By Allison Jackson
Australian politician Warren Entsch is a former crocodile farmer, bull-catcher, grazier and real estate salesman who now represents one of the most conservative regions Down Under.
He’s also a passionate advocate for gay marriage.
The Harley Davidson-riding politician, who has been described as the “Crocodile Dundee” of the Australian federal parliament, acknowledges that he is an unlikely supporter of marriage equality.
Entsch, who is a member of the same conservative party as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who strongly opposes same-sex unions, represents the North Queensland electorate of Leichhardt, which covers an area roughly the size of Illinois and is generally regarded as being red neck territory.
For an insight into the LGBT attitudes in this part of Australia, look no further than Bob Katter, the cowboy-hat wearing conservative politician representing the even bigger electorate of Kennedy that borders Leichhardt.
Katter once promised he would ”walk to Bourke backwards if the poof population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001 per cent.”
You get the picture.
“I get calls from families and friends of gay people saying if a ‘far north Queensland crocodile-farming, bull-catching Liberal’ can stand up for the rights of my gay friend or relative, then I want to come out and do it too,” Entsch told the BBC.
“I’m the least likely advocate and so people can’t say it’s just some gay person pushing his own agenda.”
While most Australians share Entsch’s views on gay marriage — opinion polls show more than 70 percent of Australians support same-sex marriage — Entsch is having a tough time convincing his conservative colleagues in the Australian capital of Canberra that all consenting adults should be allowed to marry, regardless of their sexuality.
The size of the challenge will be clear next week when Entsch introduces a marriage equality bill into federal parliament that seeks to change the current Australian marriage act, which only allows a man and a woman to tie the knot. A similar bill was voted down in 2012.
The legislation has the support of Labor, which is the main opposition party, as well as the left-wing Greens party and independents.
But it is likely to be defeated after Abbott’s governing Coalition party voted this week in support of the status quo.
Abbott, whose own sister is a lesbian and a public supporter of gay marriage, left open the possibility of a referendum on the issue after the next election, which is due to be held in 2016. (Even though he rejectedthe idea after Ireland’s historic vote in favor of gay marriage earlier this year.)
Such a setback is unlikely to deter the man described as a “progressive red neck,” who became an advocate for LGBT rights after finding out that a drinking buddy in North Queensland had undergone a sex change.
His views were galvanized earlier this year after watching a moving YouTube video posted by an Australian man who grew up in rural Australia and hid his homosexuality for years.
“The cemeteries are full — are full — of people that have never been able to come to terms with their sexuality and that’s a fact,” Entsch told the Guardian.
“Why should we as a society do things that will contribute to filling those bloody vacant spaces in cemeteries because we’re not prepared to accept the worth of an individual for who they really are?”