November 12, 2015 at 12:00 am EST | by Elias Jahshan
Australia Senate opposes public marriage vote

Parliament House, Australia, gay news, Washington Blade

The Australian Senate on Nov. 11, 2015, backed a motion against a public vote on marriage rights for same-sex couples. (Photo by JPP; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

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.

The Senate has joined the state parliaments of NSW (New South Wales) and Western Australia in officially backing a motion that rejects a marriage equality plebiscite and urges Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to grant his Liberal Party a free vote on the issue.

Tabled by South Australian Greens Sen. Robert Simms, the motion also said a plebiscite — which is expected to take place after the next federal election — would encourage hate speech and cost an estimated $158.4 million of taxpayers’ funds.

Simms’ motion (scroll to bottom for full wording,) which was passed on the voices yesterday, comes two months after a Senate report that stated marriage equality should be resolved “urgently” by a vote in Federal Parliament.

The Senate report, which was published after an inquiry that saw cross-party senators gather to hear from several groups for and against marriage equality, also stated that a public vote of any kind on amending the federal Marriage Act to enable marriage equality is unnecessary.

“Australians don’t want another opinion poll on this issue. They want the parliament to legislate,” Simms, the Greens’ spokesperson on marriage equality, said in a statement.

Advocates have said the Senate’s official support of Simms’ motion yesterday proved that a plebiscite was avoidable and that best way to achieve reform was to gain majority support among MPs.

“There is still a good chance the issue will be resolved by parliament through a cross-party free vote,” Australian Marriage Equality National Director Rodney Croome said.

“This is a boost to Australian Marriage Equality’s strategy of securing majority support in parliament, which are close to achieving with only six votes to go.”

Croome said he believes Australians would vote “yes” for marriage equality, but a plebiscite would involve unnecessary delay and cost.

“Why incur the high cost and long delays of having a public vote when the issue can be resolved in parliament,” he said.

Meanwhile, earlier today the Green’s marriage equality bill was re-introduced in the Senate, re-igniting debate on the issue in Canberra despite the unlikely chance it would ever pass without a conscience vote from the Liberal Party.

Under the Greens’ bill, marriage would be defined as a union of two people and same-sex couples married overseas would be recognized in Australia.

Simms said Australia was on the wrong side of history, especially considering the U.S. and Ireland both legislating marriage equality this year.

“Can anyone seriously suggest that we should be spending more than $100 million of taxpayer funds on a question we already know the answer to?’ he said in a speech in the Senate (see video below.)

“The last thing I want is to see taxpayer money being spent on a divisive campaign against marriage equality, what in effect would become a state-sanctioned, state-funded hate campaign.”

South Australian Liberal Sen. David Fawcett, who is against marriage equality, insisted the issue needed to be put to a public vote via a plebiscite.

He said those who didn’t support it should not be silenced or labeled “bigots: and had a right to express their views.” He also rejected the notion Australia lagged behind other countries, and that marriage equality should be legislated based on polls showing the majority of Australians supported it.

Meanwhile, Queensland Nationals Sen. Matthew Canavan said the evidence was “abundantly clear” that outcomes for children were best on average when their biological, heterosexual parents were married.

He also love was not a sufficient condition for marriage because it was also about creating children, something only heterosexual couples can do.

Canavan also argued that any change to the federal Marriage Act could be a contravention of human rights if it did not respect religious views.

Earlier this week, the 23rd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group called on Australia to catch up with other western countries on the issue of marriage equality.

Last week, Foreign Minister and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop publicly declared her support for marriage equality for the first time, making the first time both the sitting leaders and deputy leaders of both the Liberal and Labor Parties being in support of the issue.

However, Bishop still supported the Liberal party’s policy of holding a plebiscite.
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Notice of Motion Marriage Equality, Sen. Robert Simms

I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move that the Senate:
a) Notes that the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee has found that:

i. The parliament has the authority to amend the Marriage Act 1961 without recourse to a plebiscite or referendum

ii. A plebiscite has the potential to facilitate and justify homophobic and transphobic hate speech

iii. A plebiscite would cost an estimated $158.4 million if held outside of a general election

b) Calls on the prime minister to allow a free vote on marriage equality before the end of 2015

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