The question reads, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Ballots asking it have been posted to Australia’s 16m registered voters. They have until early November to return them; the result will be announced on November 15th. Rallies for and against are being held around the country. Earlier this month 30,000 supporters of gay marriage gathered outside Sydney’s town hall, waving placards with slogans like, “It’s a love story baby, just say yes.” One of those saying yes is Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister. But many Australians criticise him for calling the vote at all. Opinion polls consistently show that most Australians support gay marriage. Proponents say a simple vote in parliament, which also has a majority in favour, would have saved money and avoided a divisive campaign.
But if there is relatively little debate among Australians, there is a great deal within Mr Turnbull’s (conservative) Liberal Party and its coalition partner, the Nationals. In 2004 a Liberal government, led by John Howard, amended the previously ambiguous law on marriage to define it as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”. Tony Abbott, a more recent Liberal prime minister, tried to duck demands that parliament reverse this change by proposing in 2015 that Australians vote in a non-binding plebiscite instead. Mr Turnbull, for his part, once supported a parliamentary vote. But to win the support of conservative MPs for his campaign to supplant Mr Abbott two years ago, he accepted the idea of a plebiscite.
Other parties, naturally, have been reluctant to help the Liberals paper over these internal differences. The Senate, where Mr Turnbull’s government lacks a majority, rejected a bill to hold a plebiscite. Mr Turnbull’s answer in August was to conduct a postal “survey” instead—a step that did not require parliament’s approval.
Full Article: Australia’s controversial gay marriage vote gets under way.