Australia has grappled with the issue of marriage equality and same-sex marriage laws for years now. In February 2017, it looks like the issue might finally come to a head, because a plebiscite is being launched asking for the people to vote either yes or no. We have a quick summary of the whole thing in this article.
Here’s a question: Do you approve of a law to permit people of the same sex to marry?
Hold on to your answer, because before early next year, most likely before February 2017, the government might just launch a plebiscite asking you just that very question. You will be given no choice not to answer it, you must say either yes or no, and there will be fines imposed if you decline to participate.
If this sounds a lot like the EU referendum in Britain not too long ago, that’s because it is. Over the years, the issue of same-sex marriage has become such a political slippery slope in Australia that Parliament does not seem to be in any position to make a decision about it. So they’re probably going to leave it to the people.
Why can’t they decide in Parliament?
The three main parties just cannot decide whether or not same sex marriage is a good thing. The labour party officially supports same sex marriage, but gives its MPs a ‘conscience vote’, which means while the party may say ‘yes’ to the above question, if the majority of its MPs says ‘no’, then the bill stays unpassed. Tony Abbott has traditionally opposed same sex marriage, and in the 2012 parliamentary debates, coalition MPs were not allowed a conscience vote. The Australian Greens, on the other hand, wholeheartedly support the idea, and are pushing for a legislative process that will pass the bill in parliament.
What is the current status of same sex couples?
Currently, same sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples, in the sense that they have political and administrative rights, social rights etc, but they are not yet considered equal by law to a married couple. While some argue that this is just a semantic difference, proponents say that the difference is very real, and until we allow same sex couples the choice to marry, true marriage equality may never be achieved.
Why is it such a complex issue?
While for younger liberal-minded folk, this might sound like a no-brainer, there are many social, religious and moral angles to the same-sex marriage issue, which means that what should ideally be a no-brainer has become a melting pot of emotionally charged debate. And now, the political realities are dragging on the topic indefinitely, giving rise to anger and resentment that could best be avoided.
What can you do?
Between now and the day of the launch of plebiscite, you can educate yourself on both aspects of the debate to examine both sides, and be ready to cast your vote on Judgement Day. Remember that the democratic process is not about shouting down the other side but it’s about sitting together and negotiating a solution that works for the majority.
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, remember to respect the other side. That mutual respect is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Let’s all be peaceful, and let our votes decide which way our society goes forward.