This article was originally posted on Govora in 2015. It is presented here without editing or modification from the version which was published.
The religious right-wing is getting in a hissy-fit about Bill Shorten’s recent comments about his opposition to the marriage plebiscite, especially eternally confused News Corp. columnist Miranda Devine who went as far as saying that Shorten “has no faith in free speech”. There are many good reasons to oppose the plebiscite and few good reasons to support the plebiscite.
The legal requirement for a plebiscite on this issue is null. Section 51(xxi) clearly states that the Parliament can legislate in regard to marriage, no strings attached. That’s exactly how the ban was instituted in the first place. As other countries, notably the Netherlands, began to recognise same-sex marriages de jure, the Howard government closed a potential loophole by imposing a discriminatory definition of marriage, which previously only existed within precedent. There is no constitutional requirement that marriage be opposite-sex. It should also be noted that because there is no constitutional provision, the proposed plebiscite is not a referendum under Section 128 and many conservative Liberal MPs have said that they will not see the results as binding. It’s important to note that the plebiscite as non-binding because if it carries (which according to polls, it will), a Liberal government would not be required to actually act.
The economic impact would also be dismal, a pwc report placed the cost of a plebiscite should it be held on a Saturday at over A$500 million, mainly in lost productivity due to people who would be otherwise be working taking time off to vote, which would likely result in temporary business closures. It would only cost the price of the Parliament’s time to fix this broken law but the Liberals want to make it cost more than a battleship.
The point that the people should have a say is valid. However, it seems that almost all of the people calling for a referendum don’t support same-sex marriage anyway and they seem to live in a bubble where everyone else they know also don’t support it giving them the false idea that this isn’t what the people want even though the majority of polls from Newspoll and Ipsos from the last few years have shown the majority support it. Since 2010, Ipsos has reported that over 57% of Australians support same-sex marriage and in 2015, that figure was at 68%. The opposition has fallen from 37% in 2010 to 25% in 2015. The plebiscite is clearly only happening to appease the religiously-heavy and homophobes.
There is also the argument that Senator Penny Wong made against a plebiscite saying that it would “license hate speech to those who need little encouragement”. Or, in simpleton language, it would give homophobes more opportunities to harass people in homosexual relationships and create harmful anti-gay rhetoric. As we have seen from people like Cory Bernadi, leaders in the straight-marriage camp would rather use ad hominem attacks and provide slippery-slope fallacies rather than engage in intelligent discussion – contrary to Mr Bernadi’s slogan of “common sense starts here”.
For all of these reasons, it should be clear why a plebiscite is unwanted and would be legally pointless and potentially legally null as well as harmful to the economy and to an already oppressed group of people.