Taking the Turnbull By the Horns
In large part, Malcolm Turnbull’s recent landmark speech on marriage equality was praiseworthy.
The former Coalition leader and current Shadow Minister calmly and rationally demolished the case against same-sex marriages.
He also outlined some of the centre-right case for equality, pointing out the social and economic benefits that come from fostering strong personal relationships, although he spent much less time on this.
Where the speech went array was Turnbull’s conclusion that civil unions are a more realistic way forward because they are a stepping stone to an as-yet unachievable reform of the Marriage Act.
I’m highly critical of this conclusion for a number of reasons.
The overseas experience shows that not only don't civil unions fulfill their promise of providing same-sex couples with respect and recognition, they may actually entrench the discrimination they are designed to remove.
The other overseas lesson is that civil unions are not a step towards marriage equality but may actually retard progress towards further reform.
Perhaps the biggest argument of all against civil unions is that the rapid progress Australia has made towards marriage equality shows reform is achievable in a much shorter time frame than many people expect.
But in the end, Turnbull’s endorsement of civil unions was just one aspect of a deeper problem – his reticence about leading on marriage equality.
In other countries equality has been achieved when national leaders like Turnbull make a decision to champion the issue.
This decision means moving on from the easy task of demolishing the weak case against equality and focussing instead on building a strong case for equality.
It means no longer looking for compromise solutions and focussing instead on how to move marriage equality forward.
It means being a leader rather than an observer and a commentator.
Marriage equality needs someone like Malcolm Turnbull to be one of its champions.
He too will benefit immensely from taking on this role, not least from the moral authority he will gain.
But if he continues to balk at the gate we will all have missed a historic opportunity, and someone else will be sure to take his place.