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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Australia

Part 16: 2015-AUG/SEP:
MP Malcolm Turnbull comments
about marriage equality.
A Senate committee investigates
marriage equality & issues a report.
Tony Abbott is replaced as PM:

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This topic is continued from a previous essay.

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Throughout this web site, "SSM" refers to marriages by same-sex couples.
"LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals.

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map of Australia 2015-AUG-16: MP Malcolm Turnbull comments about marriage equality in his blog:

He said:

"Many of my constituents have written to me about the same sex marriage debate. ...

Prior to the 2013 election the Coalition's position, as stated by Tony Abbott, was that while the Coalition's policy remained that same sex unions would not be recognized as a marriage, there would be an opportunity for the party room to consider whether there should be a free vote on the matter.

A free vote means that members of the party room are able to vote on the issue according to their own individual conscience and in particular front benchers may do so without having to resign from the ministry.

Historically, issues relating to marriage or sexuality have been treated as free votes by the Liberal Party.

My position in the lead up to the election was very clear. I said I supported a free vote and if one were allowed I would vote to recognize same sex unions as a marriage. A number of other coalition members made similar commitments. ..." 1

Turnbull speculated marriage equality could be implemented in at least two ways:

  • Parliament could "... settle the terms of a bill to amend the Marriage Act to allow same sex marriage and then ask the people whether they approve of it or not."

  • "Another may be to simply ask whether the people approve the Parliament legislating to enable same sex marriage provided that religious freedom is protected and in particular no person, including any church or minister of religion, would be required to solemnize any marriage other than in accordance with the principles of their own faith." 1

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Webmaster's note concerning the use of a plebiscite: [bias alert]:

I disagree with the Hon. Tony Abbott's recommendation of placing fundamental human rights -- like the right to marry the person that one loves and to whom one is committed -- up to a popular vote. All that would be determined by this type of plebiscite or referendum would be the relative levels of animus and acceptance currently directed by the public at the LGBT community. I feel that basic human rights like the right to marry the person that they love and to whom they are committed should not be left up to the approval of the general public.

Also, if referendums in the United States are any guide, the campaigns by groups who oppose marriage equality would stir up a great deal of hatred against the LGBT community. It would probably motivate many older teens and young adults of all sexual orientations who belong to conservative faith groups to abandon their faith group. The campaign by those opposed to marriage equality would be certain to negatively affect the mental health of many in the LGBT community, particularly the youth.

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2015-AUG: A Senate committee was asked to study gay marriage and to issue a report:

On AUG-20, the Australian Senate asked their Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee to hold an inquiry on the topic of same-sex marriage. The committee was asked to examine the feasibility of having a plebiscite or referendum to let the public decide whether the country should attain marriage equality.

A plebiscite is basically a public opinion poll conducted by the federal government. If the majority vote indicates a desire for change, then the government would normally be expected to pass legislation to implement the change.

The Committee was also asked to study:

  • The possible wording of the question for the public to answer;

  • Whether the federal government should donate funding to both the "yes" and "no" campaigns;

  • Whether such a basic civil rights matter like marriage should be subject to a public vote.

The Committee was asked to issue its report rather quickly -- by 2015-SEP-16. 2

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The Committee received 77 written submissions from concerned organizations. They also held a public meeting on 2015-SEP-10 in Canberra and issued their report on SEP-15, one day before their assigned deadline.

The Parliamentary Library had provided the committee with a summary of marriage equality bills that have been introduced in the past to Parliament. They found that:

"Since the 2004 amendment to the [Marriage Act] which inserted the current definition of marriage, 17 bills dealing with marriage equality or the recognition of overseas same-sex marriages had been introduced into the federal Parliament. Not all bills have come to a vote and no bill has progressed past the second reading stage. Consequently no bill has been debated by the second Chamber. To date, the bills have been introduced by members of parliament representing the Australian Democrats, Australian Greens, Australian Labor Party, Liberal Democratic Party, Liberal Party of Australia, and by Independents."

The Committee noted in their report that on 2015-AUG-02:

"... the then Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, stated:

'[T]he only way to successfully and satisfactorily settle this matter [of same-sex marriage], given that it is so personal and given that so many people have strong feelings on either side of this, the only way to settle it with the least rancor, if you like, is to ask the people to make a choice because all of us are instinctive democrats. We don't always get what we want but we accept in our country that the people's vote settles things." 2

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2015-SEP-14: Malcolm Turnbull replaces Tony Abbot (Liberal) as Prime Minister:

By a vote of 54 to 44, the Liberal party voted to have Malcolm Turnbull, the Minister of Communications, take over the post of Prime Minister from Tony Abbott.

Tony Abbott was a supporter of a plebiscite on gay marriage.

Abbott stated:

"The best approach to this in my view therefore is to consult the people openly and honestly, to set out the proposition before them and ask them to approve it or not.  I would expect that voting should be compulsory as is our Australian tradition. ..."

"I have expressed the view a plebiscite should be before the next election." 3

The next election was scheduled for early 2016-JUL.

The Australian Courts have ruled that the federal Parliament already has the authority to legalize gay marriage. The Constitution would not have to be changed first.

As of mid-2015-SEP, there remain only two large predominately English speaking countries in the world that still ban gay marriage. They are Australia and Northern Ireland. Considering the high level of support for marriage equality among the public in both countries, it seems obvious that both will attain marriage equality soon; it is unclear which will be first.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Malcolm Turnbull, "Blog: A Vote on Same Sex Marriage," 2015-AUG-16, at:
  2. "Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia," Australian Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, 2015-SEP-15, at:
  3. and "Liberal leadership spill: Malcolm Turnbull ousts Tony Abbott to become Australia's 29th prime minister," The Guardian, 2015-SEP-14, at:

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Copyright 2015 and 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2015-SEP-18
Latest update: 2016-AUG-05
Assembled by: B.A. Robinson

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