August 12, 2015 at 12:33 am EDT | by Elias Jahshan
Australian marriage advocates prepare for possible referendum
Tony Abbott, Australia, gay news, Washington Blade

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Aug. 11, 2015, blocked a conscience vote on the issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples in his country. (Photo public domain)

Editor’s note: This article originally ran on the website of the Star Observer, a Sydney-based LGBT newspaper. The publication has allowed the Washington Blade to repost its coverage of the Australian same-sex marriage debate.

Australian Marriage Equality is now preparing to campaign around the possibility of a plebiscite after the Coalition voted down a conscience vote in a six-hour party room meeting last night.

Following the party room meeting, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said after the next federal election he could either support a free vote to be adopted for the Liberals or put the matter to a public vote in the form of either a referendum or plebiscite.

AME highlighted that if there were to a plebiscite it must be at the next election, rather than afterwards, and that the question must be set by Parliament.

“No plebiscite should be owned by the government, nor should the issue remain at the whim of the PM,” AME stated on its Facebook page.

“If a plebiscite is coming, it needs to happen sooner, not later. It needs to inform the next government, whichever party that may be.”

“We’ve already started drafting the legislation for a plebiscite to be held at the next election. It will show what every other poll has in the last seven years.”

AME National Director Rodney Croome said any further delay was “totally unacceptable,” and that a public vote at the next election would ensure the issue “is resolved as quickly and cheaply as possible.”

“Tony Abbott can gag his party room, but he can’t gag the Australian people who will vote strongly in favor of marriage equality at a plebiscite,” he said. “The question must not be set by the prime minister, but by the Parliament. This can’t be Tony Abbott’s plebiscite to further delay reform, but the Australian people’s plebiscite to deliver marriage equality.”

Croome added that a constitutional referendum was not needed.

“The High Court has resolved that no change to the constitution is required to enact marriage equality, and that the parliament has the power to legislate in this regard,” he said. “This Parliament has failed to achieve marriage equality, and we need to ensure the next one has a clear mandate to enact legislation.”

Abbott’s openly gay sister and City of Sydney Liberal Councilor Christine Forster has also expressed disappointment that Liberal and National MPs had not voted in favor of a conscience vote on marriage equality.

She told the Seven Network that the issue “should have been a decision that was kept in the Parliament and a conscience vote would have meant a decision that was made in the Parliament as opposed to made by parties.”

However, she conceded a plebiscite was the next step “if that’s what it takes to get this very important change.”

“But let’s not put it to a plebiscite after the next election; let’s put it to a plebiscite at the next election,” she said.

Members of the opposition party and the Greens have also criticized the Coalition’s failure to adopt a conscience vote.

Openly gay South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong accused Abbott of further delaying the legislation of marriage equality despite consistent nationwide polls showing majority support, and warned that a plebiscite or referendum would be “divisive” for the wider community.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also rejected the notion of a referendum or plebiscite as a waste of taxpayers’ money, and told Network Seven that Abbott “just needs to move with the times.”

In a speech in the Senate this morning, Australian Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale said the results of the Coalition party room debate yesterday was “shameful.”

“The prime minister, like a cornered alley cat, used every tactic in the book – he scratched, he fought, he stacked his party room with National Party MPs because he knew that he was going to get rolled on this issue,” he said. “He talks about it as a second order issue, one that doesn’t warrant dominating the political discourse in this Parliament and yet he says that it is worthy of a plebiscite.”

Di Natale added the Coalition had a rare opportunity to end discrimination “once and for all.”

“Think of the signal that the prime minister’s actions send to the young people right around the country who are told ‘you are different. The love that you have for another person is not the same as the love that other people share. You are not normal,’” he said.

“Is it any wonder that young people right across the country who are in a same sex relationship have a greater rate of self harm, a higher rate of depression, higher rates of suicide?”

“It is because of the symbols, the messages, the language that this Parliament has used in squashing a debate that should be about ending discrimination against two people regardless of their sex and regardless of their gender.”

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