The vote took place two days after members of Australia’s ruling party blocked efforts to allow a conscience vote in the country’s parliament on the issue.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last October introduced a non-binding plebiscite bill — which would have required Australian voters to participate — after his Liberal Party-led coalition narrowly won re-election. Members of the opposition Labor Party subsequently blocked the measure.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported Penny Wong, an openly gay senator who is a member of the Labor Party, is among those who spoke against the proposed plebiscite on Wednesday.
“This is a vote whose sole aim is to stop the members of this parliament being given a chance to do their job and vote,” said Wong. “This is a vote because some in the Coalition can never countenance equality and they are never going to change their minds. They simply cannot countenance people like me and others being equal. Simple as that.”
Tiernan Brady of Australian Marriage Equality, a group that supports marriage rights for same-sex couples in the country, pointed out to the Washington Blade the parliament has rejected the proposed plebiscite twice.
“Instead of respecting the expressed will of the elected representatives of the Australian people, the government is attempting to subvert the will of parliament and force a public vote,” said Brady.
“This plebiscite is legally unnecessary, politically subversive and totally non-binding, making it pointless.” he added. “All it does is set a terrible precedent where LGBTI people have to reach a higher standard simply to have the same dignity as everyone else in their families and the country.
The Australian Christian Lobby, a group that opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples, on Wednesday described the plebiscite as “a referendum on freedom of speech and ‘safe schools.’”
“Who people love is not a matter for the government but the consequences of redefining marriage are matters for all Australians,” said the group’s managing director, Lyle Shelton, on its website.
New Zealand is among the countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.
Sydney City Councilmember Christine Forster, who is the lesbian sister of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, told the Blade on Monday the issue has “broad community support” and allowing gays and lesbians to marry in Australia “would do nothing more than bring us into line with the U.S., U.K.” and other countries in which they can legally do so.
Australian media reports indicate Turnbull’s government will launch a non-binding, voluntary postal vote on the issue as early as next week. Australian Marriage Equality plans to challenge it in the country’s High Court.