On Australia’s Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ (On-Going) Vote — Guest Post by Dover Beach

Dover Beach, a philosopher, blogs at The Ordeal of Consciousness.

In case you haven’t heard, Australia is currently in the grip of postal plebiscite on same-sex ‘marriage’ (SS’M’ herein).

The vote is being held under these unusual conditions because the Senate has repeatedly rejected government legislation to authorize a plebiscite. This is somewhat unusual because the Opposition, currently opposed to a national vote, appeared to be in favor of a national vote. This was certainly true of the current Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. For some background on the repeated defeats of 18 private member’s bills introduced into the Parliament since 2004, changes in the positions of the political parties, and, and the proposal to have a plebiscite, see here, here, and here, respectively.

The main reasons given to forgo the plebiscite and simply have the Parliament decide the issue have been the plebiscite’s cost and the claim that a public debate about the redefinition of marriage would traumatize the LGBTIQ community.

However, the real reason why SS’M” supporters support the Parliament deciding the issue rather than the People, is the change in the current Opposition party, the ALP. It has moved from treating SS’M’ as a conscience vote to now support for SS’M’ as a matter of policy, which guarantees the support of all ALP MPs, if they are to retain the party’s support. For a good overview of the changing positions on SS”M” of leading members of the ALP see here. This makes the passage of any private member’s bill highly likely to be successful because the current LNP government, which maintains a conscience vote, is split, with many supporters of SS’M’ in the Cabinet also, including the PM and A-G. Nevertheless, the most recent count of returns shows that 57.5% of eligible voters have now voted with a month of voting to go. This suggests that about 80-90% of eligible voters will have actually voted by the final deadline on Nov 7.

This will give great weight to whoever wins the postal plebiscite. A vote either Yes or No, 53% or above, will give the victor’s representatives tremendous authority in Parliament. For the No camp, it will effectively kill any proposal to redefine marriage for the rest of this Parliamentary term, and the next as well, whoever is elected. Of course, if the upcoming election sees a change of government, the ALP may attempt to simply push it through in spite of the result, but I cannot see the current government, if reelected, attempting to introduce an SS’M’ bill, or supporting a private member’s bill attempting the same. For the Yes camp, Turnbull, the current PM, has promised to allow a private member’s bill on SS’M’ to be considered by the Parliament before the end of this year, which would very likely be successful.

What is puzzling, however, is how such a result would be used when considering related issues that the Yes side have consistently argued are red herrings. Here, I have in mind, the issues of religious freedom/conscientious objection and sex orientation/gender ideology (SOGI).

If the vote is No, I think the status quo with respect to these issues will continue. However, if the vote is Yes, and if it is a resounding victory, above 60%, then I can’t see how any robust religious/conscience protections will be afforded to those who voted No, and it is likely to overturn recent reversals of ‘Safe Schools’ programs that are effectively SOGI programs under the guise of anti-bullying.

One can already see how little concern is given to these issues by the current Attorney-General, George Brandis, the Opposition, Greens, and the media, to gauge how this will play out in the aftermath; that is, religious protections will be narrowly defined, and will largely depend upon the good favor of the Parliament in the future, while individuals and businesses will be left unprotected, putatively, in the name of the common good.

Alternatively, what occurs if the result is somewhere between a bare majority, 50.1% and 53%? Well, here, in the case of a Yes victory, the current government will allow a private member’s bill to be submitted to the Parliament and a conscience vote to be allowed for members of the Liberal Party.

I think the situation for a narrow No victory is the most interesting. So far as the current LNP government is concerned, it would mean no vote in the Parliament for this term of government, and potentially none in the next, at least, if the current government is reelected. If, however, there is a change in government, I think the ALP would be under considerable pressure to simply ignore the vote and table a SS’M’ bill in the House, and then everything will depend upon the composition of the Senate, post-election.

Such a decision would be provided considerable cover by the political elite, and by leading businesses and organisations that have been very vocal in their support of the Yes campaign even to the point of bullying organisations that were or remained neutral. These instances could be multiplied.

The potential bulwark, as it where, is the recent development of the Australian Conservatives in the last year. They are likely to receive a strong following in the Senate on their first outing, but what will be interesting to see in the wash, following the election, is which parties suffer the most from its appearance. If they manage to obtain the balance of power they would be able to prevent the passage of such legislation if No win the plebiscite below 53% and any vote occurs after the next election. This assumes that a narrow No victory makes the LNP reconsider their position re marriage in order to differentiate themselves from the ALP, as well as reflect the clear misgivings of the Australian people viz-a-vis SS’M”. Of course, they may remain tin-eared and completely ignore the lesson of the plebiscite.

