Rebel lawmakers reignite same-sex marriage debate in Australia
Rebel lawmakers have restarted a debate on same-sex marriage in Australia, one of only a few countries in the English-speaking world where it isn’t legal.
For nine months the issue had remained in limbo, after a government proposal to hold a national vote, or plebiscite, on the topic was blocked in the parliament in October 2016.
But on Monday, all sitting politicians in Australia’s governing Liberal National coalition, were called to a closed-door meeting in Canberra, where they voted to once again attempt to hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, finance minister Mathias Cormann said legislation could be reintroduced into the senate as early as this week.
The meeting was triggered when five politicians in the governing coalition went public with their calls for the party to ditch the plebiscite in place of a simple parliamentary vote, local media said.
Rebel Liberal MP Dean Smith drafted a bill which would make same-sex marriage legal in Australia, but allow celebrants to refuse to marry whoever they wished.
The government would not introduce this bill under their current policy, but Smith can introduce it on his own as a private member’s bill. If the bill was to then reach the floor of parliament, the five Liberal politicians have warned they could join the opposition to vote in favor of it.
Despite broad support for same-sex marriage among Australians, successive governments have failed to pass legislation due to opposition from conservative politicians.
The ruling Liberal Party has said since 2015 it wants to let the Australian people choose in a national vote, while the opposition Labor Party wants it be directly legislated by parliament, saying a plebiscite is unnecessary, too costly and traumatic for the LGBT community.
Among the options being considered by Monday’s meeting of Liberal politicians are a free parliamentary vote, another attempt at a national plebiscite or even a voluntary postal vote, according to The Conversation’s political analyst Michelle Grattan.
A consistent majority of Australians have told pollsters they support same-sex marriage. In July, 61% of respondents told national pollsters Essential they supported marriage between couples of the same gender.
The United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, France and the United States are among the nations who have already legislated in favour of same-sex marriage.
In August 2015, at a party room meeting of the Liberal National Coalition, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott changed his party’s policy to call for a plebiscite after the 2016 national election.
“The Coalition supports the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman, but we won’t seek to bind people beyond this term of Parliament and in the next term… it will be the people’s decision,” Abbott said at the time.
Commentators and same-sex marriage advocates at the time saw it as a move by conservative Abbott to postpone the issue as long as possible.
Just over one year later, in October 2016, the legislation for the plebiscite was blocked in Australia’s parliament by the opposition Labor party.
Labor has pledged to pass same-sex marriage in parliament immediately if it wins the next election. (CNN)