Australian parliament REJECTS same-sex marriage national vote

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Gay rights activists hold a rainbow flag during a rally to support same-sex marriage in central Sydney August 11, 2012. | REUTERS/Daniel Muno

CANBERRA, Australia (Christian Examiner) – In a decision that may only forestall the inevitable, Australia's Parliament on Monday rejected legislation that would have authorized a national "plebiscite" on the issue of gay marriage.

A plebiscite in Australia's parliamentary democracy is a non-binding vote of the people which signals to the members of Parliament which way they want the country to go on a particular issue.

In the rare defeat for the international juggernaut of same-sex marriage and gay rights, the upper house voted 33-29 to avoid the national vote. That means same-sex marriage could be delayed in Australian until at least 2019 when a new Parliament is elected.

Ironically, conservative Christians, largely represented by the Australian Christian Lobby, wanted the plebiscite vote. ACL's director, Lyle Shelton, said a public campaign would allow his organization to explain the consequences of changing the definition of marriage to include homosexual marriage.

He isn't, however, taking for granted the fact the vote is now not going to happen.

"Australians have had enough of the same-sex marriage debate," Shelton said. "After six years of relentless activism in the Parliament, it should be time to move on. I think that's what most people want – it is not a high priority issue."

LGBT advocates opposed the plebiscite, claiming a national vote would result in divisive and ugly rhetoric directed toward gays. Instead, they wanted to push the change exclusively through Parliament, without the people at large having a say – much the same way same-sex marriage was pushed through America's courts in opposition to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and multiple state constitutional amendments forbidding gay marriage.

However, polls may have also had something to do with LGBT opposition to the vote. In July, a poll found that only 48 percent of Australians favored the plebiscite. Support for it dropped significantly (to 25 percent) when those polled were made aware of the price tag – perhaps as much as $170 million. That money, which would have to be allocated by Parliament, would have been divided between the two sides of the campaign.

Another poll found support for the plebiscite at only 40 percent, while still another found that around 70 percent of Australians believed the public ought to have a say in legalizing same-sex marriage. In short, the numbers were inconsistent.

Even if the vote was put off for now, Shelton said he would still accept a national vote on the issue.

"A people's vote is the fairest way to resolve what is the biggest social change in a generation. There is nothing unusual about an issue of this magnitude being taken to the people," Shelton said.