After Ireland: Australia to vote

Australia is set to put the “question” of same-sex marriage to the public, with a nationwide referendum next February on whether to open up marriage beyond mixed-sex couples.

If the vote goes ahead, decision day will be 11th February.

Ireland passed same-sex marriage by a huge margin in a similar referendum.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told parliament that funding provided to the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns will be “scrupulously equal and fair”. There are likely to be tight individual donation caps as well.

The referendum however is being seen as a way for Turnbull to neutralise the issue rather than face a battle inside his right-wing party – in a similar way to how David Cameron put the question of EU membership to the country to try and end the internal feuding in the Conservative party here.

An open letter from more than 200 prominent LGBT Australians published in several newspapers calls for the referendum to be dropped and instead for the government to bring forward same-sex marriage legislation and find the required parliamentary time to debate it.

Bill Shorten, the leader of the opposition in Australia’s hung parliament, worries what the rhetoric of a referendum could do to vulnerable people. In parliament he has commented that, “a No campaign would be an emotional torment for gay teenagers and if one child commits suicide over the plebiscite, that is one too many.”

The few Greens and Independents are expected to vote to block the referendum, so it’s a matter of whether enough MPs from the two big parties unite to bring the referendum legislation through.