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Will the push for LGBTI equality suffer under the new Senate?

CREATED ON // Saturday, 28 June 2014 Written by // Sam Butler

From next week the new Senate promises a curious new blend of pro- and anti-queer senators. Perhaps in terms of raw numbers of marriage equality supporters, it’s the movements in the ALP that are of most interest.

And on the Labor side, there appears to be a tiny step towards progress – or at least, a small step back from discrimination. Ursula Stephens, Mark Bishop, Mark Furner and Don Farrell – all SDA-aligned and/or Catholic senators with well-established anti-queer pedigrees – are all gone; that’s the good news. The bad news is that so is Louise Pratt, among whose many contributions towards LGBTI justice and tolerance included her valedictory speech in which she warned of the dangers of the National School Chaplaincy Program to queer students.

As the only major party currently allowing members a conscience vote on marriage equality, the individual comings and goings here are of a little more importance than those in the Coalition (still uniformly against, and likely to remain so as long as Tony Abbott leads them) and Greens (uniformly in favour).

The worse news is that Pratt has effectively been replaced in WA by Joe Bullock, a man she says she “has known for many years to be deeply homophobic”.


[Image] Senator Sue Boyce led the push for marriage equality

Another risky new Labor senator is Queensland’s Chris Ketter, also aligned with the SDA and alleged to be working hard alongside Joe de Bruyn to keep Australia’s largest union staunchly anti-queer.

On the Coalition side, the departure of Sue Boyce is a big blow against the marriage equality movement. Boyce was one of the few remaining moderate Coalition senators brave enough to speak up against the homophobic tinge of her party’s senior leadership and was a key internal ally and advocate in a party increasingly hostile to the issue. Perhaps one of the incoming Coalition senators will take her place and keep up the good fight, though there are no signs so far to suggest they will.

In better news, Ron Boswell is finally gone from the Senate, taking with him a long, ugly history of poisonous homophobic rhetoric. The house of review will be a better place without him.

Then there are the incoming Palmer United Party senators, several of whom are unknown quantities. Officially the party allows a conscience vote on marriage equality, though at least one senator, Jacqui Lambie, is on record opposing it and Clive Palmer has suggested his party will usually fall on the conservative side of social issues.

Of the independent senators, Family First’s Bob Day will be a natural enemy of marriage equality and of sexual diversity and tolerance generally. Accidental senator David Leyonhjelm, supposedly a libertarian, appears to be against government-mandated marriage altogether. But he’s also equated the “gay lifestyle” with “reckless promiscuity”, so the movement is unlikely to have a friend there.

 Overall it’s probably a net gain of anti-equality senators. But it could’ve been worse.


Sam Butler

Sam Butler

Sam Butler is a freelance writer who's written extensively on politics and current affairs for SX, MCV and GayNewsNetwork.com.au for more than a decade. You can find him on Twitter: @samsonjbutler

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