Australians have a new prime minister after a leadership vote ousted the heavily criticized conservative Tony Abbot, a Catholic, in favor of a more progressive Catholic who supports marriage equality, an issue that is being hotly debated in that nation.
Liberal Party members elected Malcolm Turnbull, who is a convert to Catholicism, to be the country’s prime minister until elections next year, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
I will leave the political commentary to Australia’s pundits, but for Catholics concerned with LGBT issues, this is a change worth noting. Australian Michael Bernard Kelly explained, as reported at (another Australian native) Michael Bayly’s blog The Wild Reed:
“Interestingly, a hard right-wing, Opus Dei leaning, anti-marriage equality, climate change denying Catholic PM has been replaced by a progressive Catholic who is passionate about action on climate change, dedicated to marriage equality, and committed to making Australia a constitutional republic. Interesting times ahead for us – but now we have a PM with some real vision. That is something to celebrate.”
Indeed, Turnbull’s views are closer to Pope Francis’ views than they are to the views of Cardinal George Pell, the former hardline archbishop of Sydney. Australia’s new prime minister diverges from the pope in his support for equal marriage rights. Turnbull’s support for same-gender couples’ rights dates back to 2012, though he drew criticism at the time for endorsing civil unions as a compromise.
Turnbull affirmed his support for marriage equality last month, writing in a blog post that he would vote for it if then-Prime Minister Tony Abbot allowed a conscience vote and that he would prefer the issue be settled before 2016 elections.
After being elected to Labor leadership, Turnbull has confirmed he will move forward with Abbot’s planned plebiscite on the question of marriage, allowing Australians to decide the matter directly. This is in keeping with his previous remark that:
“The best approach to this in my view therefore is to consult the people openly and honestly, to set out the proposition before them and ask them to approve it or not.”
Reports suggest Australians are quite ready for marriage equality’s legalization, support for which polls at 72%. Tony Abbot’s obstinance on this issue may be a main reason his leadership crumbled, particularly after an August decision to deny members of Parliament a conscience vote on the Equal Marriage Bill that would have likely passed.
Australia’s Catholic bishops were quite supportive of Abbot’s tactics, which enhanced their own efforts to prevent LGBT rights, including using children in Catholic schools as messengers of an anti-gay pamphlet. In addition, Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher struck at pro-equality Catholics in remarks deemed pastorally insensitive.
The bishops’ approach contrasts with local Catholic communities, like St. Joseph’s Parish in Newtown, which are accepting places for LGBT people. It is a debated question why Australia, with a laid back and even progressive reputation, has not adopted marriage equality
In an interesting final note, this is not the first time marriage equality was central to an Australian leadership change in recent years. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, himself a Catholic, lost to Tony Abbot in 2013 and many speculated at the time it was Rudd’s last minute and firm defense of marriage equality that influenced his political downfall.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry