This week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that Australia will participate in a postal plebiscite to gauge public opinion on the same-sex marriage debate.
A pleb-a-what (!?) you might ask. Don’t worry, you join the long line of Australian locals who are equally confused as to why they are participating in one and what impact their vote may or may not have on the country’s heteronormative marriage laws.
o somewhat stave off confusion here is a rundown on the rules of a plebiscite, why the Australian government is insisting on conducting one, why it has been perceived as controversial, and what the potential impact could be.
What is a plebiscite?
A plebiscite, put simply, is a nationwide vote to gauge public feedback on a political proposal.
This means that the results of a plebiscite are not legally-binding, unlike a referendum which has, in most instances, the power to alter the course of law.
Since Australia has opted for a postal plebiscite, participation is voluntary. Locals will not be penalized for failure to vote, which is usually the norm in Australia during elections or constitutional referendums.
Why is Australia having one?
The state of Australia’s marriage equality has long been a political sticking point for the incumbent Liberal Party.
In coalition with the Christian-valued Nationals, the Liberals have long opposed any proposed amendments to the current Marriage Act 1961 which stipulates that marriage is “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.”
In 2013, as the question of marriage equality gained traction in Australia, the High Court ruled that it was up to the federal government to enact change to existing marriage laws. That is, the federal government alone has the jurisdiction to amend the Marriage Act.
Two Liberal MPs have drafted a bill to bring about a vote on same-sex marriage, in the hopes that the issue would receive the support it needs to finally become settled law. However, despite this, Prime Minister Turnbull has expressed that he would not support a bill relating to gay marriage until there is a vote of the Australian people.
Hence, Australians who want to see change will need to participate in the plebiscite.
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