For the record, I'll be voting 'yes'

In one very real sense the upcoming vote to allow, or not, same sex marriage isn't about that at all.

It's about whether we believe that we have the right to dictate how others live their lives.

It's about whether we will let those gay people who choose to, have their relationship formally recognised. Those relationships are there. They won't come or go with the advent of this vote. There won't be more homosexuality nor less, whatever the outcome of the ballot.

Tony Abbott says if you don't like same sex marriage just vote no. I can't think of a better way to belittle the generous, egalitarian, live and let live attitude of most Australians.

We are not a nation of narcissists seeking to have the world reflect our own image. This is meant to be the nation that gives everyone a fair go. Just to be clear, I'll be voting yes.

Malcolm Turnbull is all at sea on same-sex marriage. Illustration: Matt Davidson

Malcolm Turnbull is all at sea on same-sex marriage. Illustration: Matt Davidson

Heterosexuals have been rushing out of marriage for decades. If gay people want to rush in I'm delighted. Let's not listen any more to that rubbish about marriage being between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, for life.

Our own laws support the "for life" rule going down the gurgler. Now it just means until such time as you think you might be happier in another marriage. "To the exclusion of all others" is less and less a likely outcome. The only one left is "between a man and a woman".

Two of the key descriptors of marriage as it was have gone. The world has changed. I think people who are ideologically, religiously or in some other way opposed to gayness should vote yes as well.

It's not about what you want for yourself. It's about letting other people have proper recognition of their relationships.

Tony Abbott's been wrapping his tongue around the word honour quite a bit lately. It's embarrassing. He seems to think it's a word that if used enough will bestow the quality of honour on the user. It doesn't work that way.

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

If, after you lost the confidence of your colleagues and they chose a new leader, you promised not to snipe and undermine, that might be an indication of an intent to behave as an honourable person. It only becomes a reality if you live up to that promise.

Abbott has trashed that commitment. There's no honour in that. When as leader you ride roughshod over cabinet with captain's picks, when you indulge yourself by making announcements that leave your party with the choice of all-out war with you or letting you get away with it (again), there's no honour in that either. Putting yourself ahead of the team is not honourable. 

It's just an opinion but it is my view that Abbott has done more than any other politician to trash the standing of politics and politicians. He's had a really good education and been given every opportunity by his party. We expected more. We got less.

Remember, this is the guy who, as a politician, ran the argument "Don't trust the politicians" in the republic referendum debate. People on all sides were amazed at such a blatant undermining of the institution of parliament. When you undermine parliament, you undermine democracy. What kind of mind enters parliament and then trashes it for the sake of one debate?

It's almost unbelievable to hear him speak as though he has some insight into why people are turned off politics at the moment. If he did have that insight, he wouldn't behave the way he does. If he had a quick look in the mirror he'd see what it is that aggravates people about politics today. He'd see someone who is behaving as though what's important is his importance.

The people don't get a look-in. His first priority is to advance his own position, to make life hard for Malcolm Turnbull. In Abbott's eyes, Turnbull took his job. The truth is the party room took his job because he wasn't doing it well.

He'd see someone who is great on the bif-bif and short on sensible policy. He'd see someone who has real trouble finding common ground with others. He wants the whole ground to himself. Worse, he'd see someone who thinks he's better than all his colleagues. I've met some fairly self-centred people in my life but he truly takes the cake.

Take as an example the story of him having apparently fathered a child in his younger days. This story was common knowledge amongst parliamentarians. In a perfectly honourable fashion, nobody raised it. Why should they? Your private life is your private life. That whole saga played out into the public domain because Abbott liked it there.

I don't know if it was a calculated exercise to clear a skeleton out of the closet in preparation for future leadership tilts, or a genuine case of remorse for not having played a role in the life of a child he thought he'd fathered. What is relevant to me is that it was all so public. Bad luck for the mother and the thought-to-be son, they were dragged into the Abbott media vortex. For what? Well, it's always been about Tony.

But back to gay marriage. I don't know what he fears. If you're comfortable in your own sexuality, you should be comfortable with others in theirs. As Tony's sister says … if you believe in mutual respect, vote yes. If you believe in equality, vote yes and if you believe in free speech, vote yes. He could learn a lot from her. About being true to yourself. About being for the greater good not your own good. And yes, about behaving honourably.

  • Amanda Vanstone is a Fairfax Media columnist and a former Coalition minister.
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