Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 30 - No 1 Contents 39
POLICY • Vol. 30 No. 1 • Autumn 2014
of intense religious faith, a smattering of atheists,
and everything in between.
Some of these friends and colleagues have
explained to me—whether about abortion, disposal
of embryonic stem cells, or the rights of gay
partners to inherit superannuation entitlements—
that their religious beliefs prevent them from
supporting certain propositions.
By giving individuals in a party the ability
to temporarily park a policy principle, and vote
according to some other construct, is to let down
voters who expect Liberals to be liberals. By
interposing private morality selectively on policy,
we destabilise the Liberal Party brand.
According to the Liberal Party statement of
beliefs, ‘We believe,’ that brand includes defence of
‘the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples,’
‘a lean government that minimises interference in
our daily lives,’ ‘individual freedom and personal
responsibility,’ ‘freedom of choice,’ and ‘equality
of opportunity,’ along with the other fundamental
principles of private property ownership,
market competition, individual enterprise and
responsibility, and the rule of law. (See Liberal Party
of Australia, Western Australian Division, ‘We
believe’; Liberal Party of Australia, ‘Our beliefs.')
And if one were to accept that there are some
issues on which it is OK for an MP to freelance
and cross the foor of parliament, why should that
person be able to use that opportunity to satisfy
his or her own private conscience? Wouldn’t it
be more democratic to vote as the majority of
their constituents would like?
When the NSW Parliament considered
embryonic stem cell research in 2003, Liberal MPs
were granted a conscience vote. My liberal policy
logic made me want to support the bill, but if it
was to be a non-party platform vote, I took the
view that it was not about me—it was about the
people who had elected me to represent them.
I circulated a survey to my electorate and the
response was strongly in favour of the bill. And
that’s how I voted. Happily, this matched both
my private and policy view, but if it had been
otherwise, the electorate view would have won.
Proponents of the classical liberal tradition
believe that individuals should be trusted
and free to make good decisions about their
personal commitments and relationships, without
government looking in the bedroom door.
Whatever their gender, when two adults freely
commit to each other for better or worse, they
are likely to reduce demand on the state, and
be more invested in their personal networks,
neighbourhoods, and productive work. Tey are
free to pursue their personal happiness. And they
are causing no harm to others. For a true liberal,
what’s not to love about that?
We don’t know whether John Stuart Mill had
marriage equality in mind when he advocated
the freedom for individuals ‘to unite for any
purpose not involving harm to others; the persons
combining being supposed to be of full age, and
not forced or deceived’ (Utilitarianism, Liberty
and Representative Government; On Liberty, 1954).
He may never have contemplated the question of
gay marriage but I am sure he contemplated that
these principles should have utility in a future he
knew would change—and which he worked to
help change in relation to other issues.
A classical liberal voting for marriage equality
on policy logic can legitimately hold a private or
religious view that such relationships are not their
own choice. Tey can even disapprove of gay
marriage. Tey could resolve this tension with the
acknowledgement that it is not their prerogative
to impose their own faith-based or private values
on other consenting private citizens, and that
any moral responsibility (if such is required) for
the gender-equality decision is purely for the
Te principles of classical liberalism give
Liberals all the intellectual resources they need to
prosecute these complex issues, without resorting
to mixing faith, state and private views in ways
that contradict democratic accountability.
What is unconscionable is to deny the logic of
good policy. Tese issues will not go away. We
can expect that with rapidly developing scientifc
output and its social consequences, democracies
will face more of these issues more regularly. By
putting faith in liberal precepts rather than
conscience to consider these issues, the Liberal
Party will be in a stronger position to demonstrate
a consistent liberal approach and bring more of
the community into its con dence.
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