Gay rights advocates welcome Australia rejecting public vote

AP Photo
AP Photo/Rod McGuirk

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Gay rights advocates on Tuesday welcomed Australia’s Senate voting down a government plan to hold a nonbinding public vote on recognizing gay marriage and called on Parliament to legislate for marriage equality soon.

The Senate voted 33-29 late Monday against holding the plebiscite Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative government had planned for Feb. 11.

Marriage equality opponents had supported the plebiscite while most gay marriage advocates had opposed it, warning it would spark a divisive public debate.

Parliament should decide the issue during the current three-year term, said Ivan Hinton-Teoh, a spokesman for the gay rights group just.equal.

“Clearly in the last 24 hours we’ve had a very significant and historic step in the path to achieving marriage equality and that’s to get the campaign of marriage equality back on track to where it should’ve been,” Hinton-Teoh told reporters at Parliament House.

Hinton-Teoh said he and other gay rights advocates would work with the minor Greens party to draft a marriage equality bill that would attract cross-party support.

“It’s just a matter of time. We know that we’re going to win this,” said Greens Sen. Janet Rice, who is married to transgender Nobel Prize-winning climatologist Penny Whetton.

Christopher Pyne, a senior government minister who supports gay marriage, said the government would not make a quick decision on how to proceed now that the plebiscite, estimated to cost 170 million Australian dollars ($130 million), had been scuttled.

Pyne accused opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten, who supports gay marriage, of refusing to support the plebiscite for political advantage.

“He couldn’t care less about same-sex marriage and he doesn’t care less about the many couples around Australia who’d like to have the same legal status as my wife and I enjoy,” Pyne said.

“The sensible thing to do is let the dust settle on this issue and get on with the rest of our agenda,” Pyne added.

Turnbull’s predecessor, gay marriage opponent Tony Abbott, decided on the plebiscite to avoid division within the conservative government’s ranks.

Turnbull, who supports marriage equality, agreed to hold the plebiscite in return for the most conservative elements of his party supporting his successful challenge to Abbott’s leadership a year ago.

Shelley Argent, spokeswoman for PFLAG Australia which represents parents of gay children, said the plebiscite had been designed to fail.

“The plebiscite if it had gone ahead would have been devastating. There was nothing positive about it,” Argent said.

Opinion polls show most Australians support gay marriage, but plebiscites and referendums to change the constitution rarely change the status in Australia.

The public vote would have carried no legal weight and lawmakers would still have had to change the law in Parliament. Some government lawmakers had said they would vote down gay marriage in Parliament even if a majority of Australians voted for marriage equality.

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