The Australian opposition on Tuesday decided to block government plans for a public but non-binding vote on recognising gay marriage, arguing it would better if the issue was decided in Parliament.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative coalition government
needs the centre-left Labour Party’s support to get enabling legislation
through the Senate to hold a national vote on gay marriage on February
But a meeting of Labour lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously decided
against supporting the plebiscite, opposition leader Bill Shorten said.
While Labour supports gay marriage, it argues the plebiscite would
trigger a divisive public debate. Labour argues the Parliament should
decide the issue without asking the public.
“This country does not have the right in a plebiscite to pass
judgment on the marriages and relationships of some of our fellow
Australians. It is not what Australia is about,” Shorten told reporters.
Turnbull, an advocate for same-sex marriage, said that despite the
Labour comments, the idea of a plebiscite was not dead. He said the
enabling bill would be voted on in the Senate after it was passed this
week by the House of Representatives where the government holds a
“We urge the senators — all the members of the Senate, including the
Labor Party — to support that bill and give the people their say,”
Turnbull told reporters.
The Australian Christian Lobby, which opposes same-sex marriage, said
it was disappointed “that ordinary Australians are being shut out from
having a say about the biggest social policy change in a generation.”
Yet Michael Cook, editor of Mercatornet
believes that the decision to delay the referendum might work in favour
of those who support traditional marriage. He explained: “Australia is
the only large Anglophone country not to have legalised gay marriage.
This is a grievous disappointment to supporters and a welcome surprise
“It is basically a political accident: Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm
Turnbull is a fan of gay marriage, but is stuck with a commitment made
by former PM Tony Abbott to hold a referendum or plebiscite. The Labor
Opposition supports gay marriage and since the outcome of a popular vote
is uncertain, will only settle for a vote in Parliament. The result is a
stalemate – it appears that there will be no decision until after the
next election. This could be as late as 2019, a long time between
drinks,” Cook said.
Cook – who believes that same-sex marriage weakens the family unit –
thinks the political stalemate will give the traditional marriage camp
an advantage. He said: “The stalemate gives supporters of gay marriage
time to make mistakes – such as backing the Safe Schools program, a
homosexual and transgender education program in schools which horrified
voters. And it gives us time to regroup and put the case for natural
marriage to the public and wavering MPs.”
On Monday, the government released draft amendments to the federal
marriage law that would be put to Parliament if a majority of
Australians endorse same-sex marriage in the plebiscite. Opinion polls
show most Australians support same-sex marriage.
Most gay rights advocates fear that an aggressive scare campaign
could result in the plebiscite failing, putting same-sex marriage off
the national agenda for decades. Some conservative lawmakers have said
they will vote against gay marriage in Parliament even if a majority of
Australians support it.
Under the proposed changes to the law, religious ministers and
officials would be allowed to refuse to officiate at same-sex marriages
and churches would be allowed to refuse to provide facilities, goods and
services for gay weddings. Some government lawmakers argue the same
legal protections should be extended to cake makers and wedding singers
who object to same-sex marriage.
Labour as well as gay rights advocates are concerned that the
government proposes giving civil wedding officials the same legal right
as religious clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples.
Catholic bishops in Australia have vocalised opposition to same-sex
In 2015, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference published a
letter titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” in which they outlined Church
teaching on marriage.