Australia's LGBT community is set to endure a non-binding, non-compulsory national postal vote to decide if we deserve marriage equality.
After a two hour party room emergency meeting on Monday, the Liberal Party voted to continue the government’s plebiscite policy on marriage equality rather than allow a free vote in parliament.
The meeting was called after five government MPs threatened to cross the floor to force a free vote.
Today Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann outlined the government’s plan to send the doomed plebiscite back to the Senate this week and then hold a non-binding, non-compulsory postal vote if, as expected, the Senate again rejects the plebiscite plan.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will conduct the postal vote, assisted by the Australian Electoral Commission. Australians enrolled to vote will begin receiving ballot papers by September 12 and will have until November 7 to return their forms. They will be asked whether the Marriage Act should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry.
If a postal plebiscite returns a majority in favour of same-sex marriage, Coalition MPs will have a conscience vote on a private members bill to change the marriage act. This will be done within the last two sitting weeks of parliament this year.
In a press conference today, the Prime Minister defended the postal vote, saying "Strong leaders carry out their promises, weak leaders break them.”
"I'm a strong leader. I made that promise again and again… you heard me say again and again that every Australian will have a say on this issue."
The government is confident that a postal vote run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics instead of the Electoral Commission will withstand a High Court challenge by marriage equality advocates, however the Labor Party and marriage equality advocates believe the vote may be unconstitutional.
“The Commonwealth can’t spend money without legislation in the parliament authorising the expenditure of that money, unless it’s part of the ordinary activities of a department,” Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told Sky News today.
“On no view could the conduct of a national voluntary postal vote be seen as part of the ordinary activities of any of the commonwealth departments.”
Reaction to the postal vote announcement has been fierce and negative.
Australian Marriage Equality co-chair Alex Greenwich described the decision as “a national disgrace."
“Rather than delivering marriage equality the government continues to delay it and disappoint Australians who want the parliament to move forward,” he told the Nine Network.
Professor of Politics at the University Of Western Australia and Sky News commentator, Peter Van Onselen, wrote on twitter that “Advocating the postal plebiscite with a straight face is surely Malcolm Turnbull's most embarrassing moment in public life.”
On The Today Show this morning, Karl Stefanovic slammed the decision, saying "A non-binding, non-compulsory postal vote is complete BS.”
"In my opinion, there have been far too many column inches, far too much airtime, far too much taxpayer time and money wasted on an issue I believe should be decided within the parliament."
"Why do we elect officials if not to make decisions that reflect our beliefs?"
"So let's get on with it. Pull your fingers out in Canberra and get on with it."