08 November 2016, The Tablet

Australian senate blocks referendum on same-sex marriage

A public vote would have asked Australians if the Marriage Act should be revised to allow same-sex couples to marry

Australia’s Parliament has voted against its Government’s plan to hold a referendum on legalising same-sex marriage.

The Senate voted 33-29 on 7 November against holding the plebiscite that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative government had planned for 11 February 2017.

In a speech to the Senate on Monday before the parliamentary vote, Attorney General George Brandis implored the senators who spoke against the bill to “stop playing politics with gay people’s lives.” “Get out of the way and let us have the plebiscite that would deliver marriage equality in Australia in less than 100 days,” he said.

A public vote would have asked Australians if the Marriage Act should be revised to allow same-sex couples to marry. Mr Turnbull, whose liberal inner-Sydney constituency contains large numbers of people in same-sex relationships, has said he was sure that Australians would vote for change.

Recent polls show that around 70 percent of Australians want to see same-sex marriage legalised, reports the New York Times.

But on 7 November, opposition parties formed an alliance in order to block the bill on the grounds that a public vote would open a divisive campaign between gay-marriage supporters and its opponents. The opposition alliance has said that Parliament should decide the issue without asking the public.

“This country does not have the right in a plebiscite to pass judgment on the marriages and relationships of some of our fellow Australians. It is not what Australia is about,” Australia’s Labour leader, Bill Shorten (pictured) told local reporters following the vote.

Christopher Pyne, a senior government minister who supports gay marriage, told the Washington Post that the government would not make a quick decision on how to proceed now that the plebiscite, estimated to cost 170 million Australian dollars, has been scrapped.

The Catholic Church has openly expressed its opposition to gay marriage. In February, the Catholic Bishop’s of Australia issued a document in response to the same-sex marriage debate titled “Don’t Mess With Marriage”, explaining why the church opposed same sex-marriage. The letter is addressed to “all Australians.” The booklet begins with a section titled "respect for all" and goes on to outline why marriage should be exclusively between a man and a woman.

Since 2001, 21 countries have legalised same-sex marriage. The American Supreme Court did so last year, and Ireland became the first country to legalise it by popular vote.

Debate over same-sex marriage in Australia has simmered for years. Legislation in several states provides legal recognition for same-sex civil unions, but marriage-equality supporters say these are insufficient.

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