Rodney Croome: Arm-wrestling for equality
Lobbying carries its risks. In a meeting about marriage equality in parliament last week I was challenged to an arm wrestle by a well-known Coalition Senator who says he has defeated Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott despite being almost seventy.
“Would it help if he beat me too?” I asked myself.
I decided it probably wouldn’t, and settled instead for a lecture on how “geometry” (the length and angle of one’s forearm) is the key to arm-wrestling supremacy.
Table-top games aside, I was encouraged by the first week of lobbying for 2012.
Coalition members who six months ago were indifferent to marriage equality are now seriously engaged with the issue.
After twenty five years of lobbying, I know when politicians are shifting towards supporting gay legal equality, and I know that is what Coalition members are doing now.
My assessment is backed up by Coalition members who can see change in their own ranks.
Some believe marriage equality now has the numbers to pass.
I’m not quite so confident. But what I am sure about is that the numbers are much closer than many people assume and will get closer as the year goes on.
Two outstanding obstacles are the failure of the Coalition to allow a conscience vote and competition between supporters of equality to introduce legislation.
The conscience vote problem may be solved by an emerging distinction between a conscience vote and a free vote.
The latter involves abandoning existing party policy against marriage equality, which Tony Abbott is not about to do.
The former allows backbenchers to cross the floor with impunity while the party remains opposed to equality, which is much more likely.
Competition between supporters of equality may prove the harder problem.
ALP backbencher Stephen Jones has tabled a bill in parliament, and the Greens have two, with Tasmanian independent, Andrew Wilkie, sponsoring one of them.
My hope is that they can reconcile their differences and all co-sponsor a bill that has been given the tick of approval by the current Senate marriage equality.
But if that doesn’t work there’s always arm wrestling.