The MPs who are out of step with their electorate on same-sex marriage


Some politicians may now find themselves voting against the wishes of their electorates on a bill to legalise same-sex marriage.

The national postal survey on same-sex marriage has returned a decisive Yes vote, with 61.6 per cent of Australians in favour of changing the law. Around the country, 133 federal electorates voted Yes while 17 voted No.

But the survey also revealed a number of electorates are out-of-step with their local MP on the question of same-sex marriage.

Those politicians are now in an awkward position as the debate heads to the parliament, where the details of the change to the Marriage Act will be decided.

Strong No vote in Western Sydney seats held by Labor

Some of the strongest No results were in Labor-held seats, despite the party’s official election promise to support same-sex marriage.

The nine seats that voted No by the biggest margins are all controlled by the Labor party, with the seven biggest all located in west and south-west Sydney.

Support for same-sex marriage was lowest in the Labor MP Jason Clare’s seat of Blaxland, where just 26 per cent of voters wanted the law to change.

Commentators are suggesting the strong No vote could be attributed to the high migrant populations in these areas, and those communities’ tendencies to support traditional and religious views of marriage.

In the 2016 Census data, 14 per cent of people in Blaxland were Lebanese, and 11 per cent were Chinese. Islam was the most popular religion in the seat at 29 per cent, followed by Catholicism at 19 per cent.

Labor seats that voted No
Labor seats that voted No. Illustrations by Marcella Cheng for The Conversation
Marcella Cheng for The Conversation

In adjacent Watson, also in Sydney’s south-west, the No vote was victorious 70 – 30.

The demographics are different though, with 24 per cent of people identifying as British, and 10 per cent as Irish.  

Watson’s local MP is Labor’s Tony Burke, who said he would still be supporting the Yes position in the parliament.

“I went to the last election with a commitment to vote Yes. That doesn’t change,” Mr Burke said.

“My community knows that if they are treated with prejudice, vilified, or marginalised in any way I will stand up for them regardless of polls. The same applies to this issue.”

Tony Abbott and fellow conservatives find strong Yes vote at home

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has been a fierce campaigner against same-sex marriage, urging the Australian people to vote No to protect “free speech” and to slow the march of “political correctness”.

But Mr Abbott’s own electorate of Warringah, in urban Sydney, was one of the strongest seats for the Yes campaign.

It returned the tenth highest margin for Yes, with 75 per cent of voters backing a change in the law.

Mr Abbott has not clearly said whether he intends to support a same-sex marriage bill in parliament.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Mr Abbott said he would “look forward to a parliamentary process that improves on the Dean Smith bill to implement same sex marriage with freedom of conscience for all, not just the churches.”

Liberal seats that voted Yes
Liberal seats that voted Yes. Illustrations by Marcella Cheng for The Conversation
Marcella Cheng for The Conversation

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who supported the No vote, said he would vote in favour of same-sex marriage in the parliament because a 58 per cent majority in his electorate of Hughes voted Yes.

Fellow Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, who also strongly supported the No campaign, found 57 per cent of his electorate want same-sex couples to have the right to marry.

Speaking with Sky News on Wednesday, Mr Andrews advocated for strong religious protections for those who did not want to participate in same-sex weddings.

He said bakers should be given the right to refuse to service same-sex weddings. He said a gay baker or a Jewish baker should also be allowed to refuse to service an Islamic wedding, and vice versa. "It has to be consistent," he said.

Many conservative Liberals who voted No in the survey are now backing a bill drafted by Senator James Paterson, which would legalise same-sex marriage with significant religious exemptions. 

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