Australia has a new Prime Minister: Malcolm Turnbull. And he just might bring about needed change in marriage laws.
Last week, after being informed that he no longer had the strong support of his party, Tony Abbott called for a leadership ballot, which he expected to win. However, on Monday night, the vote showed differently: Malcolm Turnbull, his challenger, defeated him, 54 votes to 44. Julie Bishop, Abbott’s former deputy leader, was re-elected as Turnbull’s deputy leader, 70 votes to Kevin Andrews’ 30.
In Australia’s political system, citizens do not directly elect the Prime Minister. Instead, they vote for a party, and that majority party elects their own leader. This shift in leadership, therefore, does not reflect a change of majority party in the government; both Abbott and Turnbull are members of the Liberal Party (a name which does not reflect the meaning of “liberal” in the United States). Upon his election, Turnbull claimed he plans to lead a “thoroughly Liberal government” as Prime Minister. Despite this, Turnbull has shown himself to hold much more moderate views than Abbott, particularly on issues of action on climate change and marriage equality.
Australia lingers as the sole large English-speaking nation that has yet to legalize same-sex marriage, and we should not expect that status to change immediately with the new leadership. While Turnbull is not the sole member of the Liberal Party who supports same-sex marriage, he is assuredly in the minority among his colleagues. Nevertheless, his success in the leadership ballot may reflect a changing opinion within the Liberal Party.
In a speech after the ballot, Turnbull insisted that he would not be making any “policy pronouncements from this podium.” Our hope for change in Australia’s treatment of the LGBT community, then, must continue to wait. However, in light of recent discussions about the possibility of a referendum or a plebiscite, we may not have to wait as long as Abbott had originally planned. The Australian LGBT community will certainly continue to push for their rights, and perhaps now they will encounter less resistance.