Marriage Equality in Australia – Where to Next?

By Danielle Pope

(REUTERS/David Gray)
(REUTERS/David Gray)
Moves to allow a conscience vote have failed

After convening an emergency meeting to discuss the issue of marriage equality on Monday, the Liberal Party has chosen to stick to its policy of a national plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

Only seven MPs backed the proposal to allow for a conscious vote, meaning that the party’s policy remains unchanged.

The next step is for the Liberal Party to again attempt to push a plebiscite through the Parliament, which would put the issue to the Australian public. However, many believe that the plebiscite is already doomed, as the Senate rejected a plebiscite last November and is likely to do so again.

Should this occur, the government has said that it would be its intention to instigate a non-legislated, voluntary postal plebiscite. This would be an optional ballot where voting papers would be mailed out to every eligible voter for them to return by post, rather than the usual situation of going to a polling booth.

Campaigners for marriage equality have flagged their opposition to a postal plebiscite, stating that they would immediately launch a legal challenge to the move, arguing that the government cannot spend money to run the postal vote without Senate approval.

Whether a plebiscite is approved through parliament, or is sent via post, the outcome is not legally binding for the government. However, finance minister Mathias Cormann has said that the result would mean that the government MPs would have “a free vote informed by the plebiscite outcome.”

Those opposed to the plebiscite, including the Labor Party, the Greens and crossbench senators point to the $160 million cost of implementing such a move, the fact that the vote would not be binding on the parliament and the negative effects of a potentially ugly debate about the rights of LGBTIQ people.

There is still the potential that the issue will be voted on as part of a private member’s bill, should it be introduced on Monday. In any event, it is clear that the matter is not going to rest any time soon.







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