Political fruit flies

Michael Cook
1 June 2015
Reproduced with Permission

So many politicians have evolved so quickly on same-sex marriage that it has become one of the greatest-ever experiments in Darwinian selection. US President Barack Obama took about four years to evolve. Three years later Hillary Clinton evolved within 72 hours of announcing her tilt at the presidency. It's the political version of the ever-mutating virus in the film Contagion .

How is this possible? It took centuries, millennia, possibly millions of years for the evolution of a clear vision of marriage as a permanent, monogamous, loving, opposite-sex institution for raising the next generation of homo sapiens. And now, in a matter of weeks, Australian politicians are tumbling over themselves in their eagerness to pledge themselves to support a quantum leap in the evolution of human relationships.

The only adequate analogy for the pace of change is the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster . From what I remember of high school biology, a fruit fly population can acquire new characteristics in a matter of weeks (although a penchant for same-sex unions is not yet one of them). One explanation is that their brains have only 100,000 neurons, compared to the 86 trillion possessed by the average human. Evolution is a snap if you are stupid.

Fruit flies also move in swarms, so it's not surprising that several Australian MPs have recently declared that they have seen the light, including the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen and Ed Husic , the nation's first Muslim MP. But the paradigm case is the evolution of Tony Burke , a leading figure in the Australian Labor Party and a Member of Parliament from Watson, a middle-income Sydney electorate. Until his party lost the last election, he was Federal Minister for Immigration.

Last week he announced that he, too, had evolved on same-sex marriage.


Because voters in Watson desperately want a change? No. A Morgan poll of 2010 found that "anti-gay sentiment" was focused in several areas, including traditional Labor seats in Sydney's west and southwest like Watson. In fact, 32.5 percent of those polled in Watson said that they agreed with the statement "I believe homosexuality is immoral". Only 36 percent agreed that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children, compared to 70 percent in inner-city Sydney.

In 2011 all Federal MPs were required to consult their electorates about same-sex marriage. There was only a lukewarm response from constituents across the nation, suggesting, The Australian said, "there is still majority support for preserving marriage between a man and a woman".

And in Tony Burke's electorate? He didn't bother to release the figures. As he brazenly declared in the history of his evolution, "the last time the campaign for marriage equality published seat by seat polling, the views in my part of Sydney were, as I had expected, the exact opposite of the national vote."

So why has Mr Burke ignored the clear wishes of his electorate?

Is it because they are cave-dwellers? Because they are homophobes? Because they are morons? Perhaps all three at once? In his disdain for his homophobic, moronic, cave-dwelling constituents, Mr Burke whisks aside their wishes and declares loftily that: "The time has now come for the conversation in communities like mine to move to the fact that this change will occur."

Yes, a politician paid about $200,000 a year to represent the wishes of his electorate really said that. What the Marxist poet Bertold Brecht put in the mouths of the cabal of crooks who ran East Germany in 1953 has come true in Canberra in 2015:

Some party hack decreed that the people
had lost the government's confidence …
If that is the case, would it not be simpler,
If the government simply dissolved the people
And elected another?

To be fair to Mr Burke, he does venture a reason: debating same-sex marriage would be "divisive". People might say nasty, nasty things. "As this debate drags on in Australia," he writes, "it is becoming harsher and angrier rather than kinder and gentler."

Mr Burke's neurons are misfiring. As Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives, he knows a thing or two about being divisive. Sticking it to the Government is his bread and butter. You can even watch him on YouTube comparing the new Speaker of the House , Bronwyn Bishop, to Dolores Umbridge, a character in the Harry Potter novels who looks like a large pale toad.

Furthermore, a "kinder and gentler" Australia is a nice turn of phrase. But it's not one that he invented. It comes from a speech by George H.W. Bush, the same speech in which he famously said, "Read my lips: no new taxes". And guess what? Yup, there were new taxes. Unconscious plagiarism from a speech with the most famous political fib in American history inspires no confidence in Mr Burke's honeyed words.

Naked political expediency, not conviction, explains the rapid evolution of Tony Burke and other politicians joining the conga-line of same-sex marriage supporters in Australia. He offers his constituents no other reason than "The best thing for community cohesion is for the debate to be settled and the law to be changed."

Of the many obstacles to same-sex marriage he appears to be willfully ignorant: the welfare of children in same-sex unions, the denigration of motherhood, the probable commercialization of surrogacy, problems accommodating faith-based institutions, opening the door to polygamy (read about this in the New York Times ), creating a generation of genetic orphans and on and on.

Can anyone really believe that the future of marriage is safe in the hands of MPs like Tony Burke? Politicians who despise the sentiments of their constituents and who treat traditional marriage as a chip in political poker are not fit to determine the future of such a momentous issue.

The only honourable political solution to the challenge of legalizing same-sex marriage in Australia is to put it to the voters, either through a plebiscite or by making it an issue in next year's Federal election. Voters should have the last word on marriage, not politicians.