because she was opposed to gay marriage.
Senator Polley, a Catholic and a No voter in Malcolm Turnbull’s $122 million postal survey, said senior party figures had told her to change her position publicly even though it would go against her conscience. She would not name the people who told her to change her position, but said they were senior federal MPs and leading figures in the Tasmanian organisation.
“I’ve been told that I could be responsible for losing the next federal election,” she said.
“It would be much easier for my life, in some respects, in dealing with my colleagues to change my position and support same-sex marriage. There is pressure from outside, there is pressure from friends, from colleagues, from staffers.
“There are other people, and people who I have respect for, who say: we have tried everything, she is not going to move. I’ve had all sorts of propositions put to me.
“But I have to be true to the people who elected me, the people who supported me over three elections campaigns and still contact me.”
The Australian has also spoken to another Labor MP who has voted No in the same-sex marriage survey but who has declined to go public with their decision, although the MP said they had not experienced any internal pressure to publicly back the Yes case.
Speaking at a rally in favour of same-sex marriage in Melbourne yesterday, Bill Shorten said the postal survey had led to many Australians experiencing a “reawakening of discrimination”.
“This postal survey has been, in my opinion, a difficult time for gay Australians,” the Opposition Leader said. “They have felt, for the first time in a long time, not valued equally in many ways. The fact that some Australians have to literally … knock on 16 million doors to get permission to validate their loving relationship is tiring.”
Senator Polley said she was not actively campaigning for the No case and would probably vote against a bill to legalise gay marriage if the Yes vote prevailed.
The 2015 ALP national platform states that Labor MPs will have a conscience vote on same-sex marriage until the commencement of the next parliament.
“This is a very personal, very much a conscience vote and my Christian belief and my faith tell me one thing,” Senator Polley said. “I believe strongly there are … people in Tasmania who don’t support it and I will be their word in parliament when we actually get to vote.
“I only hope that Malcolm Turnbull allows all the members of his caucus to have a conscience vote. Then it will be resolved, I think, in the affirmative and this issue will be gone and then we can focus back on health, on jobs, building the economy, investing in IT (and) those sort of things.”
Senator Polley said more than half the members of her faction were against same-sex marriage and that people could not be a member of the Tasmanian left, the dominant faction in the state, unless they were a supporter of same-sex marriage.
“If you want to join the left in Tasmania, you have to support same-sex marriage and I know there are people in there who privately don’t support it,” she said.
Senator Polley, who said she had a good relationship with Mr Shorten, agreed with Labor that the plebiscite never should have happened and MPs should have had a free vote in parliament.
She doubted whether the survey would produce a legitimate outcome. “Whatever the outcome, this survey is fraught because it is not compulsory and so many people have found survey forms; they are buying them from other people; they are handing them over because they don’t care,” she said. “I do agree with Bill Shorten on this: it should never have been a plebiscite, it should never have been a survey, it was a waste of money.”
She said the small group of Labor senators who were opposed to same-sex marriage were “encouraged” by the support they got from the community. “I have to be the person who has the values and the positions that I have, instead of just caving in to the pressure; I said that to people before my last pre-selection,” she said.
Source: The Australian, Greg BrownShare