Interestingly, the most recent poll suggests that support for Yes is plummeting, from highs of 70% four weeks ago, to 51%, and No support rising to 37%, when the poll was taken two weekends ago, on September 25.

This portends the possibility that neither side may obtain a bare majority. If this situation obtains, the status quo position becomes even stronger, although the elites that have largely driven this campaign over the last decade might be emboldened to simply crash through and damn the consequences. Of course, the civil and political consequences of such a brazen act would I think be profound and long-lasting, marking as it would, not only disdain for the political process, but utter contempt for the polity itself.


  1. John B()

    It’s Australia

    They’re still trying to reject Global Warming policy with little success.

    I’ll ASS-U-ME plebiscite means some sort of referendum?

    Not certain what I’m supposed to make of this post

  2. John B()


    Not a referendum … just a “How do you all feel about this”? (and somebody has to pay for it)

    A referendum would get your voice heard
    A plebiscite just gets into your mind so “they” can change it

    Australia had such a great start as a penal colony … I guess it continues that tradition in the Government with “Nothing but crooks all the way down”.

    Course the US has the opposite “Nothing but crooks all the way up”

  3. Ken

    Per the first link (“postal plebiscite….”) the Aus govt is basically conducting a formal poll/survey on voter’s views on same sex marriage. For something well over $150+M. While not binding on anything, the political leadership will consider the poll/survey results: If the majority is against, legislation to legalize if effectively stopped; if the majority is for that kind of marriage, such legislation will be allowed to proceed thru the system — which is no guarantee a given change in legislation will actually result in anything.

    Support for ‘yes’ plummeting over a month from nearly three-quarters to about half suggests a sizeable portion of the population has very fluid/indecisive views on the matter [seems unlikely] … or … is an indication the public polls are very biased and too untrustworthy for the politicians.

    A govt. survey may be just what’s needed to identify the real populist position. Then, once the elected leaders take the populist position as their own, they can point to the poll/survey (“postal plebiscite”) to justify their position (“we’re elected to represent the will of the majority and this govt survey proves that’s what we’re doing”) and then attach whatever noble-sounding rhetoric works.

    For many (most?) politicians, the “right” populist position is the one that maximizes their upcoming reelection success.

    Such are the incentives in the political system that induces so-called “leaders” to “lead” by running out in front of the crowd in whatever direction the crowd happens to already be running.

  4. Richard A

    “Of course, the civil and political consequences of such a brazen act would I think be profound and long-lasting, marking as it would, not only disdain for the political process, but utter contempt for the polity itself.”

    So we think the Australian electorate is more vigorous than the American electorate? I’d be glad to hear it, for their sakes.

  5. Kneel

    I will be voting “no”, not for any moral reason, but because:

    1) LGBqwerty folks can already have a “civil union” which affords them the exact same rights and privileges as a marriage; de facto relationships are recognised at law regardless of the gender of either or both parties; therefore, there is no advantage at law for LGBqwerty folk to changing the name of the joining from “civil union” to “marriage”

    2) the “No” side of the debate has been unable to express their side of the argument as freely as the “Yes” side – the “No” side is already the target of denigration and claims of “homophobia”, the media seem afraid to publish “No” cases etc

    3) the “Yes” side has suggested that even talking about this proposal “damages” LGBqwerty folks, causing them stress etc etc.

    4) the question is so vague as to be pointless – it’s like someone saying “we are going to introduce a new tax, but it won’t affect anyone negatively – trust us” and then asking me to vote on this new tax, with NO details of how it works, who pays how much etc.

    So, essentially, I can’t make a case for a “no” vote without risking being called “homophobic” and/or “uncaring” and/or “disrespecting”. Even if I could make the case without doing these things, it would be difficult to get it published, because the MSM are all “on board” the “yes” vote. And even if the vote went to the “Yes” side, the changes are up to the politicians to decide upon, and I have no knowledge of what, exactly, they are proposing (even they don’t know yet!). And even if this went through with no issues (yeah, right!), was perfect and had no unforseen bad consequences (sure), it would make no difference to the rights and privileges of LGBqwerty people except that they would be able to “force” me to accept that the word “marriage” applies to LGBqwerty civil unions as much as “traditional” marriages.

    This small minority (well less than 5%) don’t just want “equality” – they already have that. They just want to be able to beat me over the head with the judges gavel if I dare to say they aren’t really “married”. Odd really – I mean, I thought they didn’t really care what us straight people thought about them, they were (whatever they are) and proud of it! Ready to shout it from the rooftops! Fine – do what you like in your own house, I don’t care. Don’t try and con me with “equality” arguments, when what you really want is to legally redefine the meaning of a word and then insist that your interpretation, the legal interpretation, of that word is the only one I am allowed to use.

    Go away.

    NO x 10^100!

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