Australia’s Equal Marriage Plebiscite is Defeated

Despite opinion polls suggesting that most Australians are in favour of same-sex marriage, the plebiscite was always unpopular with the LGBT community.


Firstly, the plebiscite would have been non-binding. MPs wouldn't have to respect the outcome, and with a price of around AUD $160 million, that's a lot of tax dollars for a glorified opinion poll. 

Far cheaper and easier just to pass the bill through parliament, right? 

The Hold-up

Only Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is reluctant to introduce one.  Critics have accused him of being cowardly: too scared to offer a free-vote to his own MPs because some of them oppose same-sex marriage.

A plebiscite would have avoided direct confrontation within the Prime Minister's party, and at the same time appear to appease the LGBT community.

Those opposed to the plebiscite were also concerned that it might set a precedent for further votes on social issues that MPs traditionally find difficult to agree on. 

Issues that divide the right and left like nothing else: immigration, LGBT rights and gender equality, for example.

Difficult issues to agree on, certainly, but politicians are elected to make tough decisions, and this is often better done directly through Parliament.

Human Cost

More than this, however, the LGBT community argued against the human cost of a public vote.  For them, it was about protecting the mental health and wellbeing of the community as a whole. 

Putting vulnerable individuals in a position where they'll have to justify themselves and their sexuality isn't fair.

And that's what would have happened: gay people would have had to justify their sexuality and their right to marry.

Imagine having to go cap-in-hand to neighbours, friends, family and colleagues to ask for their votes (their permission, really) for you to marry. 

And whenever an issue like same-sex marriage is in the public forum, it stirs up age-old homophobia and bigotry. 

Is it fair to put people through that when opinion polls show that most Australians are in favour of changes to marriage laws. 

Irish Experience

Campaigners in Ireland spoke out this week about their own experiences during the country's 2016 equal marriage referendum

Many of them wished the bill had gone straight through Parliament. Their victory came at a cost, and they spoke candidly about the slurs, verbal attacks and tough conversations that they'd had to have in order to secure yes votes. 

The plebiscite for many, then, was an unnecessary burden for the community to shoulder. It was an expensive waste of time for what is already looking to be a foregone conclusion: equal marriage is coming to Australia, it's just a question of when.

You can find out more about the plebiscite and the forces at work in derailing it here.

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