DEBATE around same-sex marriage has kicked off again in Australia after the government announced a postal vote to decide on the controversial issue earlier this week.
Conservatives who oppose marriage equality have demanded a public plebiscite on the issue, letting the Australian public, rather than Parliament, decide whether to change the legal definition of marriage. They have long promised debate in the lead-up to a vote would be “respectful.”
Since the government unveiled plans to hold a postal vote on the issue via the Australian Electoral Commission on Monday, however, public discussion of the issue has been anything but.
While a 2016 Gallup poll showed same-sex marriage has the support of 61 percent of Australians – other surveys have shown figures to be as high as 72 percent – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dragged his feet on the issue due to vocal opposition from conservatives within his own government.
The ABC reported on Friday the government is likely to rush its Bill through Parliament next week, to minimise the distribution of hateful advertising material being distributed as part of the same-sex marriage vote.
The Australian Christian Lobby has previously referred to children of same-sex couples as another “stolen generation,” drawing an analogy with the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their parents by Australia’s government between the early 1900s and the 1970s – a dark period in the country’s history for which former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised in 2007.
Activists and the LGBT community worry the campaign will now unleash a flood of hate speech and vitriol towards gay people due to the fact a postal vote is not bound by laws preventing the distribution of false or misleading materials during an election, according to Pink News.
Conservative politician Zed Seselja of the ruling Liberal Party, who opposes changing the 1961 Australian Marriage Act that defines a marital union as between a man and a woman, said on Wednesday the country would have “hopefully a very healthy debate,” on the issue.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) August 9, 2017
Seselja claimed most mainstream media, including state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), had been biased against opponents of marriage equality.
“Let’s have a great conversation,” read a Sydney Morning Herald column by the executive director of Christian think tank Freedom for Faith Michael Kellahan on Thursday, which called for critics of gay marriage not to “be ashamed to speak up for the classical vision of it.”
ABC’s News Breakfast host, however, this week tweeted a photo of a vitriolic postcard he had received from an anonymous sender, asking “so you approve of sodomy. Sodomite in the family? A disgusting practice.”
— Michael Rowland (@mjrowland68) August 9, 2017
“Why are we stopping people from loving each other?” asked prominent TV host Karl Stefanovic on the Nine network. “This decision is a no-brainer. Two people who want to share their lives together.”
Meanwhile, the opposition leader in the Senate Penny Wong – a lesbian and a member of the Australian Labor Party – was praised online for an emotional speech she delivered on Tuesday.
“Have a read of some of the things said about us and our families,” Wong said. “Then come back here and tell us this is a unifying moment.”
Penny Wong's quiet fury here is really something. pic.twitter.com/dwjZnGEQUC
— Jake Holman 🌵 (@JacobLeigh) August 9, 2017
Wong said an open debate on same sex marriage was “exposing” the children of LGBTQI couples to “that kind of hatred.”
These sentiments were echoed by Labor Party leader Bill Shorten who said, “Prime Minister, I loathe the trolls and the haters, but I expected more from him.”
“I hold you responsible for every hurtful bit of filth this debate will unleash.”
Turnbull has expressed he will publicly support a “yes” vote. “When we argue with each other, we are arguing and debating about what is the right way forward, what is the best way we can show our love,” he said at an interfaith breakfast in Canberra on Wednesday.
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 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.