More Than Left And Right

31 May 2013

Matthew Lesh responds to Edition Two’s feature ‘Same Love’.

Earlier this year the parliaments of the UK and New Zealand passed bills in overwhelming support of marriage equality to the second reading. In both cases this success was facilitated by a conscience or free vote by their respective non-Left parties.

While the Australian Liberal Party may be behind on this issue, the historic development of the UK and NZ non-Left parties are comparable to Australia. We, like many other liberal democracies, have seen our anti-Labor parties include a broad combination of forces.

Today there are few fundamental economic divisions between different philosophical perspectives in the Liberal Party, however there are plenty of social policy disagreements.

Same-sex marriage is a perfect example of a social policy disagreement that Australian liberalism can and must deal with. Polls show overwhelming support for same-sex marriage, especially from young Australians. It is no longer a question of yes or no, but a question of when, how, and under what circumstances.

As a young supporter of the Liberal Party, the challenge for myself, and all anti-Labor forces, is that with significant generational change occurring we must commit to a more conservative or liberal interpretation of Australian liberalism. We cannot have it both ways.

So long as we continue to allow small government in economics, but big government in the social sphere, liberals and conservatives of our generation will rightfully be proclaimed as hypocrites. We will also lose significant support from younger Australians who are sympathetic to our economic ideas but are put off by the perception of backwards views on social issues.

However, in the case of same-sex marriage, this has been challenged within the liberal, conservative and libertarian philosophical traditions. You can support reform as a conservative because of the value you place on the private benefits of stable human relationships. “I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative.” David Cameron famously said, “I support gay marriage because I am a conservative.”

I believe that liberals and conservatives can come to a harmonious viewpoint—that it is legitimate for any two people who love each other to get married is consistent with both conservative and liberal thought.

Marriage has—and is—constantly changing; it is about loving, lasting relationships, not separate issues of procreation or adoption. Same-sex marriage fits elegantly within the principles of classical liberal and conservative traditions of individual liberty and minimum government control. Same-sex marriage will lead to same-sex people getting married, not a slippery slope to anything else, as it is sometimes claimed. Same-sex marriage is also likely to strengthen the tradition and institution of marriage by extending it to more people.

To stay true to the values of individual liberty and strengthening civil institutions, the Liberal Party should be involved in the enaction of legislation of same-sex marriage. We mustn’t allow this issue to be taken over by forces on the Left. However, as has historically been the case with controversial social change, a conscience vote is the right approach to allow for the expression of different opinions across the Party in the short term.

In the longer term, the expression of liberalism in Australia must be modernised by the adoption of same-sex marriage in the greater policy manifesto.

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