Some apparent dissidents in Australia’s largest union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (or SDA), are today calling on the organisation’s boss to reveal the research which he claims shows most of the country’s retail sectors workers are opposed to same-sex marriage.
That boss is Joe de Bruyn, a member of the national ALP executive and hugely influential figure in Labor party circles. The union, known as the SDA, has over 200,000 members.
A conservative Catholic, de Bruyn is a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage and says the majority of SDA members agree with his position.
Now a group called SDA Members for Equality want him to reveal the research that de Bruyn says was conducted a couple of years ago. The Canberra Times reports:
Mr de Bruyn said the union had “some years ago” discussed with a representative sampling of members the view that marriage was between a man and woman and received overwhelming support.
“We believe that this continues to be the view of the overwhelming majority of the members of the union,” he said.
The request by SDA Members for Equality is a reasonable one. It’s hard to square de Bruyn’s comments with the published polling which for some years has been showing around 60% or more of Australians support same-sex marriage.
(And that’s before asking why an organisation that represents people working on shop floors needs a trenchant position on same-sex marriage in the first place.)
Anyway, influential figures like de Bruyn are arguably the last large establishment outpost of resistance to same sex marriage in the Australian community. This week former prime minister Kevin Rudd, a leading figure in the group of politicians who admits to having some of their fundamental philosophies underpinned by the influence of the Christian faith, revealed he had changed his mind on the issue.
There’s some background worth noting. Last year it was reported that Rudd told three gay marriage activists de Bruyn had done a deal with Julia Gillard to support her for the party leadership. According to their account, Rudd said that if he had remained PM, gay marriage would have “gone through”.
Rudd said the account of the conversation was inaccurate. Gillard’s office declined to comment.
Then this week Rudd revealed, in a 2000-word blog post on his website, that his position on same-sex marriage had changed. The article is very characteristic of Rudd, swinging from awkward dad jokes to deep intellectual argument.
But beneath it is a fascinating outline of the thought process that led Rudd to change his mind. It’s interesting because it provides a potential road map for other people with more traditional views of marriage like de Bruyn to make the same journey that Rudd has.
Rudd says that his reconsideration started after a coffee with a gay friend who told him he’d like to be able to marry his partner.
There wasn’t an epiphany, Rudd says. The conversation just got him thinking and his decision to change his public position was based on reflecting on three things:
- Christian teaching
- Scientific data
- The emerging reality of life in Australia
What follows is an unapologetic “shorter Kevin Rudd”, based on what he outlined in his blog post, but here goes:
Christian teaching: Rudd talks about the tradition in Christian thinking involving “faith informed by reason”. He separates literal interpretations of Biblical dictates from universal Christian values such as “love your neighbour as yourself”. Some of the Bible’s teachings on slavery and the status of women have deservedly come to have no place in modern society, he observes, and a reasoned approach by Christian leaders has actually helped improve the social standing of groups who would otherwise be subjugated by Biblical rules.
History has shown Christian ethics are open to changing with the times, so there’s room for changes of views, he concludes. This opens the door for him to consider it further.
Scientific data: Rudd cites scientific studies that show people don’t “choose” to be gay. If this is accepted, he says, then unequivocally “our brothers and sisters who happen to be gay” should be fully embraced as equal members of society. This fits with the equality principles of Christianity. He also refers to research which has shown, over decades, that outcomes for children raised by same-sex couples are no different from those raised by couples in conventional relationships.
Emerging life in Australia: Rudd is at pains to insist that childrens’ welfare should be of paramount concern, and goes back to the scientific research that shows there’s no cause for worry. He adds that among the many changes to family structures in Australia is the reality that more and more kids are being raised by same-sex parents. He notes that children in these relationships have the same legal rights as children in traditional marriage, and asks why Australia shouldn’t give children raised by same-sex parents the “emotional and practical stability” offered by civil marriage.
Combining his interpretation of the history of Christian thinking, scientific research showing same-sex marriages are the same as traditional ones in terms of outcomes for kids, and an acknowledgement of stuff that’s happening in families anyway, leads Rudd to conclude he can change his mind.
Rudd points out that his shift in position is likely to be considered in the context of the Labor leadership. The fact that there was such a huge response to it, compared to what you’d expect if it was another politician announcing they were changing their mind, proved why. He still has a big following out there and knows how to tap into public sentiment.
What shouldn’t be lost, though, is the explanation of the change of heart by of a previously rigid opponent of same-sex marriage, in a member of the constituency that the gay rights movement needs to reach. Rudd has outlined what it takes to change an influential mind, directly from someone who was on the other side of the argument, at least publicly, just a matter of days ago.
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