Supporters of equal marriage rights will again take to the streets in Sydney and Melbourne on August 13. The date marks 12 years since the John Howard government — with Labor support — passed laws banning equal marriage.
In the past 12 years, thousands have mobilised across the country demanding an end to the ban.
In those same 12 years, 19 other countries have legalised equal marriage — joining The Netherlands which passed their law in 2000 and Belgium in 2003. They are: Canada; Spain; South Africa; Norway; Sweden; Argentina; Iceland; Portugal; Denmark; Brazil; England and Wales; France; New Zealand; Uruguay; Luxembourg; Scotland; Finland; Vietnam; and Ireland.
The most recent country to introduce marriage equality — Ireland — held a referendum and the “YES” vote won by 62%.
In Australia, research has consistently shown that there is overwhelming support for marriage equality. Polls conducted by Galaxy Research, Nielsen and Roy Morgan since 2009 have found that between 62% and 68% of Australians support marriage equality.
The Coalition's policy of holding a plebiscite on the issue is simply an attempt to delay and obfuscate the issue to avoid a vote in parliament. Their spin about the plebiscite has been wearing off, as people understand that it is adding a layer of non-binding, time and money-wasting bureaucratic process to tell politicians what they already know — that marriage equality is supported by the majority of Australians.
On this basis, opposition to a plebiscite should be supported and all efforts must be made to bring on a parliamentary vote as soon as possible.
Some in the ALP, such as Penny Wong, have pushed the argument that a plebiscite would be harmful and divisive, but this is a red herring.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said he “remains unconvinced” on the question of a plebiscite, following his meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on August 4.
Labor took a policy of “elect us and we promise that a Labor government will introduce a bill within the first 100 days” to the federal election.
Now that the election is over, and with the government's majority seriously diminished, Labor must enact its own party policy. It must introduce a bill for marriage equality and bind its MPs to vote in favour of it. Anything less, including allowing a conscience vote or a “free vote” on the issue for would be a betrayal.
We cannot let debates over tactics in the campaign for marriage equality let the government or Labor off the hook.
If a bill in the parliament should fail and a plebiscite follows, then the campaign will need to swing behind a “YES” vote. We have nothing to fear from the majority of people who have already spoken loudly and strongly in support of this basic civil right.