Australian Prime Minister Urges Public Vote On Gay Marriage

by Rod McGuirk

Associated Press

Wednesday August 31, 2016

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull  (Source:AP Photo/Andrew Taylor)

Australia's prime minister on Wednesday urged his political opponents to allow Australians to endorse gay marriage through a popular vote instead of insisting that the divisive issue be put into lawmakers' hands.

Most opposition lawmakers, who support gay marriage, oppose the government's plan to ask the public in a plebiscite whether the Parliament should create marriage equality.

The opposition Labor Party, the minor Greens party and two independent lawmakers on Wednesday proposed bills that would allow the Parliament to decide the same-sex marriage issue without consulting the public. They all support gay marriage, but fear a plebiscite - an opinion poll that isn't legally binding - would prove divisive and potentially fail.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on Labor leader Bill Shorten to endorse the plebiscite plan in the Senate, where the government holds a minority of seats. Labor has become the plebiscite's last chance after two balance-of-power minor parties ruled out support.

"If there is a plebiscite, a majority will vote 'yes' and if a majority vote 'yes,' you can be absolutely assured the Parliament will legislate it," Turnbull said. "We are setting out a way for that to be resolved. Mr. Shorten is standing in the way."

Turnbull agreed to hold the plebiscite in a deal with gay marriage opponents within his conservative Liberal Party. In return, those opponents backed Turnbull in an internal leadership ballot that toppled Prime Minister Tony Abbott a year ago.

Turnbull, a gay marriage advocate, had previously spoken out against such a public vote that could create painful divisions in Australian society.

Gay marriage lobbyists are generally opposed to the plebiscite, which they argue was initiated by lawmakers who hope it fails.

Opinion polls show that most Australians support same-sex marriage.

But plebiscites and referendums - which are legally binding popular votes - rarely manage to change the status quo in Australia.

Some marriage equality advocates warn that a lost plebiscite could likely set back their cause for decades.

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