The same-sex marriage plebiscite is dead. Now what?

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The opposition has shut down Malcolm Turnbull’s campaign for a February 2017 plebiscite on same-sex marriage. According to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten the plebiscite would have been an expensive and divisive exercise that is ultimately non-binding. But the debate about whether same-sex marriage should be legalised in Australia rages on.

What happens now?

According to Dr Geoffrey Robinson, Senior Lecturer in Australian Studies at Deakin University, not much more on this issue will happen for some time. ‘The Labor party will continue to wrap themselves as the pro-gay marriage party. It enables Labor to hold the ground as the contemporary party,’ he points out. Mr Shorten has consistently argued that a plebiscite delays real action. ‘We could make marriage equality a reality today by having a free vote in the parliament and that is what should be done,’ he said. However, the reality is Prime Minister Turnbull does not have the support to enable a free vote.

Dr Robinson explains that within the Liberal Party there are ‘hardcore conservatives’ such as Cory Bernardi who’d vehemently oppose a vote. There are also ‘soft conservatives’ who’d support a plebiscite, but not a free vote. ‘It’s a lost opportunity for Turnbull. He could have seized the opportunity and used it to symbolise a new direction for the party. It’s already come back to bite him,’ Dr Robinson adds.

For Mr Shorten’s free vote to occur, Dr Robinson says Labor would need to be in the position of power. So as long as the Liberal government is in charge and Turnbull is beholden to conservative factions, marriage equality is likely to be used as a political device. ‘Sometime in the future, a Labor government will legislate for same-sex marriage and the issue will be over,’ Dr Robinson says.

'The Labor party will continue to wrap themselves as the pro-gay marriage party. It enables Labor to hold the ground as the contemporary party'

Dr Geoffrey Robinson,
Deakin University

What is the right thing to do?

Although the marriage rights of same-sex couples have been used as a political device, Deakin University philosophy lecturer Dr Patrick Stokes says that Australians would be wise to explore the philosophy of love and sex in order to arrive at a fair conclusion. In a first-year unit he encourages students to explore the same sex-marriage debate through a number of perspectives. They consider the argument for ‘natural law’ and the tradition of marriage being something that occurs between a man and a woman. By contrast, they consider arguments in favour of same-sex marriage, such as that of philosopher Richard Mohr, who suggests that ‘substantive marriages’ already exist. Dr Stokes recently highlighted Mohr’s understanding of marriage as ‘intimacy given substance in the medium of everyday life, the day-to-day, the fused intersection of love’s sanctity and necessity demand’.

‘This is a classic example of a liberal democracy clash,’ Dr Stokes says. But, he believes that when Australia reaches the point of legislating, the moral answer is clear. ‘In legislating to say a right exists, you’re recognising a right – you’re implicitly admitting that you’re getting it wrong,’ he concludes.

Study issues of philosophy and politics as part of a Bachelor of Arts at Deakin University.

 

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Dr Geoffrey Robinson
Dr Geoffrey Robinson

Senior Lecturer in Australian Studies, Deakin University
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