Australians will be asked to take part in a postal vote on marriage-equality after the Senate defeated the government’s plan for a compulsory plebiscite.
After weeks of debate, the government took the plebiscite bill back to the Senate, where it was swiftly defeated.
During the debate over the bill, Labor Senator Penny Wong and Green’s Senator Janet Rice both gave impassioned speeches against the plebiscite. “This motion is not about giving Australians a say. This motion is about weakness and division on that side of the Parliament,” said Senator Wong (who is openly gay and has children with her partner). “This is a vote whose sole aim is to stop the members of this Parliament being given a chance to do their job and vote.”
As it stands, the federal government has the authority to change the legal definition of ‘marriage’ under the Marriage Act, without having a plebiscite (indeed, the former Prime Minister John Howard did just that in 1996 when he codified a legal marriage as only being between ‘one man and one woman’).
The rejection of the plebiscite in the Senate means that Australians are now set for a voluntary postal ballot on same sex marriage, which is set to cost $122 million. The result of that ballot is not binding on the government.
It has already been flagged that the postal vote will be challenged in court as illegitimate and unconstitutional.