The same-sex marriage referendum bill is on life support since Labor announced it would not support a costly, non-binding vote at the national level on whether same-sex couple should be allowed to get married. The decision to stop life support was taken last night in the presence of many close family members and friends. Now that the plebiscite is dead, it can be given its proper burial.
The final vote was 29 for holding a referendum and 33 against. Dean Smith, a WA Liberal Senator, abstained. The 33 senators who voted against were from Labor, Greens, Nick Xenophon Team, and Derryn Hinch. The Coalition was able to convince the Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, four One Nation senators, and Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie to vote for the referendum.
The defeat of the referendum was a victory for the LGBTI and their supporters, who were afraid that allowing national debates about whether they have equal rights could lead to a cranky attack on them. Look at the campaigns against the screening of the Gayby Baby document in NSW and the Safe Schools Coalition to see that there are large portions of Australians who are unwilling to engage in mature and respectful discussions about LGBTI rights.
The defeat of the referendum is also a victory for democracy. Senator Stirling Griff from the Nick Xenophon Team noted: “We are elected to make decisions. Not to outsource them.”
In a similar vein, Liberal Senator Dean Smith stated that a referendum would “irretrievably undercut the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.”
We elect our politicians so that they can make decisions for us. Michael Kirby, a former High Court judge, was correct to point out the dangers of a referendum. He said:
This means that whenever there’s a controversial issue that the parliamentarians can’t or don’t wish to discuss, they will send it to a public vote.
Many government MPs claimed that if Labor didn’t support the referendum, then there wouldn’t be a parliamentary vote on marriage equalization until 2019. This was likely a negotiation tactic used to increase pressure on Labor.
It is now time to engage in some serious negotiations about the future. NSW Premier Mike Baird sets a good example of what can be achieved. Baird announced a ban on Greyhound Racing in July 2016. Three months later, he reversed his decision and said:
As we look back, it is clear that we made mistakes — I, the Cabinet, and the Government all made mistakes.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could regain much of the respect that he lost over the past few years if he followed Mike Baird and admitted that a referendum is no longer possible. It’s the responsibility of Parliament to decide whether or not same-sex marriages should be permitted.
The Turnbull government has a number of bills it can support.
There are some differences between these bills, mainly in the way that different people and organizations are excluded from participating in weddings. Religious organizations should not have to ordain marriages that go against their religious beliefs. However, these exemptions shouldn’t apply to non-religious businesses such as civil celebrants and florists. Leyonhjelm’s Bill is not acceptable because it seeks to exempt suppliers of wedding goods from their obligation not to discriminate in accordance with the Act 1984 on Sex Discrimination.
Malcolm Turnbull may not be willing to support Labor’s Bill. Bill Shorten, the opposition leader, might help him if he kept the cross-benchers Bill. The 45th Australian parliament could function effectively and democratically, allowing the urgent issues of the day to be addressed in a timely fashion.
Bill Shorten, the Prime Minister of Australia, will proudly and promptly amend the Marriage Act in order to allow couples of all sexual orientations, gender identities, or intersex to get married.