Tony Abbott says equal marriage will ‘strengthen’ Australia, after years of bitter opposition

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After years of apocalyptic predictions about same-sex marriage, Australia’s former PM Tony Abbott has rapidly changed his tune on the issue.

Abbott was one of the most prominent opponents of same-sex marriage in Australia as the country voted on whether gay couples should be allowed to marry.

During the campaign the ex-leader encouraged people to vote No because “children should have both a mother and a father”,  lashing out at “transgender marriage” and “radical gay sex education”.

Tony Abbott says equal marriage will ‘strengthen’ Australia, after years of bitter opposition

Sinking to a low point in the campaign, he at one point suggested it would be “best” for his gay sister’s children to be raised by a straight couple.

But the politician, who just weeks ago told anti-LGBT lobbyists that their movement “should continue” beyond the vote, appears to be singing to a different songbook after voters decisively backed equal marriage.

In a speech in Parliament, Abbott said he now believes equal marriage will “strengthen our social fabric” of Australia – just weeks after insisting it would “strain the social fabric” and undermine the traditional family.

He said: “The overwhelming support for same-sex marriage that the plebiscite showed is a sign of the warm acceptance that Australians have for gay people.

“There may indeed be a few homophobic individuals lurking amongst us, but no-one should ever again claim that Australia is a bigoted or intolerant country.

“As the plebiscite abundantly demonstrated, we are as easygoing as any country on Earth, and, whatever your race, your creed, your gender or your sexuality, to be an Australian is well and truly to have won the lottery of life.”

Tony Abbott says equal marriage will ‘strengthen’ Australia, after years of bitter opposition
Tony Abbott

He continued: “If indeed same-sex marriage does turn out to mean that there are more stable and more lasting relationships in this country, gay as well as straight, then it will have strengthened our social fabric and become something that, once established, a conservative won’t just accept but will actually support.

“So gay people, their parents, their siblings, their children, their wider families and their friends should savour this success, and again I congratulate the ‘yes’ campaign for its victory.”

Mr Abbott added:  “I believe that the passage of the bill, as amended, will enable our country to go forward together, united in decency and in respect for the rights of all.

“Now I certainly don’t pretend to be an overnight convert supporting same-sex marriage, but I am pledged to respect and to facilitate the verdict of the Australian people. Same-sex marriage should now be recognised.

“It will now be recognised. There should be a clear distinction between marriage as understood by the church and marriage as recognised by the state.

“On that basis, I am looking forward to attending the marriage of my sister, Christine, to her partner, Virginia, sometime early in the new year.”

Tony Abbott

Mr Abbott added that it is “vital that individuals and entities are not disadvantaged nor suffer any adverse effects as a result of conscientiously holding a particular view of the nature of marriage”.

His about-turn on the issue is exceptionally bizarre given his previous vow to continue campaigning.

Speaking to an anti-LGBT lobbying group in the US last month, Abbott suggested that the movement galvanised by the marriage vote should continue long beyond the vote.

Speaking to the listed anti-LGBT hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, he said :”Such robust characters, once activated, are unlikely to fade away; and could continue to make their presence felt, even after marriage is no longer an issue, because they’ve had the guts to campaign for a cause they believe in.

“With the leaders of both big political parties, 60 large businesses and most of the major sporting codes all coming out on the other side.. and no cabinet minister, not one in the centre-right government, prepared to campaign with them, they will understandably be wondering who and what might represent them in the years ahead.”

Tony Abbott

He added: “Win, lose, or draw, though, starting from scratch two months ago, the campaign for marriage in my country has mobilised thousands of new activists; and created a network that could be deployed to defend Western civilisation more broadly and the Judeo-Christian ethic against all that’s been undermining it.

“So far, the campaign to defend marriage in Australia has raised over $6 million from more than 20,000 separate donors, and fielded more than 5000 volunteers to doorknock and phone canvass.

“In the medium term, these new activists are likely to mean that the long march of the left through our institutions is no longer largely unopposed.

“If the traditional stance of the centre-right in the English-speaking tradition is to endure — to be pro-market and to be socially conservative — there has to be people prepared to stand up for beliefs; ­because if you don’t believe, you won’t fight; and if you don’t fight, you can’t win.”

He added: “There is … a massive job for these newly energised, potential conservative activists.

“For every protest march, there must be a solidarity one. For every assertion of identity politics, there must be a defence of the social fabric.

“For every lobby on the counter-cultural left, there must be one on the commonsense right if even the sensible centre is to hold; for the values of centre-right party MPs can no longer be assumed and often need to be buttressed.”

Elsewhere in the campaign Abbott suggested that former PM Bob Hawke had gone senile, after he criticised the handling of equal marriage.