Gay mar­riage vote sparks fury, de­bate in Aus­tralia

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Aus­tralia’s bit­ter po­lit­i­cal bat­tle over le­gal­iz­ing gay mar­riage came to a head yes­ter­day, with the gov­ern­ment push­ing ahead with a postal vote af­ter par­lia­ment re­jected a ref­er­en­dum-both op­tions bit­terly op­posed by ac­tivists. Polls in­di­cate pop­u­lar sup­port in Aus­tralia for mar­riage equal­ity, but the is­sue has dragged on for more than a decade amid po­lit­i­cal wran­gling over the best way to vote on the is­sue.

The con­ser­va­tive Lib­eral-Na­tional coali­tion last year went to the polls promis­ing to hold a na­tion­wide plebiscite, but the op­po­si­tion La­bor Party, Greens and cross­bench sen­a­tors yes­ter­day re­jected the op­tion in the up­per house Se­nate for the sec­ond time. The op­po­si­tion, along with many gay rights cam­paign­ers, fa­vor a free vote among MPs, with par­lia­men­tar­i­ans not bound by party pol­icy.

Vote chal­lenged

They say a na­tional vote is costly and will prove di­vi­sive, sub­ject­ing gay peo­ple and their fam­i­lies to hate speech. Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull Tues­day com­mit­ted Aus$122 mil­lion (US$97 mil­lion) to the postal vote, run by the Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics, with bal­lot pa­pers sent out by Septem­ber 12 and due back early Novem­ber.

“Strong lead­ers carry out their prom­ises. Weak lead­ers break them,” he said. If it re­turns a “yes” out­come, the gov­ern­ment will ta­ble a pri­vate bill on par­lia­ment’s lower house, where the Lib­er­als could cast a free vote by De­cem­ber. If “no” is the re­sult, the is­sue will not go to par­lia­ment. Mar­riage equal­ity ad­vo­cates have vowed to chal­lenge the postal vote in court, say­ing the gov­ern­ment might be ex­ceed­ing its ex­ec­u­tive author­ity in hold­ing it, cast­ing doubt on whether the bal­lot would go ahead.

Sup­port­ers also fear the postal op­tion could dis­en­fran­chise younger Aus­tralian­susu­ally more sup­port­ive of same-sex mar­riage-who are less likely to use the mail­ing sys­tem. For­mer con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott yes­ter­day wel­comed the postal vote, kick­ing off the “no” cam­paign. “If you don’t like same-sex mar­riage, vote no,” he told re­porters. “If you are wor­ried about re­li­gious free­dom and free­dom of speech, vote no. If you don’t like po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, vote no.”

La­bor sen­a­tor Penny Wong made an im­pas­sioned speech in par­lia­ment, ac­cus­ing the gov­ern­ment of “hand­ball(ing) a hard de­ci­sion to the com­mu­nity” and also of fail­ing to de­fend the LGBTI com­mu­nity against hate speech. “Let me say, for many chil­dren in same-sex cou­ple par­ented fam­i­lies and for many young LGBTI kids, this ain’t a re­spect­ful de­bate,” she said. Same-sex cou­ples can have civil unions or reg­is­ter their re­la­tion­ships in most states across Aus­tralia, but the gov­ern­ment does not con­sider them mar­ried un­der na­tional law. —AFP

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