Prior to the federal election in Australia earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised to allow a nationwide vote on marriage equality (in Australian terms -- a plebiscite). LGBTQ advocates have opposed a plebiscite on marriage equality and urged the prime minister to allow members of parliament to vote on the issue.
Turnbull will continue as prime minister after one of the closest Australian elections in recent history, but the path to equal marriage is still unclear. The election has ushered in a strong majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) who already favor marriage equality. Many argue the election results, which show Turnbull's party has lost seats, is a mandate for parliament to take up the issue of marriage equality -- instead of moving forward with his planned plebiscite.
"[W]e do know that this election has delivered more supporters of marriage equality across every party than ever before”, Chief Executive of Australian Marriage Equality, Janine Middleton said in a press release. “Now that the election is over, marriage equality should be achieved by a free vote in the parliament."
Marriage equality advocates argue that the plebiscite would be expensive, contentious and non-binding. Many are concerned that opening up the topic of marriage equality to a public vote allows for heavy and hateful campaigning against the LGBTQ community, which would have a detrimental effect on LGBTQ youth. In addition, even if marriage equality campaigners were successful with a plebiscite, parliament would still need to legislate on marriage equality and the results of the plebiscite would be guiding, not binding on MPs.
Studies conducted just a week prior to the election showed waning support for a plebiscite, as people came to learn about the downsides -- including the multi-million dollar price tag that tax payers would pay if it were to move forward.
HRC has been fortunate to partner with Australian Marriage Equality over the past year, including visits to Sydney last July and this February. We stand in solidarity with their call for a free vote.