The Australian government has introduced a contentious new bill, which if passed, will see Australians voting on whether or not to legalise same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday, Prime Minster Malcom Turnbull said that the proposed national poll or plebiscite would take place on 11 February next year but would be non-binding; still requiring parliament to make the final decision.
Estimated to cost in the region of A$138 million, the plebiscite would ask Australians the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
“If ever there is an issue to be put to a plebiscite, this is one that can be and should be because it is a very straightforward question,” Turnbull said. “We put our faith in the Australian people, and we know that their answer, whether it is yes or no, will be the right answer.”
The move has been slammed by LGBT rights groups and many others who says that a plebiscite is unnecessary, expensive and could lead to negative campaigning that would only create animosity towards LGBT people and fuel divisions among Australians.
As part of the run-up to the plebiscite, A$15 million of tax-payer dollars would be allocated to fund two committees; one opposed to legalising same-sex marriage and one in favour.
“This public funding provisions would allow tax payers funds to be used to attack other Australians with fear campaigns, and is totally unnecessary to achieve a reform that the parliament could deliver now,” said Australian Marriage Equality Chair, Alex Greenwich.
“No Australian should have to witness a national debate on their worth or the value of their relationship,” insisted Australian LGBT groups in a joint statement. “We are particularly concerned about the psychological impact on our communities caused by repeated exposure to divisive national discourse – concerns that are based on research evidence.”
Greenwich further expressed concern that the proposed amendment to the Marriage Act has not been made public by the government. He said it is unreasonable to expect the community and parliament to vote on a plebiscite without first seeing the detail of what will be enacted upon a successful vote.
It’s also been pointed out that most of the organisations that would campaign against same-sex marriage are likely to be religious. They are financially favoured by having tax exemptions, which LGBT lobby groups do not have.
The groups point out that, according to existing polls, a majority of Australians support marriage equality, meaning that MPs already have a mandate to move to legalise same -sex marriage now.
“Our shared goal is simple – we want marriage equality as soon as possible at the lowest cost. The most efficient and effective way of achieving marriage equality is a vote in parliament,” the groups said.
It is unclear if Turnbull will have enough support in parliament to pass the bill to approve the plebiscite, with indications that opposition parties may block the legislation.