The Plebiscite That Could Change a Nation: Where Will Australia Be After the Same-Sex Marriage Vote?

With just one more day until the window for enrolment on Australia’s landmark same-sex marriage plebiscite is closed, interest groups on either side of the debate are focusing hard on mobilising turnout.  

Advocates in the LGBTI community have been at turns frustrated and appalled at the expensive and non-legally binding nature of this voluntary vote. Which many see as nothing more than a “glorified opinion poll” that the Liberal Party- dominated parliament will use, to delay legislation on the hot button issue of marriage equality.

However, despite the controversy, and two pending cases lodged in High Court appealing the poll, it seems the plebiscite will indeed carry on. For their part, supporters of marriage equality are determined not to let their voices go unheard despite their reservations.

Unprecedented

This plebiscite marks many firsts, it is the first solely postal plebiscite in Australia’s history, with many arguing that the cost, and unfamiliarity of such a set-up restricts proper representation on the issue.

Voting is also completely voluntary and the outcome is non-binding, unlike similar gay marriage plebiscites carried out in Ireland; lawmakers will have no impetus to ratify the results of the vote in any sort of legislation.

Lastly, instead of being conducted by a qualified government body such as the Australian Electoral Commission, the vote will be carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics — an organization that has never conducted a survey of this size and complexity before.

With so many roadblocks in the way it’s no wonder that people are questioning the constitutional validity and accuracy of such a poll.

A Question that Needs to Be Answered

As one of the few Western English-speaking countries where gay marriage has yet to be legalized, Australians have long been clamouring for a definitive solution to what is clearly an issue of human rights. While the vote does not represent a constitutional answer to the question of legalisation, a strong public vote in favour of marriage equality will ensure that parliament has little choice but to pass legislation by the end of  November.

With little time to organise, campaigns spearheaded by Australian Marriage Equality (AME) and groups such as GetUp are working to muster hundreds of thousands of members in support of gay marriage. Elsewhere celebrities such as Ian Thorpe and Quantas Head Chairman Alan Joyce have thrown their support behind a “yes” vote. Across the LGBTI community, on popular online forums such as emen8.com.au and offline, individuals are steeling themselves for a very public and heated debate about an issue that is very personal to many gay Australians.

When the Dust Settles

As of today, over 200,000 Australians have updated their details on the voting register with a further 16,800 new enrolments in just a week. With polls showing that same sex marriage support enjoying widespread support across party lines with 55 to 82 percent of Liberal, Labor and Green voters coming out in favour of gay marriage.

Forms are set to be mailed out on September 12, with approximately 48 days allocated to sending back a vote via mail. Results are expected to be announced by November 15th.

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