Here’s Why Penny Wong Will Never Be Prime Minister
Penny Wong sat down with BuzzFeed News to talk marriage equality, delivering killer tweets and seriously not wanting to be PM.
In a historic national survey, Australia voted last week to support recognizing same-sex marriages. One of the politicians who reacted live to the ‘Yes’ result in the uncomfortable glare of news cameras is Senator Penny Wong, a lesbian of Malaysian Chinese descent whose personal life has been under the public spotlight for the past 15 years. This week, we’ll examine challenges and strategies for being queer and Asian in various contexts, starting with this 2015 profile of Wong (excerpts below).
Currently, Wong is the most senior member of the opposition in the senate. She was the first Asian-born member of the Australian cabinet, the second gay MP to ever enter the Australian parliament, and the first lesbian. That means she was a sitting member in 2004 when the Australian parliament amended the Marriage Act to explicitly exclude same-sex couples.
Since then, the debate has only become more vitriolic, as countries around the world have redefined marriage to include same-sex couples while Australia stands firm. Amidst constant reminders to “respect all views” in the contentious debate, each side has only retreated further into their respective corners.
On the two main arguments currently tossed around – children, and religious freedom – neither side will give an inch. There’s no separating the personal and professional in a debate that cuts so close to home – so how does Wong do it?
“I don’t always,” she says quietly, her tone resolute.
“I think about young people all over this country, or older people who are still coming to terms with their sexuality, and how this debate lands in them. How they hear it. That’s one of the saddest things.”
Wong rifles through a folder on the table, looking for a copy of her speech from a 2012 vote that crashed out 98-42. “It’s very hard, isn’t it?” she says, flicking through sheets. “It’s very hard to not feel affected by it.”
Wong finds the speech, and reads aloud: “To young gay and lesbian Australians, to those who may not have come out yet or are finding their way. I want you to know that the prejudice you have heard in this debate does not reflect the direction in which this country is going.
She puts it down. “I often say that I think the way in which this debate can affect people is just ignored by too many politicians,” she says.
“I have all of these years of political experience, all of this practice at political argument. I have a wonderful family, a rock-solid relationship, and I’m used to being in the public eye. And I still feel it. How is it for so many people?”
The answer – bloody hard – hangs in the air.