Prime Minister Tony Abbott opposes marriage equality
Australia’s LGBT community has reacted with anger at Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s shock refusal to let MPs freely vote on same-sex marriage.
It’s now become clear that he plans to instead hold a referendum on the issue, further delaying marriage equality in Australia.
Abbott called a surprise meeting of the coalition government on Tuesday night in which it was agreed that a free conscience vote would not be allowed among coalition MPs.
Abbott, who is a staunch Catholic, also threatened to fire any ministers who went against his party’s anti-gay policy and voted in favour of same-sex marriage, if such a bill is introduced in Parliament.
Instead, Abbott said the coalition could put the matter to a public vote through a referendum or plebiscite after the next elections, which might only take place in 2017.
“Obviously the fact that we are disposed to put it to the people in the next term of parliament shows that we are open to change, but please let’s not underestimate the magnitude of this as a cultural shift,” he told Parliament.
The plan to hold a referendum is a surprise U-turn for the prime minister. Less than three months ago he said that the matter was too important to be voted on by the public.
The Australian government’s position puts it in conflict with public opinion. Polls indicate that between 60% and 70% of Australians are in favour of marriage equality. A referendum on the issue has been described as a waste of money and effort and a delaying tactic.
“The Abbott Government has disappointed and angered millions of Australians by deciding to remain on the wrong side of history, but momentum will only build and love will win out,” commented Australian Marriage Equality National Director Rodney Croome.
“Clearly, opponents of marriage equality in the Coalition know they don’t have the numbers on the floor of the house or they wouldn’t be so scared of a free vote,” he added.
Croome said that if a referendum went ahead it must take place alongside the next election to give a new government a clear mandate. He also insisted that the question put to the public must be drafted by Parliament and not the prime minister.
“This can’t be Tony Abbott’s plebiscite to further delay reform, but the Australian people’s plebiscite to deliver marriage equality,” said Croome. “Tony Abbott can gag his party room, but he can’t gag the Australian people who will vote strongly in favour of marriage equality at a plebiscite.”
In May, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage through a referendum.