Australian politicians have run out of wriggle room to dodge the issue of same-sex marriage. It is almost inevitable that the next Federal Government will be required to address calls for marriage equality one way or another.
The Coalition’s policy
Since taking over the top job last September, Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly outlined his intention to hold a plebiscite (what’s that?) on same-sex marriage. If the Coalition is successful on Saturday, it is likely that voters will be able to have their say on this prominent social issue by the end of 2016. A remnant of the Abbott era, the proposed plebiscite has attracted much derision from marriage equality advocates despite the democratic nature of a national vote. Economically, the Coalition has been criticised for spending $160 million on a non-binding vote, given that numerous polls (such as this one by Fairfax Media) indicate strong support for the recognition of same-sex marriage. PwC also estimates the full economic cost of a plebiscite to be upwards of $500 million. There are also concerns that a nationwide vote would create a platform for derogatory remarks and attacks on the LGBTIQ community. Coupled with suggestions that the plebiscite was an apparent compromise deal to appease conservative Coalition MPs, there is also suspicion as to whether MPs would honour the view of the public once a bill is brought forth. The plebiscite is clearly an unpopular course of action among most marriage equality proponents. And it is a course of action that could cost Liberal votes this weekend.
The ALP and the Greens’ policies
On the other hand, Labor has demonstrated strong support for marriage equality thus far in the lead-up to the election, pledging to legalise same-sex marriage within 100 days if elected. In contrast to the issues surrounding the Coalition’s proposal, marriage equality under Labor would be dealt with through regular parliamentary procedure, allowing elected MPs to have a free vote. However, Labor hasn’t emerged unscathed in adopting a platform for same-sex marriage. A semi-successful attempt to adopt a binding vote on marriage equality last year (where MPs will be bound to support same-sex marriage from 2019 onwards) was met with some opposition among party supporters. One MP, former WA Senator Joe Bullock, abandoned the party in March as a result. As a party appealing to Australians for a wide-ranging number of reasons, Labor leaders still face a challenge over whether members should have the right to reject certain policies on religious and personal grounds. As for the Greens, their long-standing commitment to marriage equality endures, and they too are opposed to the Coalition’s proposed plebiscite.