politics

Everything you need to know about marriage equality before you vote.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten pledged that if elected Prime Minister the first piece of legislation he will introduce to parliament is an amendment to the Marriage Act.

In his final pre-election address at the National Press Club, he promised to change the definition of marriage in Australia to no longer be between ‘a man’ and ‘a women’, but between ‘two people’.

It was an unequivocal confirmation of Labor’s ongoing position to make same-sex marriage a reality within its first 100 days of government.

Unfortunately, the Coalition’s stance on the issue is nowhere near as clear cut.

Soon after becoming Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull confirmed he’d stick with Tony Abbott’s plan to hold a plebiscite on the issue, taking it to a public vote — that is, despite his previous calls for a free vote on the issue.

In October he told the parliament his government would “abide by the decision made by the Australian people” and anyone who said otherwise was “not living in the real world”.

Last week though, he conceded the members of his party wouldn’t be bound by the public’s wishes.

Confused? We don’t blame you.

So, here’s everything you need to know about marriage equality before you go to the polls on Saturday.

First things first, what’s the Marriage Act?

The Australian Marriage Act 1961 is a law made by the parliament which regulates the rules by which a marriage can be recognised in Australia.

At present, only unions between men and women can be recognised as marriages with all that that entails.

So, what would a plebiscite mean?

A plebiscite is a nationwide vote to gauge public feedback on a political proposal.

Aside from being incredibly time-consuming— not to mention setting taxpayers back a whopping $160 million — plebiscites are also non-binding.

Australian Marriage Equality asked voters what they’d rather spend the money on (post continues after video):

This essentially means, that even if the majority of Australians vote in favour of marriage equality, which, given the polling on this issue they are widely expected to, a bill to amend the Marriage Act would still have to pass through parliament and there’s no iron-clad guarantee of that happening.

Turnbull argues MPs would respect the will of the Australian people, but some of his own party members, like outspoken conservative senator Cory Bernardi, have given no such assurance.

Both party leaders attended Mardis Gras 2016 but only one will ensure same-sex marriage becomes a reality. Source: Facebook

"The tradition in the Liberal Party is that on matters of this kind it is a free vote," he told the ABC.

"I have no doubt that if the plebiscite is carried as I believe that it will be, that you will see an overwhelming majority of MPs and senators voting for it."

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Labor have rubbished the idea of holding a plebiscite, calling it a "taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia".

"Why are we spending $160 million on an opinion poll that the Government is going to ignore?," Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek asked, a sentiment echoed by marriage equality advocates and the Greens.

As senator Penny Wong pointed out on Lateline on Monday night, if it were to fail, it could actually bring the movement to a halt altogether.

"This vote has been designed by [Senators] Cory Bernardi, Eric Abetz and many others who are opposed to marriage equality. They only want a plebiscite because they think they can make it work to defeat equality," she said.

Where does the public stand on the issue?

Polling consistently shows the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage and, indeed, recent data from ABC's election Vote Compass shows a plebiscite would likely be carried.

The thing is, most LGBTI+ Australians do not support one, regardless of the outcome it could achieve.

"LGBTs are quite scared of a plebiscite," researcher Jennifer Power told the ABC.

"In the lead-up to the Irish plebiscite there was a lot of homophobia, so people see the plebiscite as open slather on homophobia."

The data also showed women were more likely to support same-sex marriage, but the biggest supporters were young Australians, with more than 68 per cent of voters aged 18 to 35 disagreeing that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

On ABC's Q&A program on Monday, a young voter drew a comparison between Britain's Brexit referendum and the Liberals' promised plebiscite on same-sex marriage. Broadcaster Alan Jones responded (post continues after video):

So, how do I decide who to vote for?

Wherever you stand personally on the issue of same-sex marriage, Australian Marriage Equality have created a tool to let you check the position of your local candidates.

All you have to do is head to www.vote4equality.org.au and put in your postcode.

The right to marry the person you love, whoever that person may be, is one of the hotly debated topics in Australian politics — it's also one of the most divisive and deeply personal for voters.

Marriage equality won’t be decided by one party or leader, it will be decided by individual MPs voting according to their own consciences if and when legislation to amend the Marriage Act goes before parliament.

That said, a potential Labor government offers the quickest, cheapest and safe path to change.

So, when you head to polling booths on Saturday, keep in mind who you want representing you when the time finally comes.

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