I’ve identified with the conservative side of politics my entire life. So when my plebiscite vote arrived yesterday asking whether or not the law should change to allow same sex couples to marry, I ticked yes without hesitation. Why? Because of my conservative principles, of course.
It’s easy to be confused by what I have just written, particularly since the Right of the Liberal/National Party have hijacked the debate with its Machiavellian deflection to side issues such as Safe Schools and gender politics. Such reactionary tactics are merely a diversion from the heart of the issue: the right of same sex couples to marry.
Any true conservative can recognise a social development whose time has come. While the argument that changing marriage from the ‘traditional’ union of a man and a woman grows increasingly trite, it is worthwhile looking to other conservative principles to realise that support for same sex marriage can go hand in hand with conservatism.
Marriage is a stabilising institution that helps to foster certainty across society. It ties people closer together and creates a central bond from which a family can develop.
Former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to this day still has the most potent argument on this matter when he stared down doubters from his own party in 2011: “conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”
This debate is often framed as an equality issue, but it’s also about commitment. If there can be a social development that encourages and facilitates stronger bonds across our societal fabric, then this should be supported and celebrated.
While the social consequences are positive, the economic impact will be too. As recently as 2015 the ANZ calculated that same-sex marriage would deliver a boost to the national economy worth at least $500 million. Imagine the increased demand for venues, celebrants, entertainers and photographers, among other things, if thousands of couples previously denied the right to wed can now do so.
Skeptics will of course point out that the same couples can enjoy the celebration that a civil ceremony entails, but we know it’s not the same thing, hence the strong push for change.
It must also be said that a change in the law will ultimately be less government regulation over our lives, not more. While conservatism and libertarianism is an often strange marriage, it is common that those sitting on the right of the political spectrum identify with the core elements of both. John Stuart Mill, an icon for many on the political right, championed the idea that the individual should be free to pursue his own will so long as he does not impede on the rights of others.
Framed in such a way, it is perfectly logical to enthusiastically support same sex marriage when one concludes that it can result in greater stability, economic growth and less government interference in our lives.
These are fertile arguments I believe the ‘Yes’ camp have underplayed. Casting the debate as an equality or human rights issue is not the method likely to convince an uncertain voter. In fact, it’s likely to result in increased suspicion and skepticism. Worse, labelling individuals with concerns about the change as homophobic or bigoted will probably incite them to vote no.
I sent my yes vote in the mail because I believe in social stability and individual freedom. My choice was informed by the principles I value. It’s quite possible that people of similar mind could be convinced to vote the same way if provided with arguments they are more likely to hear.