Australia Puts Marriage Equality to a Vote

Despite fierce condemnation from LGBT rights advocates, the Australian government has begun mailing out ballots to the general public to determine whether the country should legalize same-gender marriage.

Sky News reports:

Australia has launched a postal vote on whether to legalise same-sex marriage.

The non-binding and voluntary ballot of nearly 16 million people will run until November.

[...]

If the postal survey finds that most Australians are in favor, Parliament will vote on legislation to lift the prohibition on gay marriage.

However, several lawmakers have warned they will vote against such a law — irrespective of public opinion.

Same-gender marriage is currently illegal in Australia, thanks to a 2004 amendment to the nation’s Marriage Act that defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”.

Additionally, the act specifically states that “Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnized in a foreign country between: a man and another man; or a woman and another woman” cannot be recognized within Australia. This latter language came as a reaction to the civil unions and later full marriage rights that were offered in other states.

Australia is one of only a handful of so-called “developed” nations that does not allow same-gender couples to marry with federal recognition. Individual states may allow civil unions — and several states within Australia have gone so far as to legalize marriage equality — but there is still no official recognition at the federal level.

Why a ballot?

Polls consistently show that marriage equality is not controversial among the public, with a recent poll finding 57 percent of the public are in favor compared to 32 percent against. One Fairfax poll put support for marriage equality at a 70 percent among the 65 percent total who committed to voting, demonstrating that Australians sit firmly in the “yes” camp.

If that’s the case, then, why doesn’t the federal government just legalize marriage equality? Put simply, it’s about politics.

The previous government under Tony Abbott was hostile to marriage equality, and in 2015 it refused point blank to give MPs a free vote to decide the issue. Instead, Abbott proposed a plebiscite to allow the general public to have its say — despite his earlier assertion that this was a matter for parliament to decide.

Shortly after this decision, Abbott was replaced as prime minister by equality supporter Malcolm Turnbull. However, the Liberal party which Turnbull leads has continued to block attempts to force a vote on marriage equality — and Turnbull has remained steadfast that the public should have its say on same-gender marriage. The issue, therefore, went to a ballot after parliament rejected a full plebiscite. While this was the less costly route, the decision still racked up a bill of about $122 million (AU).

But equality advocates claim this is a poor decision for two main reasons. First, civil rights shouldn’t be put to a vote. Australia’s lawmakers know they should legalize same-gender marriage, but they are looking to cloak themselves in public opinion to hopefully shield themselves from any retaliation.

Secondly, the ballot isn’t even legally binding, and some MPs have stated on record that they will ignore the vote.

The same-gender marriage ballot turns nasty

Marriage equality opponents have issued what are now standard arguments focusing predominantly on children and child welfare. They have argued that same-gender couples are inherently inferior because they deprive children of either a mother or a father. But studies on this issue do not agree.

One argument that has gained slightly more traction is that a vote in favor of marriage equality will turn the country against religious freedom of expression.

Unfortunately — and as is often the case during these campaigns — animosity toward LGBT people seem to be on the rise.

During a recent discussion of the same-gender marriage ballot, one caller to Jon Faine’s ABC Melbourne radio show said that “Hitler had concentration camps for gay people. It’s one of the two good things he did [alongside building] autobahns.” 

Nazi Germany’s dictatorship killed hundreds of gay men and incarcerated many more — men who were not freed after the regime ended, but had to serve the duration of their sentences.

Fortunately, incidents of this intolerance bubbling over into actual violence do not seem to be emerging on a wide scale, suggesting that Australia’s debate may not escalate to violence in the way that France’s push for marriage equality did.

The ballot runs until November 7, with results expected to be announced by November 15. But whether the Turnbull government will act swiftly should the public vote in favor marriage equality remains to be seen.

Photo Credit: Paris Buttfield-Addison/Flickr

52 comments

Maureen G
Maureen G4 days ago

I am an Australian and am furious at the waste of $122million plus advertising on a non binding, non compulsory ballot. So many of our not for profit organisations are struggling to stay afloat financially due to cutbacks on government funding.. This marriage issue could have been settled by our politicians who get paid to make decisions on our behalf.

SEND
heather g
heather g16 days ago

Most people are surprised that Australia has yet to move forward on this subject.

SEND
Carole R
Carole R21 days ago

A little behind the times, I'd say.

SEND
Kathryn I
Kathryn I23 days ago

Noted - Thank you!

SEND
Philippa P
Philippa P28 days ago

Thanks.

SEND
Julie W
Julie W29 days ago

This is bringing out the nutters and religious haters. In Western Australia, Margaret Court, a once-famous tennis player now a Christian pastor, is a well-known homophobic. Among her crazy statements:
"They want marriage because they want to destroy it"
"There will be no Mother's day, no Father's day, there will be no Easter, there will be no Christmas". I have yet to hear any logical, sensible arguments, it's all anti-gay emotion.

SEND
Colin C
Colin C29 days ago

Malcolm Turnbull has unleashed 2 months of hate and he should be ashamed as this is a civil rights issue and should be dealt with by a vote in Parliament

SEND
Cruel J
Cruel Justice29 days ago

If we didn't have INSANE religions, this would NEVER have been an issue.

SEND
Aaron F
Aaron F29 days ago

What possible difference does it make except to the lovers involved in the relationship? Geez, people! Get your nose out of other people's business and stick it up your own!

SEND
Danuta W
Danuta W29 days ago

Thanks for sharing

SEND