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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Australia

Part 21:
2016-SEP: Parliament still makes little
progress on resolving the SSM issue.

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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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This topic is continued from a previous essay.

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map of Australia 2016-SEP: Three attempts to break the impasse (Continued):

  • On 2016-SEP-12:
    • Rep. Bill Shorten's bill would guarantee ministers of religion the right to:

      "... refuse to solemnise a marriage for any reason, including because to do so would be contrary to the minister’s beliefs or the minister’s understanding of the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of the minister’s denomination."

      The phrase "a husband and wife" in the present version of the Marriage Act would be replaced with "2 people."

      The bill was introduced, and read for the first time on SEP-12. No amendments have been proposed as of SEP-26. 1

    • Reps. Adam Bandt, the first representative of the Greens party to be elected, and Cathy McGowan, an Independent, introduced a similar bill to the House. 1 It is also called "Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2016." It is essentially identical to Rep. Shorten's bill. It would also allow any minister of religion to discriminate against a same-sex couple by refusing to marry them because of the minister's beliefs. 2

As introduced, either bills would be fully implemented within 14 days after receiving Royal Assent. 1,2

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  • Two days later, on 2016-SEP-14:
    • Prime Minister Turnbull introduced a government bill into the House. It is called the "Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016." It would authorize the setting up of a plebiscite. If passed into law, the bill would:

      • Require all Australian adults to vote. Both the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act specify compulsory voting.

      • The Ballot-Paper given to each voter would state:

        "Plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
        Directions to Voter:
        Write "Yes" or "No" in the space provided opposite the question set out below.
        Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? [ ]" 3

      This would not be a referendum. The results would not be binding on the Representatives or Senators. It would be equivalent to a large public opinion poll that would accurately establish the level of support for marriage equality with almost zero margin of error. In comparison, most public opinion polls to date have had a margin of error on the order of ±3 to 4 percentage points.

      Two committees would be set up by this bill: a Committee for the Yes Case and a Committee for the No Case. Each committee would be composed of up to 5 Representatives or Senators including up to 2 members of the Government, up to 2 members of the Opposition, and up to one other member. Added to this group would be up to 5 other individuals. The Government will fund both committees with payments up to AU $7.5 million each. Each committee is to receive an equal amount. Individuals would be allowed to make monetary gifts to either committee; donations of up to $1,500 would be tax-deductable.

      The cost to the government to conduct the poll is expected to be $145 million, added to the AU $7.5 million grants to the committees.

      Many, perhaps most, members of Parliament would feel obligated to vote with the majority of adults. But the plebescite results are not absoltely binding on the law makers.

      2017-FEB-11 was been suggested for the date of the plebiscite. This would be the third plebiscite to be held in Australia. The first was during the 1940s to decide whether to conscript soldiers for World War II. A second was in 1977 to chose a national song. 4

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Week of 2016-SEP-18: Negotiations to reach a compromise fail:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is promoting the referendum, apparently because of pressure by conservative members of his ruling Calition. Meanwhile, Bill Shorten, who leads the opposition Labor party, favors a free vote in Parliament on a simple bill to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The vote for a referendum is expected to fail in Parliament. That would leave the two bills to amend the Marriage Act still active.

Most of the LGBT community strongly support amending the Marriage Act because it would be quick solution and would avoid many months of a potentially hate-filled advertising campaign leading up to a referendum.

Talks between Trunbull and Shorten failed to reach a compromise.

Rodney Croome, the former national director of Australian Marriage Equality, had earlier resigned so that he could concentrate his efforts on opposing the plebescite. He said:

"It’s no surprise that negotiations over a plebiscite have broken down because the concept is fundamentally flawed and needs to be knocked on the head.

The sooner a plebiscite is killed off the sooner we can get back on the path of a vote in parliament which has the potential to deliver marriage equality in this term of government without the expense and harm of a plebiscite.

It’s not Labor or the Senate cross-benchers who are standing in the way of a plebiscite, it’s the majority of LGBTI people and our families because we refuse to suffer a plebiscite under any circumstances and insist on a vote in parliament instead.

My message to Labor is to pull the plug and my message to the Government is [to] move on." 5

Ivan Hinton-Teoh, the spokesperson for just.equal, an Australian LGBT lobby group, said:

"Once the plebiscite is denied passage in the Senate the nation will look to the Government for progress. From that point to the election, the Government will be held responsible for further delay." 5

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This topic is continued 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. Rep. Bill Shorten, "Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2016," Parliament of Australia, 2016-SEP-12, at:
  2. Rep. Adam Bandt & Cathy McGowan, "Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 [No. 2]," Parliament of Australia, 2016-SEP-12, at:
  3. Attorney General, "Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016," Parliament of Australia, 2016-SEP-14, at:
  4. Matthew Doran, et al., "Explained: The same-sex marriage plebiscite," Australian Broadcasting Corp, 2016-AUG-28, at:
  5. Nick Duffy, "Equal marriage hits roadblock in Australia as leaders fail to agree deal," Pink News, 2016-SEP-26, at:

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2016-AUG-04
Latest update: 2016-OCT-10
Assembled by: B.A. Robinson

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