Members of the federal Labor caucus voted unanimously this morning to block the government’s proposed legislation for a same-sex marriage plebiscite.
In a widely anticipated move, the Opposition decided not to support what it considers a divisive and unnecessary poll of public opinion on the issue.
Although Labor intends to keep pushing for a parliamentary vote on so-called marriage equality, its move ironically is likely to see the issue shelved until after the next federal election.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned last month that same-sex marriage could be left off the national agenda for a “very long time” if plans for a plebiscite were rejected by Labor. “If the Labor Party wants to frustrate that, well all that will mean is that the resolution of the same-sex marriage issue will be postponed potentially for a very long time,” Mr Turnbull told The Australian Financial Review.
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and several other high-profile Labor members had hinted at this decision for several weeks, preferring to maintain pressure for a parliamentary vote on the issue.
“My team and I have taken the time to sit down and listen to experts and individuals and their families who will be affected by it. I’ve struggled to find anyone who thinks it’s a good idea,” Shorten said.
“Our Parliament is the place to legislate this.” – Tanya Plibersek
“The level of community opposition to the plebiscite is quite extraordinary. The more Australians hear about Malcolm Turnbull’s plebiscite, the less they like it. Australia has never held a national opinion poll to judge anyone else’s relationship, so people are legitimately asking why this should be inflicted on LGBTI Australians and their families.”
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek told ABC radio this morning that, “what I believe is important to do is to keep up the pressure in our Parliament to see marriage equality become a reality. Our Parliament is the place to legislate this. The High Court has determined that the Parliament is the place to legislate this.”
The Coalition has adamantly refused to engage in talk of a parliamentary vote, and they may lose support from some of the minor parties should they decide to support a vote instead of a plebiscite. Andrew Broad, a Nationals MP, who supported the government in this years federal election on the basis that the Coalition would hold a plebiscite on same sex marriage, reportedly told The Guardian this morning that he would withdraw support for the government if there is a parliamentary vote on marriage without a plebiscite.
Is the blocking of the plebiscite good news for Australians?
Eternity asked a number of prominent Australian Christians, and their answers are below.
Vickie Janson, former Victorian Senate candidate for the Australian Christians and a strong supporter of the plebiscite, says, “It is bad news, I think. Everyone is ready to deal with the question of same sex marriage. People are fed up with everyone going on about it; they want to make a decision and move on. The accusation that people are too weak to have a community consultation is an admission of vulnerability by the pro same-sex marriage side that their arguments are not as strong as some people think.”
“It’s never a good move to deny the people a voice on something that affects them so much.” – Bill Muehlenberg
Mike Bird, lecturer in Theology at Melbourne’s Ridley College, says, “No [it’s not good news], because it inhibits the quickest and most transparent way of breaking the deadlock.”
Bill Muehlenberg, a conservative Christian commentator, says, “It’s never a good move to deny the people a voice on something that affects them so much; it’s a worry that they have to censor out what Australians have to say on this.
“It’s interesting that Labor were quoting a poll saying most Australians preferred not to have a plebiscite. So they’re happy to listen to the people on that issue but on this issue they don’t want to listen and go with what they say, so the hypocrisy is obvious. We know why they don’t want a plebiscite – because they’re afraid they’re going to lose. So it’s a pretty lousy way to serve the people to prevent them from having a say; it’s pretty low and reprehensible of Labor to gag the Australian people.”
The debate is going to happen whether there is a plebiscite or not. – John McClean
Scott Stephens, the editor of ABC Religion & Ethics, says, “It’s not good news in and of itself. For the refusal to support the enabling legislation to be more than a political ploy – a little piece of partisan one-upmanship – it would need to be accompanied by a determination on the part of Labor politicians themselves to exemplify the best, the most charitable and the most conciliatory rhetoric in prosecuting the case for or against same-sex marriage.
“There would need to be a full recognition of the moral obligations of politicians within a representative democracy to exemplify the other-regard and the charitable citizenship they are right to expect from the electorate.”
John McClean, vice-principal of Christ College in Sydney, says, “Changing the definition of marriage is a big step and one that all Australians should have a say about. Marriage has nurtured family life and society through human history. As Luther said it is “mother of all earthly laws” and the source of human society. The human race is learning the importance of caring for our physical environment. We now realise that apparently minor changes to the physical environment can have alarming unexpected consequences. And changing the the social environment by changing marriage has the same potential.
