On Marriage Equality and Representative Democracy

Rainbow FlagOn this blog, we don’t tend to get political. There are plenty of people out there already writing about politics for a start, and we want to encourage everyone to develop as leaders and follow their passions regardless of their personal views. Sometimes though, a political story transcends politics to teach us some significant leadership lessons.

A few days ago, as I’m sure you’ve seen, the current coalition government of Australia decided not to allow their MPs a free vote on same-sex marriage. This means that if a vote does occur in this parliament, any MP who represents either of those parties will be obliged to vote against the right of individuals to marry a partner who identifies as the same gender. Whether they personally agree with it or not.

In a representative democracy governments will always legislate according to their own policies, we elect them to make those calls and are given the opportunity every few years to kick them out if we don’t agree with them. Does our government provide constituents with sufficient voice, given that surveys have indicated that support for marriage equality across Australia is sitting at around 70%? Wouldn’t a plebiscite in this term of government be an appropriate option?

My personal view, and one that is apparently shared by around 70% of Australians, is that someone in a modern, forward-thinking egalitarian society should be able to marry someone who identifies with any gender or none if that’s what they want to do. My sister lives in a country where same-sex marriage is legal and was able to marry her long-term partner (who happens to be female) a few years ago – it was a great day and she is visibly happier and healthier being able to live an authentic life as a result. This blog isn’t here to try to persuade you on marriage equality – you hold your views and I hold mine – I’m fine with that.

It’s OK that governments don’t consult the public on every decision – 70% have our chance in a year or so to change to a government that agrees with us on this. However, is it okay to not allow their individual MPs to vote for themselves or to truly represent their constituents?

Leaders fall broadly into two fields – those who try to persuade people of their point of view, and those who try to represent the point of view of the people. It is very easy to interpret the government’s action as an act of infantilising and neutering their own teams. If so, leaders run the risk of demonstrating both a lack of conviction in their own beliefs and their ability to persuade others to get behind them, and an unwillingness to lead on behalf of people who personally disagree with them. No wonder public trust for politicians is low – if you as a leader don’t trust the people around you to be able to make the right call, how can you expect others to?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter – please leave a comment if you have something to say!

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