Australia turns back on gay vote
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull backed away from a pledge that the government would hold a public vote on same-sex marriage later this year if it is reelected. The government said it was committed to holding a plebiscite after the election but had not committed further to the timing. Australia has been widely criticized by human rights groups for its inaction over gay rights.
During the colonial era, