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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Australia

Part 18: 2016-MAR to JUL:
Federal government delays plebiscite.
Conflict heightens as election nears.

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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 2016-MAR: The federal government "temporarily" delays plans for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage:

The government seems to have ignored the recommendations of the Senate Committee who had called for a simple vote in Parliament on a marriage equality bill to be pursued as soon as possible. Rather, the government decided to go ahead with a plebiscite.

The Coalition had originally planned to to establish rules for the public campaign leading up to the plebiscite, and to hold a plebiscite on marriage before Easter in 2016. Both pro and anti marriage equality groups would be financially supported by the government to help make their case to the voters.

During March, the government decided to delay the proposed plebiscite until after the 2016-JUL-02 election. Details of the plebiscite have yet to be worked out. This includes whether voting will be compulsory, as is normal for elections in Australia, and whether voters will be able to mail in their vote.

An Essential Poll found that public opinion remains stable and overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality: 66% in favor and 23% opposed. The ratio is approaching 3 to 1 in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. 1

The leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, has been opposed to a plebiscite. He said legalizing same-sex marriage is:

"... a job for the parliament. I don’t support having a taxpayer-funded opinion poll of $160 million where taxpayer money will be [partly] used to vilify relationships."

Some commentators have expressed concern that government funding of groups who are opposed to marriage equality will result in a great deal of hatred and misinformation being directed against the LGBT community during the publicity campaigns leading up to the plebiscite. Many adolescents in particular would be sensitive to such attacks. Some of them may be driven into serious depression and suicidal ideation. On the other hand, to have Parliament hold a vote on marriage equality, and to have a majority of MPs vote show support for same-sex marriage, would probably improve the mental health of vulnerable members of the LGBT community.

Others have expressed concerns about the cost of the plebiscite. Many feel that with polls consistently showing support for marriage equality outnumbering those opposed by a factor of almost 3 to 1, that a plebiscite to confirm majority support is a total waste of money. Unfortunately, much of the public is unaware of statistical techniques and in particular about the margin of error values associated with public opinion polls. Some reject the idea that a poll of a few thousand adults can produce an accurate estimate of support and opposition to marriage equality across the entire country. So, for many people, the only true indicator is a plebiscite.

Attorney-General George Brandis has said that the government's position is to hold the plebiscite as soon as possible after the 2016-JUL-02 election.

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2016-JUN & JUL: Conflicts heighten as JUL-02 elections approach:

Marriage equality became the one of the biggest differences between the policies of the Labor party and the Coalition as the election approached.

Rodney Croome, the Director of Australian Marriage Equality, has argued that marriage equality should be decided by members of parliament in a free vote in which each member could vote according to their conscience. 2

Coalition leader, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, continues to promote a plebiscite to be held after the election. This would be followed by a vote in Parliament if a majority of voters favor marriage equality.

Three days before the federal election, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (Labor) said:

"Since 2013 I think the community attitude has moved on. Most Australians are confused why we are arguing about the matter. Why don’t we just get Parliament to get on and do their job rather than kicking it off to a $160 million tax payer-funded opinion poll."

On his Facebook page he promised that if Labor wins the election and he becomes Prime Minister, that:

"... the first piece of legislation I [will] introduce into the 45th Parliament will be a bill to amend the Marriage Act. No $160 million plebiscite, no hurtful, hateful government-sponsored advertising campaign. It's time to make marriage equality a reality." 3

BBC News reported:

"Two senior Australian ministers [in the Coalition] have refused to say if they would support same-sex marriage in Parliament.

In an interview, Treasurer Scott Morrison [Liberal] refused six times to say how he would vote.

'My view is, if the plebiscite is carried nationally, then the legislation should pass,' Mr Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC).

'If the plebiscite is not carried, then I think that settles the matter.'

The treasurer -- an evangelical Christian who worships at a Pentecostal megachurch -- refused to give a straight answer when challenged for 'clarity' on the issue.

In a separate interview, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop [Liberal] echoed the treasurer's comments, refusing to be drawn on the 'hypothetical' issue.

'I would take my electorate's view into account, but I would also take into account how the plebiscite played out across Australia because, for example, a referendum gets up if it is a majority of states, majority of people in the majority of states,' she said." 4

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After the election of 2016-JUL-02:

The Coalition was returned to power, although Labor made slight gains.

On JUL-18, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggested that the plebiscite on same -sex marriage might be delayed further until sometime in 2017. He said that Parliamentary sessions will not resume until AUG-30, so there may not be sufficient time to pass the necessary legislation to schedule the plebiscite to be held during 2016. He said:

"We would like the plebiscite to be held as soon as practicable, but again, that will depend on when the [enabling] legislation is passed. ... If it is not held, you know, in the latter half of this year, and recognizing that parliament will be sitting for the first time on 30 August, then it would be held early next year.

My commitment to have it dealt with as soon as practicable is there, but we ... have to obtain the support of the Senate. We don’t even know who the Senators will be at this stage." 5

Emma Alberici, a host on the Australian Broadcasting Corp. program Lateline, said:

"Senior advocates of same-sex marriage are softening their opposition to a plebiscite with a reluctant acceptance that a free vote in the Parliament on the matter is now all but impossible. Some are urging gay and lesbian communities to be ready to fall in behind a "Yes" campaign, but others remain immovable, saying they'd prefer to leave things as they are than risk the prospect of a torrent of hate from opponents of change." 6

Paul Karp, writing for The Guardian newspaper said:

"So far the Coalition’s policy has produced exactly what opponents to same-sex marriage want: delay, complication and splits." 7

Ivan Hinton, spokesperson for Just Equal, referred to the terrorist-inspired mass murder of 49 patrons at The Pulse LGBT nightclub in Orlando, FL during JUN-12:

"When we saw the tragedy unfold in Orlando, it demonstrated the level of anger and animosity that can exist in a community, particularly if it's unchecked. 6

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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. "Federal election 2016: same-sex marriage plebiscite pause for poll," The Australian, 2016-MAR-26, at:
  2. Osman Faruqi, "What Does Australia’s Close Election Result Mean For Marriage Equality?," Junkee, 2016-JUN- at:
  3. "Same-sex marriage back in the spotlight in final days of election campaigning,", 2016-JUN-07, at:
  4. "Gay marriage in spotlight in Australia election," BBC News, 2016-JUN-29, at:
  5. Gareth Hutchens, "Turnbull suggests marriage equality plebiscite may be delayed until 2017," The Guardian, 2016-JUL-18, at:
  6. David Lipson, "Senior advocates of same sex marriage soften their opposition to a Plebiscite," Australian Broadcasting Corp, 2016-JUL-22, at:
  7. Paul Karp, "Marriage equality supporters divide over plebiscite tactics," The Guardian, 2016-JUL-27, at:

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2016-AUG-04
Latest update: 2016-AUG-06
Assembled by: B.A. Robinson

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