Senator Penny Wong
See note about image below
This changed in November 2010 when she publicly announced her personal support for gay marriage.
Gay marriage was never going to be an easy issue for Wong to navigate. The Australian Labor Party (current PM aside) is a notorious ‘boys club’. Striding through the Party ranks as a woman, in the way that Wong has done, would have taken strength and ingenuity – and, crucially, an intelligent approach to negotiating internal party politics.
I am sure Wong would have been aware that she had no mandate to become a spokesperson for the entire LGBT community, despite her public profile as a lesbian. However, she must have been equally aware of how powerful her public endorsement of gay marriage would be in the context of her senior role in Government. Someone was going to be upset no matter what stance she took.
So she played it low key. The focus of her political work has never been LGBT issues, but she makes timely and relevant statements along the way while being quietly open about her personal life – her partner, her parenthood.
Wong’s presence in the political arena is often enough to expose the weakness in criticisms levelled at LGBT families. This was nowhere more obvious than on last night’s edition of Q&A on the ABC.
Wong was sitting next to Joe Hockey, shadow treasurer, a vocal opponent of gay marriage. An audience member, very politely, asked Joe Hockey why he felt he and his wife were better parents than Penny Wong and her partner. Curly question Joe!
This question was a gentle reminder of how politics never really sways that far from the personal. Hockey was being asked to look Wong in the eye and tell her that he was a better parent. He couldn’t do this, of course. So he fumbled through a response about the ‘ideal state’ for children.
Wong didn’t bother engaging in the argument. Instead she made a very simple point about the way in which an anti-gay marriage stance devalues some families over others. She stated, “I know what my family is worth’.
This was a perfect demonstration of the role that Penny Wong plays in the gay marriage debate. She doesn’t engage in tit for tat. She speaks carefully and from a personal perspective and allows her integrity to speak for itself. I have to confess I haven’t paid much attention to Penny Wong before last night, but this was a powerful response and I am a convert.
The episode of Q&A should appear on the ABC website for the next few weeks. If you want to check it out, the exchange between Wong and Hockey occurs toward the end, around 54 minutes in.
Image licence: The image of Senator Wong above was originally posted to Flickr by Senator Kate Lundy at http://flickr.com/photos/39528789@N07/7168949630. It was reviewed on 10 May 2012(2012-05-10) by the FlickreviewR robot and confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.