Is Mark Latham talking sense on gay marriage?

Former Labor Leader Mark Latham says his party has an “obsession” with the issue of gay marriage and should be focusing instead on the nation’s “Struggle Streets”. Is he right?

Mr Latham told Melbourne radio station 3AW Bill Shorten’s private members bill to push for changes to the marriage act to allow same-sex couples to tie the knot, to be introduced into parliament on Monday, was nothing more than a symbolic gesture.

He said the biggest social issue facing Austalia was unemployment, drug use and homelessness in suburbs such as Sydney’s Mt Druitt which was the focus of the SBS documentary, Struggle Street.

Mr Latham said “If you are interested in equality and social justice in Australia then what was the really big event in the month of May”.

“We had the Struggle Street documentary which revealed that in the nation’s public housing estate, most notably in Mt Druit people live in conditions that you wouldn’t wish upon your dogs. Absolute chaos, despair and hopelessness in their lives.

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“And surely, you would have expected a serious national response from the party of social justice?

“We didn’t hear anything.

“They’re obsessed, instead, by gay marriage”.

Mr Latham said legalising same-sex marriage would not “improve” anyone’s standard of living, nor would it improve their capacity to “function in society”.

“It’s a legal document,” he said. “It’s a piece of symbolism. It might make some people feel better to have a marriage document but it really is a low order priority.

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“On the Richter scale of social justice Struggle Street is a 10, gay marriage is a point one.

It’s a very different stance from five years ago when Mark Latham said he regretted not introducing changes to the marriage act to allow for same-sex marriage when he was Labor Leader in 2004. At that time he accused both major parties of being “scared” of the churches.

Does Mark Latham have a point? In its rush to get laws before Parliament next week, is Labor focussing too much on the issue of same-sex marriage at the expense of social justice issues like poverty and housing?