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MP proposes referendum on gay marriage in Australia

Australian Marriage Equality against a referendum on the issue, despite majority public support
Independent MP for New England, New South Wales, Tony Windsor

Australian independent MP Tony Windsor has proposed that the nation say yes or no to gay marriage in a referendum in September.

Windsor suggests taking the issue 'out of the hands of the politicians' and letting the public vote on the issue on the day of the general election - 14 September.

The government is planning to hold a referendum on recognizing local government in the constitution on that day, so it would not be much of an extra cost to include an extra question on the ballot paper.

'Polls on gay marriage say it's what the population wants,' said Windsor, MP for New England, New South Wales, Sydney Morning Herald reports. 'A way to resolve it is through a referendum.'

However campaign group Australian Marriage Equality are against a referendum.

'Given a majority of Australians support this reform, we believe a referendum would succeed, but we don't believe Australia should go down that path,' said national convener Rodney Croome.

'We fear cashed-up opponents of marriage equality would exploit a referendum to polarize the electorate and demonize gay and lesbian people in a way that will impact badly, particularly on young gay people.'

Gay-marriage-opponent, NZ First MP Winston Peters, continually suggested a referendum during parliamentary debates on the issue in New Zealand. Those in support of legalizing same-sex marriage countered that referendums are inappropriate for minority issues, and if there had been a referendum New Zealand wouldn't have become the first country in the world to give women the vote in 1893.

'New Zealand achieved this reform through a mature parliamentary debate and it would be an indictment on Australia if our politicians shirked their responsibilities and asked the electorate to make the decision instead,' added Croome.

Windsor voted against same-sex marriage in Australia's House of Representatives last year. But he said his position on the issue had softened after attending a civil union ceremony, which he described as 'possibly the most sincere and meaningful occasion' he had seen.

Croome said that the campaign for parliament to amend the marriage act 'has more momentum than ever before' and a referendum would be 'an unnecessary, divisive, dangerous distraction'.  

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