The Liberal and National Coalition government’s marriage equality plebiscite proposal has now publicly descended into the tragic farce it should always have been considered.
Last August I explored the plebiscite proposal in detail and concluded that while it had a certain populist appeal, there were too many unanswered and likely unresolvable issues surrounding such a proposal in the current political climate for it to be truly practical, or even advisable.
I won’t repeat all the arguments I made against the plebiscite, but one of the many concerns I had at the time was that even if a plebiscite revealed majority support for marriage equality, ‘politicians would not be obliged to respond in any way,’ as plebiscites are not binding.
This concern was reinforced recently by the public comments of a number of government MPs and Senators who made it clear they would not vote for marriage equality under any circumstances, even if a plebiscite showed a majority of Australians support it, including Eric Abetz, Bridget McKenzie, and Cory Bernardi.
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These comments create a reasonable and significant doubt whether our Prime Minister and government are in a position to guarantee the Liberal and National Coalition would honour the outcome of a plebiscite on marriage equality.
While the government can’t guarantee its own members respecting and honouring the decision of the Australian people, Australia’s key marriage equality lobby group, Australian Marriage Equality, announced last Saturday they now have the numbers to pass a marriage equality legislation in both Houses of Parliament.
When the proposed plebiscite is estimated to cost $160 million, questions about the necessity and viability of a plebiscite come into particularly sharp focus.
The flames of public discontent were further fanned when it was revealed even the Australian Christian Lobby admitted recently the plebiscite proposal is nothing more than an underhanded delaying tactic, designed by religious conservatives under the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a devout, conservative Catholic and a long-term opponent of marriage equality, to take the wind out of the public momentum that was building in support of marriage equality.
… a people’s vote known as a plebiscite would be held sometime after the 2016 election, kicking the issue into the long grass (putting the issue off) and blunting the momentum of same-sex marriage lobbyists.
Why Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s stance on marriage led to his ousting, by Lyle Shelton, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (The Daily Signal, 16 September 2015)
Our current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s grip on power continues to be tenuous. He needs the support of his party’s hard-right conservative faction to survive as leader. This likely explains why he’s so dogged in his pursuit of his deposed predecessor’s plebiscite plan, despite the fact he had professed his personal support for marriage equality repeatedly over the years. The plebiscite represents a compromise position, and maintains a fragile ceasefire, between the moderate and conservative factions of the Liberal and National Coalition government over marriage equality.
Turnbull’s plight has shades of Julia Gillard’s predicament on the issue. Admittedly, while Labor Prime Minister, Gillard publicly and vehemently opposed marriage equality personally, unlike Turnbull’s supportive private stance. However, Gillard’s leadership position was also widely acknowledged to be the result of support from the religious, right-wing faction of the Labor movement. Ironically, Julia Gillard now supports marriage equality, and so does her formal Labor foe, Kevin Rudd.
It would appear Turnbull will attempt to save face by preempting threats of defiance by the conservative faction of his own party. He favours introducing legislation into Parliament prior to the plebiscite which would enact marriage equality into law automatically if the outcome of the plebiscite is in favour, although the conservative faction will likely view such a move with disdain and suspicion.
However, even if such a legislation is successful, that will still leave the nation with a divisive and undoubtedly hateful plebiscite campaign that will stain our culture and will reverberate through our society for years to come, regardless of the outcome.
I live with my same-sex partner of over 17 years in Turnbull’s electorate, Wentworth. To put it mildly, we are two unhappy Turnbull constituents. But we are not alone.
A recent poll taken in Wentworth shows 72.8% of his electorate supports legalising marriage equality, with only 20.9% opposing. When it comes to the plebiscite, the numbers get worse for Turnbull. Only 9.6% of his electorate support the plebiscite, while over 63% thinks the responsibility lies with Parliament, and all members of Parliament should have a free vote on the issue.
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Make no mistake, the issue of marriage equality is no longer a debate of ideas – the debate has been over for quite a while. This is now a war of attrition, in which a diminishing, but vocal, religious minority, clinging to a literal interpretation of ancient and dated dogmas of faith, is determined to deny equality and human rights to their fellow Australians, by holding successive governments and the Australian public to ransom. Sadly, in the process, they are undermining the egalitarian, liberal, secular and democratic traditions and values of our nation, and social progress.
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This has become a war of attrition in which some of the religious, right-wing opponents of equality are pursuing a scorched earth policy on marriage equality and, even though most of them now realise deep down that the recognition of marriage equality had become an inevitability step in our social evolution, they will go down fighting to the bitter end, causing long-lasting divisions and harm to our society.
Some argue their only goal is to ‘protect’ society from itself, or that their hearts are in the right place, and their intentions are good – but they should remember: the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.
May their ‘god’ have mercy on their souls …