Sunday, 28 November 2010

Penny Wong: The Return.

Back in July Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong backed her new leader's position on marriage equality with these words:

"On the issue of marriage I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious, historical view around that which we have to respect. The party's position is very clear that this is an institution that is between a man and a woman."

She did not say "This is the party's view and I respect that. However, I hold a different view." No she said nothing about believing in equality here did she? Perhaps she didn't want to rock the boat.

Fast forward a few months:

''There has been some commentary which has confused my position of not commenting publicly on this issue with my position on the actual issue itself,'' she said. ''I have had the opportunity to advocate for equality at the highest level of our party and within our party's processes as I do today. And I will do so again at the next national conference.''

Oh, I see. You've been quietly working for equality behind the scenes but were just too modest to be upfront about your beliefs? Perhaps the real reason is that you believe less in equality and more in Labor's continued electoral success and didn't wish to advocate publicly for your countrymen's freedom because it might embarrass your backwards leader. Yes, Penny Wong puts partisan victory ahead of her actual political beliefs.

Senator Wong criticised the Greens for seeking change by "shouting about it", rather than sensibly advocating for it.

"Sensibly", here means "Shh... don't rock the boat, we'll get there one day if we all just shut up and do as our heterosexual overlords say". Screw that Penny Wong. The Greens, and the Democrats, have the balls to stand up for something they believe in. It might not be politically astute, but at least it's honest and upfront.

Penny Wong remains very, very wrong.

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Paul Brownsey said...

"It might not be politically astute, but at least it's honest and upfront."

Which is better? -

(a) A middling level of equality achieved by working behind the scenes, avoiding explicit declarations and denunciations, going with the flow but pulling what levers you can;

(b) A low level of equality consequent upon speaking out, having "the balls to stand up for something they believe in", rocking boats?

If you are denied access to your partner in hospital, the thought, "At least Penny Wong was 'honest and upfront'" may not be much comfort.
(a) and (b) may not *necessarily* be the only options, but it is not obviously stupid to think that they are and not obviously stupid, let alone wicked, to proceed in the manner of (a). There is no God who is going to reward you for waving the flag in all circumstances and bring about what you are "honest and upfront" about.

Jae said...

Firstly I called no one stupid.

Secondly, I'd say a) would be the best option in your scenario but it's based on a false premise: that behind the scenes movements alone can get us anything like a middling level.

If Penny Wong's behind the scene's work had been so successful why did she need to now change her public stance? If behind the scenes work was so successful why did activists have to take the Govt. to court time and time again (and hopefully again soon over the Equal Love campaign) to get movement? Quiet behind the scenes work? That happened AFTER the vanguard had screamed and shouted and been looked down upon by the safe, secure "Let's not rock the boat" crowd.

People like the Mattachine Society, who tried to be "respectable" spent years studiously working away to move forward LGBT rights in America. It took the Stonewall riots to finally get them to change their ways... and that's when things started to change.

There's a place for quiet backroom dealing, and there's a place for loud, shouty activism. There's also a BIG space for honesty.

It's not God that will judge us, but history. I'd rather LGBT politicians at this crossroads time for LGBT rights in Western civilisation were seen as honest and direct rather than backroom dealers.

Paul Brownsey said...

I'm not sure that the judgement of history is worth worrying about.

When I referred to God's rewards I was not interested in any sort of judgements, by God, history, or anyone or anything else. My point was rather different. I have a hunch that people who take a stand-up-for-the-truth-and-let-the-heavens-fall kind of line often have a secret belief that if people do that then somehow it *must* turn out for the best. I don't think there's any reason to think that that must be so, and while people who think it may expressly deny that they believe in God I think that often they are in the grips of a quasi-religious belief - perhaps a hangover from religious belief - that *of course* standing up for the truth, being explicit about who you are and what you want, etc, will be work out for the best. I think we should confront directly the consequences of there being no God and admit that it is very questionable whether these things always have the best consequences. It is a matter of fine judgement, and that was the point of my saying it is not obviously stupid - or a betrayal of The Cause or a selling out - to take the Penny Wong softly-softly approach. I do not know whether I endorse it myself and in any case it would be silly to say it should always be applied or that it should never be applied. The world is messy and we need to be as cunning as serpents. Sometimes waving the banner may be sensible, sometimes softly-softly may be sensible. To insist on the former at all times strikes me as naive and likely to be counter-productive. I do not see that Penny Wong deserves to be berated for putting "partisan victory ahead of her actual political beliefs". She may not unreasonably have thought that that was the best way of securing the ultimate success of her political beliefs. At least, I cannot see that she was obviously stupid or wicked to do so.

Anonymous said...

Penny is simply voicing what is inevitabe in Australia, a pretty strong debate on gay marrigae both at federal and state level. If they had still been a majority govt then gay marriage would have still been a pipe dream over here. I'm afraid once the new senate is in place, they are going to have to concede on this to the Greens otherwise they might as well call a new election now... Whatever Penny is, her political career in government is probably her number one priority.. I suspect this change in attitute is simply down to political survival and luckily for us I suspect she does probably genuinely think that gay marriage is a good thing ..and I also suspect Gillard does as well