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.
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.