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Just exactly WTF is happening with marriage equality in Australia

Just exactly WTF is happening with marriage equality in Australia

A number of interesting developments on Friday have capped off what has been a hectic week for the issue of marriage equality in Australia. Including the brief hope that 16 and 17 year olds might be allowed to vote on the issue.

Here is a recap of what has gone down so far:

The government and advocates’ positions:

  • The Liberal Government vowed to put the matter to a public vote – called a plebiscite – but that was knocked back in the Senate last year. But the government stuck to its guns that the issue would be resolved with a non-binding plebiscite rather than a free vote on legislation in parliament.
  • Marriage equality advocates want marriage equality legislated in parliament because:
  1. That’s the exact role of the government and its job
  2. A plebiscite would be non-binding
  3. A public vote would open up LGBTI people to vitriol and the public discussion could make them vulnerable
  4. Human rights should be legislated and not voted on publically
  5. The majority of Australians have supported marriage equality for a decade and the matter could be resolve quickly

A quick summary of 2017:

  • Gay Liberal MPs and Senators, and marriage equality advocates worked behind the scenes to convince their party to hold a free vote. One MP, Christopher Pyne, even said Australians would have marriage equality ‘sooner rather than later’.

Literally the past week:

  • The issue was gaining a lot of heat so Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called an emergency party room meeting to decide the party’s position once and for all.
  • Senator Dean Smith drafted a marriage equality Bill that had a lot of exemptions for religious bodies to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. People were hopeful the party would vote to move introduce that Bill to parliament.
  • This was not the case, with only seven MPs voting for a free vote in the party room meeting. The government said it would push for a plebiscite (again) and if that failed it would hold a public postal vote on the issue.


  • To no one’s surprise the plebiscite was rejected for a second time in the Senate. And the motions were put in place to hold a postal vote with ballots to be posted on September 12.
  • Many condemned the non-compulsory public vote as illegal and not a fair way to resolve the issue. It would be non-binding – MPs would still have to vote in parliament on the issue after all votes were counted, with some saying they would still vote ‘no’ regardless of the outcome. Advocates argued there were too may unresolved questions about the vote including; how could people living overseas would vote, how do you protect against voter fraud and how can you make sure the vote was representative of the population when postal votes have notoriously low return rates.
  • Meanwhile, everyone scrambled to update their information on the electoral roll.
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics, not the Australian Electoral Commission, would conduct the postal vote. But it labelled it a ‘survey’.
  • LGBTI leaders Felicity Marlowe, Shelley Argent and MP Andrew Wilkie lodged a motion in the High Court to stop the postal vote. So did leading marriage equality advocacy group The Equality Campaign and Greens Senator Janet Rice.
  • PM Turnbull said if the postal survey fails there would be no free vote on the issue in this government.
  • Less than 24 hours after the announcement of a postal vote, the vitriol started. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said people should vote ‘no’ if they hated political correct and valued freedom of speech.
  • Abbott’s lesbian sister, Sydney Councillor Christine Forster then sub-tweeted the hell out of her brother. And did karaoke at Stonewall on Tuesday dedicating her performance of ‘Killing Me Softly’ to the Federal Government.

Thursday night:

  • Marriage equality supporters had a well deserved drink.


  • There was a brief flutter of excitement when it was believed the government had accidentally allowed 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the survey. That would have added 47,000 potential voters into the mix. But hopes were quickly dashed when the AEC confirmed teenagers would not be able to vote.
  • Despite a lot of debate in the LGBTI community about whether to boycott the survey, the Equality Campaign confirmed it would be voting and campaigning for ‘yes’.

  • The High Court accepted both challenges to the postal survey on marriage equality. The matter will come to the court on September 5 and 6.
  • The government confirmed it will wait for the outcome of the High Court proceedings before trying to go ahead with the postal survey.

Got it?

It’s a lot to take in. But in the meantime we’re getting ready to celebrate the live wedding of our own James to his fiance James.