Australia to have non-binding referendum on same-sex marriage

Commenter sonofrojblake was prevented by a glitch from posting this useful bit of information as to why same-sex marriage has hard such a hard time in Australia, so I am adding it as an update:

Unfortunately, both major political parties have a strong religious streak. The Liberal Party had a long history of protestant spirit while Labor was infected with the Roman Catholic virus. The grate Labor split of the 1950’s saw Catholics leave to form a splinter party, but since the 1970’s have returned to Labor.

The Marriage Act (1961) was amended in 2004 with almost unanimous support from both sides. Now, tor the first time, the Marriage Act would contain a definition.

marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

and inserted a new section:

88EA Certain unions are not marriages
A union solemnised in a foreign country between:
(a) a man and another man; or
(b) a woman and another woman;
must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.[11]

This was done without being party policy at an election campaign, without a plebiscite, without a postal poll, in fact, without any reference to the people at all.

Australia is one country that you would have thought would have legalized same-sex marriage a long time ago. And yet surprisingly, it has not done so. But next month it will hold a voluntary and non-binding postal vote on the issue as part of the process of moving towards that goal. Voting is normally compulsory in Australian election.

The purpose of the plebiscite is not clear to me because even if the vote is in favor, parliament will still have to vote on the issue. Maybe the MPs want cover for whatever action they take. Readers of this blog who live in Australia may be able to provide more insight.

There have been mixed reactions to the idea of such a plebiscite, with some calls to boycott the vote, arguing that parliament is shirking its duty to address the issue directly. One hopes that there will be an overwhelming majority in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. But if the voting rate is very low, it is not clear whether the outcome will mean anything.


  1. says

    The small number of conservatives currently twisting the nuts of the prime minister may be slowly losing their grip on power but they aren’t going to stop delaying the inevitable for as long as possible. The Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten has vowed to allow a free vote in parliament within 100 days of getting into power so it’ll be all over by 2019/2020. In other news, Rupert Mudrake, the man behind the conservative’s power, has announced a record loss for his scandal sheets, despite having secured a massive reduction on tax from the Australian government. That of course doesn’t stop his subordinates from angling for public funds normally given to the public broadcasters, the ABC and their stable mate, SBS.

  2. rjw1 says


    The purpose of the plebiscite is (1) to confuse the issue and delay the inevitable as much as possible and (2) as Lofty writes, to twist ‘the nuts of the prime minister’. The delay is partly due to the religious bigotry of a small conservative clique and vicious infighting in the ruling Coalition. For these reasons many supporters of marriage equality don’t favor a plebiscite, it’s both unnecessary and expensive. In Australia, marriage law is covered by Federal legislation, so individual states can’t introduce their own reforms.

    In the 1970s Australia pioneered no fault divorce and civil celebrants so the current delay on marriage equality is a national embarrassment.

  3. Holms says

    The reticence of our government on this subject sometimes baffles me. The conservative christian element I understand -- they want to turn back the clock on virtually ever social reform to the ‘good old days’ -- but even our first openly atheistic PM, Julia Gillard, balked at marriage equality.

  4. says

    Holms, public opinion has shifted markedly since Gillard’s day, notwithstanding she knew a vote wouldn’t have survived a hostile senate. I hope Labor’s win is big enough to get some serious reforms done in 2 years time.

  5. Holms says

    I don’t think so, the tide had already turned on gay marriage in Gillard’s ‘day’ -- i.e. 2013.

  6. blf says

    Tony Abbot, the ex-PM and complete nutter, had a meltdown some days ago, saying:

    I say to you if you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no. If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.

    Partly in response, Lenore Taylor, Granuiad Australia’s editor, wrote a column, We won’t be giving equal time to spurious arguments against marriage equality: “The ‘no’ camp will try to contort this issue into anything other than what it is: should adults be able to marry the person they love?”

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