PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s election commitment to hold a same-sex marriage plebiscite has failed, however the issue remains volatile.
In dramatic events last Tuesday, Labor senators and MPs formally rejected Federal Government legislation for a people’s vote, but then ramped up calls for a parliamentary vote.
It meant that Labor, by teaming up with the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch were able to block the legislation in the Senate.
“Labor wants to achieve marriage equality in the fastest, cheapest, least harmful way possible. That’s why we want a free vote in Parliament,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said.
Mr Shorten also said he and his colleagues made the decision after meeting with the LGBTIQ community and mental health experts.
He said the plebiscite would cause harm to gay and lesbian people and their families.
While Labor is expected to push for a free vote in parliament, the Government controls the numbers in the lower house, and is expected to block any efforts.
Without a plebiscite, the Coalition has said the same-sex marriage matter would not be dealt with, which effectively shut down the matter for the term of the Parliament.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said while it seemed almost certain there would be no plebiscite “the situation is volatile and there could still be surprises in store – in part because same-sex marriage supporters are unhappy about delaying any parliamentary vote by quite some time”.
“… It strikes me that the rhetoric of same-sex marriage supporters has been a mix of sentimentality (Love is love) and ideology (heterosexuality and homosexuality are just two variations on a theme – like blue or brown eyes),” he said.
“What I would prefer to see – whether we have a plebiscite or not – is reasoned argument that moves beyond the mix of sentimentality and ideology. Sure, we don’t want divisive rhetoric, but we do want and need reasoned argument.
“This will mean in part a recognition that the proposed change is more than a minor adjustment to the marriage legislation.
“It may be only a word here or there, but the change is profound – touching upon the understanding of the human person (and sexuality and gender as part of that) and what makes for a genuinely flourishing human society.” (Story continues after video)
Ahead of Tuesday’s drama, Senator George Brandis released the draft changes to the Marriage Act – the basis for the proposed plebiscite question on same-sex marriage.
It would provide protection for ministers and marriage celebrants who have a conscientious objection to performing a same-sex wedding ceremony.
Senator Brandis said the Marriage Act would be changed to replace “a man and a woman” with “two people”.
The protections for ministers of religion would be retained, but extended to be able to refuse solemnising a marriage on the grounds it was not between a man and a woman. Marriage celebrants would have the same protections.
There were no proposals for freedom-of-speech protection or for an extended protection to the providers of goods and services who refused to cater for same-sex weddings.
The Australian Christian Lobby expressed disappointment that ordinary Australians were being shut out from having a say about the biggest social policy change in a generation.
“Australians should rightly question the state of politics in this country,” Marriage Alliance spokeswoman Sophie York (pictured) said.
“As said by the Attorney General – this issue represents a ‘profound social change’. We know that there are passionate supporters on either side of the debate. We know there are millions of Australians who wish the Marriage Act to stay exactly as it is. And we know the only way to get the politics out of this issue is to hand it over to the people. Marriage Alliance maintains support for a people’s vote on whether to change the Marriage Act.”
Archbishop Coleridge said as well as concerns for justice to married people and to children, there were “questions concerning religious freedom – whether any future legislation in the area of same-sex marriage will recognise religious freedom not as some grudging exemption which could be removed at any time, but as a fundamental human right which must be respected at all times”.
By Mark Bowling