“It is perplexing that advocates are not willing to trust the Australian people with a decision that has enormous consequences for all families.” – Lyle Shelton
“The Presbyterian Church of Australia has made its position very clear — marriage redefinition will not have good consequences for our society and we are opposed to a redefinition. At the very least, this most significant issue of social policy in generations deserves to be determined by all Australians. I am confident that our society can debate the issue with maturity. The debate is going to happen whether there is a plebiscite or not — and such an important question should be debated.”
The Australian Christian Lobby has expressed “disappointment that ordinary Australians are being shut out from having a say about the biggest social policy change in a generation.” In a press release, managing director of ACL Lyle Shelton said, “The Coalition went to the last election promising a people’s vote and won the election. It would be a breach of trust by government members to allow any other pathway for change.
“Despite constantly claiming overwhelming public support for redefining marriage, it is perplexing that advocates are not willing to trust the Australian people with a decision that has enormous consequences for all families,” said Shelton.
Michael Kellahan, Anglican minister and executive director of religious freedom organisation Freedom for Faith, says, “It’s a bad thing but it’s such a distraction because it’s not dead; there will be ongoing twists and turns. The issue is not what happens now but what happens in 12 weeks and whether Nick Xenophon or Labor will change their position, so we don’t know the politics of the upper house at the moment.
“If the blocking of the plebiscite gives us more time to understand and explain the consequences of changing marriage that may not be a bad thing.” – Michael Kellahan
“I think it would have been better to have it. We would have had a single issue to talk about with clarity. The plebiscite was a chance to positively speak the Christian case for marriage and that can’t be done in another form. In parliament you may be able to debate an alternate bill, but the thing the plebiscite did was to have a single issue and have a where-we-stand conversation as a country.
“If the blocking of the plebiscite gives us more time to understand and explain the consequences of changing marriage that may not be a bad thing. We certainly need to address this with far more urgency than has been seen. Without being alarmist or naive this is a good chance for churches to consider how they will graciously speak the truth in love on this,” said Kellahan.
Kara Hartley, Archdeacon for Women in the Sydney Anglican Diocese (which is holding their annual Synod – church council – this week), says, “We’re supportive of the plebiscite so any move to not have one is a disappointment. We were glad when the government agreed to a plebiscite and we recognise that they went to the election with that. They’ve been elected knowing that was the direction they wanted to take and we were supportive of that so therefore the Labor Party blocking that is a disappointment to us.”
Ben Myers, lecturer in theology at United Theological College in Sydney, says, “I think it’s good news. We elect our leaders to represent us in parliament. Their job is not just to defer to the private opinions of every citizen but to represent what is best and noblest in our society. Nobody is served when the responsibilities of elected leaders are palmed off to the citizens.
A plebiscite would bring no moral clarity to the difficult question of same-sex marriage. – Ben Myers
“Direct democracy, the attempt to base decisions directly on the will of the population, is a foolish and dangerous game. A plebiscite would bring no moral clarity to the difficult question of same-sex marriage. It would simply reduce the debate to its lowest common denominators.”
Nathan Campbell, minister at Creek Road Presbyterian Church in Brisbane, says, “I didn’t think the plebiscite was the best mechanism for making a decision about same-sex marriage because I didn’t think it was consistent with the values of a liberal democracy; plebiscites seek to guide decision-makers based on what’s popular — they’re the ultimate opinion poll — I’d rather our politicians make decisions based on what’s right; and what maintains our ability to live well with people who disagree with us.
“One danger of moving away from the plebiscite and potentially moving to the better, more democratic, option of the vote on the floor of parliament is that we lose the discussion that would’ve accompanied it and that the majority view will simply be imposed on different minority views in a different form of populism.”
“I am very concerned about the cost of the plebiscite and the cost could be worth it if the result was binding.” – Rob Buckingham
Rob Buckingham, senior minister of Bayside Church in Melbourne, says, “yes, I think it’s good news for the plebiscite not to go ahead. I am very concerned about the cost of the plebiscite and the cost could be worth it if the result was binding. Because the result is non-binding; it could be a dreadful expense in addition to what the Government gives to the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ campaigns. It would be a ridiculous amount of money that could be spent on other things.
“I think a better outcome would be to take it to the next election, but not as an election issue. Bring it as a referendum, side-by-side with the next election.”
Some prayer points to help
Pray for all Australians to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry as these conversations continue.