The first shots ahead of Labor’s national conference in July are already being exchanged, with right-wing Labor figures like David Feeney trying to head off a left-wing push to build on its 2011 success and force Labor to embrace same-sex marriage as policy. That would necessitate a binding — not a conscience — vote from parliamentarians.

Putting aside the strange way that Labor demands its MPs never cross the floor except on some issues arbitrarily and often for reasons of political pragmatism judged “conscience votes”, factional conflict over this issue is unlikely to endear Labor to the electorate. Not because the electorate hates disunity — on the contrary, to see political figures engaged in passionate debate can be a positive, but only when it’s on issues that are contentious.

Same-sex marriage is not such an issue, because a growing majority of Australians have made it clear they back same-sex marriage.

There is now a big gap between the political class, who treat same-sex marriage as though there’s some sort of serious debate to be had about it, and the electorate, who don’t see why the impediments to same-sex marriage can’t be removed post-haste.

If Labor wants to perpetuate that disconnection, it should go ahead and have a knock-down, drag-out fight over same-sex marriage. If it wants to signal to the electorate that it’s more in touch with it than the Coalition, it will just get on with finding a way to legalise same-sex marriage and move on to other issues.

Politicians and the media are way behind the electorate on same-sex marriage, and look more irrelevant every moment they fail to catch up.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey