THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT has announced it will host a postal vote on marriage equality, if a bid to win support for a nationwide plebiscite fails in the Senate for the second time.
After a long party-room meeting, the government announced it will put its plebiscite Bill to Parliament again this week, and if that fails, will conduct a voluntary plebiscite by post through the Australian electoral commission.
The decision was confirmed by Australia’s Finance Minister Mathias Cormann on Monday, meaning Australia could have gay marriage by the end of the year.
Same-sex marriage is supported by 61 percent of Australians, a 2016 Gallup opinion poll showed, but the issue has fractured the government and damaged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s standing with voters.
Despite majority support for marriage equality, Australia trails behind many western nations including the United States, Germany, England, Ireland and Canada in retaining a traditional legal definition of marriage.
In the Asia Pacific, New Zealand and Taiwan have already granted homosexual couples the right to wed.
Late last year, the Australian Upper House Senate rejected a government proposal on the matter, with opponents saying they believed it was best dealt with by a free vote in Parliament.
“Our preference is to have a compulsory attendance plebiscite,” Cormann told reporters in Canberra, Australia’s capital on Monday.
“If that were to fail, the government believes we have a legal and constitutional way forward that gives the Australian people a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed.”
The nation’s opposition leader Bill Shorten slammed the decision to reintroduce the plebiscite Bill to parliament as “ridiculous” and said :
“I am disappointed for the hundreds of thousands of Australians that their Prime Minister has once again let down.”
Legal experts said a postal vote may also require Senate approval, however, setting the scene for a likely court challenge to the government’s plan.
“The legal advice we have is that such a step, conducting a plebiscite, would be invalid,” Human Rights Law Centre director of legal advocacy Anna Brown told reporters in Canberra.
“That’s why we’d go straight to the High Court and launch the challenge.”
Frustrated by the political impasse on the measure, a group of five backbenchers have said they would vote with the opposition Labor Party for a free vote.
Additional reporting by Reuters