Who should determine if gay marriage is legal or illegal in Australia – the people or the elected officials chosen by the people? This is the question Australia is now wrestling with after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull indicated that he wants to hold a “plebiscite” early next year. In Australia, a plebiscite (which is sometimes referred to as a referendum elsewhere) is a national vote; in some sense it is “direct democracy” although in Australia it is actually non-binding and would still require an act of the Parliament afterwards.
To add another level of complexity to this issue, an Australian newspaper recently conducted a poll that found that only 39 percent of voters support this plebiscite on same-sex marriage and 48 oppose the national vote. Yet at the same time, 62 percent of Australians support marriage equality and 32 percent are opposed. So what does this all mean?
Frankly, it is not clear, but it appears to indicate the Australian electorate want its elected officials to do their job and determine public policy, even when the people overwhelmingly supports an issue, like in this case 62 percent supporting gay marriage.
Prime Minister Turnbull recently explained: “We’ve set out a plan. I just say (to the opposition) and in fact to everyone that wants to see same-sex couples being able to marry, if Labor supports the plebiscite it will be held on the 11th of February. I believe it will be carried. I certainly will be voting yes.”
However, Bill Shorten who is the Australian Opposition leader, responded: “It will be compulsory for 15 million people to vote on same-sex marriage, to vote on marriage equality. It will be compulsory for them to vote. If they don’t vote, they will be fined. But it’s not compulsory upon Liberal Party MPs to accept the result. That is a sick joke.”
And who says politics are boring!? Stay tuned…