On Monday, the Australian government announced funding for a public referendum (plebiscite) that will put the country’s same-sex marriage debate to a vote. The initial funding of $15m will be split evenly, giving $7.5m to each side of the debate. Many expect the cost of the plebiscite to reach $160m.
As we previously reported, the Australian Labor Party attempted to introduce a bill into parliament which would call for a vote without the need for a plebiscite. The bill did not succeed. Now the Liberal Government, in an attempt many believe to be a delay tactic, or a way to not be held responsible for the outcome of a legislative vote, has forced the plebiscite on the country.
In a debate over the upcoming public vote, Australian Senator Bridget McKenzie appeared on Q&A – an Australian panel discussion program, similar to Meet the Press in the U.S.
During the live show, McKenzie was surprised to field a question from a gay Australian in favor of marriage equality, who also happened to be her brother. In the video question, Alastair McKenzie asked his sister about the need for a public vote and the debate’s effect on gay and lesbian Australians.
“Given the majority of parliamentarians and Australians now support marriage equality, is a $160 million plebiscite necessary, and what impact do you think the debate will have on the emotional well-being of gay and lesbians like me?”
When the host announced the question will be from McKenzie’s brother, you can hear a sigh in the background, presumably from the Senator who wasn’t very thrilled to answer a question from her gay brother.
You can view the question, response, and further debate on the plebiscite below.
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) September 12, 2016
During the show, Australians shared their opinion of the referendum, as well as their view of the motives behind it, on Twitter.
— Nick Healey (@nick_healey) September 12, 2016
Plebiscites are for things like creating a republic, not deciding who can marry whom. #qanda
— Sir Autumn Mandrake (@AutumnMandrake) September 12, 2016
#qanda referendums traditionally deliver a no thats why Abbott went for the plebiscite
— Juan Zino Ramirez (@Juzira) September 12, 2016
The plebiscite will take place on February 11, 2017 and will ask Australians: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
It is interesting to note that the result of the plebiscite will not be binding, which means that legislators will still be able to legally vote how they wish on the issue. This fact gives validity to those who argue that the referendum is simply a waste of money, or an attempt by politicians to escape responsibility for the final outcome of the debate.
Polls show that the vast majority of Australians support marriage equality – something Senator McKenzie admits when answering her brother’s question. “Polls would suggest that I’m in the minority,” McKenzie says after stating “that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Regardless of the motives behind the plebiscite, one thing is clear: Australians will have to wait until at least February 2017 to vote on an issue they have already made their opinion of known. Although February 11 is the date of the public vote, the date of the vote in parliament, something that would still be required to legalize same-same marriage, is still unknown.
All of this seems par for the course in a nation whose citizens have continually been held hostage by politicians who seem dead set on escaping responsibility for the outcome of a vital civil rights debate.