One of Father Rod Bower's signs that go viral on social media!

With Turnbull ignoring public opinion and caving in to the neo-cons on a plebiscite for same sex marriage, Jonathon Ireland recommends we turn up the heat by demanding where our MP stands before voting.

MUSING the ‘Leader’s Debate’ on Sunday Night, Sydney Morning Herald’s Chief Political Correspondent Mark Kenny remarked how it did little to lift ‘a surprisingly formulaic election campaign from its desultory torpor’.

I must admit, the remark caught me off-guard. Not because it lacked observational astuteness — Kenny was dead on the money. Rather, what resonated with me was that if the 2016 election campaign could be typified in one word, it would be formulaic. Rigidity is apparently the flavour of the month amongst the major parties — stick to your talking points and let the buzzwords carry you home.

If it could be illustrated in a metaphor, our election has become a primary school debate. It is that tedium where two teams of awkward adolescents read directly from their palm cards and refuse to engage meaningfully with their opponent’s argument. Election 2016 is less of a contest of ideas and more of a cacophony of projections.

This is all well and good, but it got me thinking, why are we letting politicians dictate their campaign to us? Aside from Chris Jermyn following his blubbering attempt to ambush Bill Shorten on Medicare, I haven’t seen nearly enough politicians sweat in campaign. Let’s take back the initiative in this campaign and start dictating terms — put candidates in a position where they are forced to actually articulate a viewpoint beyond the sanctioned talking points. Let’s turn up the heat and release the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.

How do we do that?

Easy. We bring marriage equality out of the “long grass”.

Last June, you may remember, the U.S. Supreme Court forced the states to recognise same-sex marriage. Just a month earlier, Ireland, once the most Catholic country in the world, had done the same. In Australia, the groundswell of momentum seemed to finally arrive — with 72% of Australians supporting, and everyone else doing it, the overwhelming consensus was that it was inevitable.

Yet instead, the Coalition prevented its MP’s from a having a conscious vote on a Bill that most believed would otherwise pass. Instead of joining the rest of the Western world in permitting something which has little in terms of secular opposition, what we got was a vague promise to have a plebiscite “sometime after the next election” or, more recently in response to public pressure, "as soon as practicable". Much has been said about the divisive dangers of this plebiscite, yet what often gets lost in this debate is the fact the plebiscite decision has done exactly what the Australian Christian Lobby said it would — it has kicked it into the long grass.

We aren’t talking about anymore, and we should be.

I strongly support marriage equality, and I am embarrassed that a country which once led the world on women’s suffrage is now lagging with Italy when it comes to legislating a basic secular notion of equality. What really outrages me, however, is this notion of a plebiscite.

It is a grotesque perversion of our system of government. 

We elect representatives to make laws on our behalf — it is our constitutionally-mandated system of government. As electors, it is our responsibility to elect the person we believe most competent to represent our views. We don’t control how they vote; we just don’t vote for them if we don’t like their decisions. 

It is abundantly clear that the Parliament can legislate marriage equality — the High Court has said so. The only barrier to it is the political cowardice of our elected representatives to put their name to their position — the job we elect them to do, the job we pay them to do. A plebiscite is not only expensive and dangerous, but it symbolises a serious dereliction of duty from the people we elect to represent us. 

Let’s call this plebiscite for what it is — our elected representatives outsourcing their responsibilities onto the wider public. It allows supporters to pathetically cower behind the convenience of public opinion whilst giving opponents the opportunity to build up a scare campaign to deny equality to people who have been persecuted for far too long. Regardless of which side of the argument you are on, we should have a common ground that our politicians should do the job we elect them to do; voting on legislation.

You have a right to know whether the candidates in your electorate support or oppose marriage equality, and if you decide to not vote for someone on such a basis, that is your prerogative as a voter. So let’s pull marriage equality back into the spotlight and make it an issue in the 2016 Election. Your candidates should have to answer questions about their position candidly, they should be subjected to public scrutiny.

They won’t like it, but that is why they are avoiding talking about it.

You can read more from Jonathon Ireland on his blog, The Young Contrarians, or follow him on Twitter @ireland_jh. 

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