In the lead-up to the First Reading of Louisa Wall’s marriage equality bill, all MPs are receiving quite a lot of mail and email on both sides of the debate.
A point frequently made by opponents of the reform is that they won’t vote for MPs who support the Bill. List MPs are insulated from such threats of course (except for a party like the Greens, who only get MPs into Parliament via the list, and who will support the Bill as Party policy), but electorate MPs with narrow margins might understandably feel a little fearful.
Actually, we’ve been here before. During the public debates that surrounded Homosexual Law Reform, adding “sexual orientation” to anti-discrimination law, and Civil Unions, opponents threatened not only that the sky would fall, but also that they would unseat MPs who voted for the reforms.
MPs might well note that with public support for marriage equality outweighing opposition by 2:1 (and considerably more than that amongst younger voters), which is much more favourable than those previous reforms, there is less risk. Since they could still be nervous, I commissioned some analysis of what actually happened since these key reforms to see how effective opponents had been in bringing about electoral ruin for reform supporters.
The inescapable conclusion is that the threats made to unseat reform supporters were entirely groundless.
Of course some supporters did lose their seats, but people lose seats for all sorts of reasons, such as general swings against their Party, boundary changes, and great opponents. In general, reform supporters actually fared a little better than reform opponents, although there are too many variables to say for sure that supporting reform actually improved electoral fortunes.
That might be different with marriage equality, because it is so much more popular with the public.
What is also noteworthy? Particular electorates or communities that are assumed to be least supportive of progressive measures related to sexual orientation turn out to be indistinguishable from the rest of the community.
The take out message is that if an MP shares a support for marriage equality with the vast majority of the public, they have absolutely no reason to worry that voting this way will damage them electorally.
If anything, it’s those who intend to vote against the Bill who may need to worry.