Post-election: Australia’s New Path to Marriage Equality

July 02, 2016


Imagine heading down to your local scoop shop and not being able to order exactly what you want, let’s say, two scoops of chocolate in a waffle cone, because the person behind the counter doesn’t think two of the same flavors should go together.

You’d be outright furious. But that silly metaphor rings too true for loving couples in same-sex relationships here in Australia.

Our woefully dated federal Marriage Act (1961), as amended in 2004[1], doesn’t recognise same-sex marriages, and goes further to remind us that even weddings taking place in foreign countries “must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia”, closing the door for any same-sex couples hoping to marry overseas and return home as a happy couple.

There is Hope

Thankfully, much has changed in the 12 years since. Support for marriage equality has risen from 38 percent at the time of the amendment in 2004 to as much as 72 percent in 2014[2], and three out of four Australians believe reform is inevitable.

The time has come to set things right and bring full equality Down Under. Pass the double Sweet Cream & Cookies waffle cone and be quick about it!

The Path Forward

However, newly re-elected Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Coalition government seem dead set on going about this issue the wrong way.

They have said they want the public to weigh in on this issue, regardless of the fact that 72% of Australians are in support. Turnbull is set on a national plebiscite on same-sex marriage which he said would be held by the end of the year. He has promised to act according to the result, calling a vote “thoroughly democratic”[3]. On top of this is the underlying idea that it is fundamentally unjust to require the majority to vote on the rights of a minority group.

Brian Tobin, Lecturer at Ireland’s University in Galway, spoke out about a similar approach to the issue in Ireland stating, “The Irish experience shows [that] putting a human rights issue to a national vote is a crude means of legalising same-sex marriage. It forces a historically oppressed minority to literally have to plead with the majority for access to marriage in the months prior to the vote. It also provides a platform for those opposed to misinform the public and air anti-gay views.”

The prime minister seems to fully expect the public to vote in its favour, going so far as to tell a Tasmanian radio show in April that advocates for marriage equality were “unlikely to be disappointed” with the result of the plebiscite[4].

The Elephant in the Room

“Unlikely” seems an importantly precarious word choice when so much is at stake. It also is vital to note that unlike with a referendum, which is a formal vote on an amendment to the Constitution, the result of a plebiscite is technically non-binding. It merely gauges public feedback on a political proposal but does not mandate action. This is one of the many reasons we are opposed to a plebiscite as the solution to this issue.

Moreover, concern has been expressed about the sheer expense of the plebiscite. Recent budget announcements show that Liberals have set aside $160m for the plebiscite[5]. On top of all the other reasons, this is another example of why the plebiscite is simply a cash suck, and a delay tactic regarding an issue that is widely supported by Australians.

So, why all the bother, when marriage equality has widespread and well-known public support and parliament can resolve the matter now?

We Must Act Now

The last time Australia had a plebiscite it took seven years to implement the result, and it will still require a parliamentary vote no matter the outcome[6]. This is nothing more than an attempt to delay the inevitable.

Political theater is never as good the real thing, and often enough comes with potentially serious drawbacks. Here’s how you can help:

  • Urge Malcom Turnbull to put the plebiscite away and have a conscience vote on marriage equality
  • In the case that we land with a plebiscite, ensure you are enrolled to vote, here.

The fight for equality has not been won until the recognition that love is love is written into our Constitution.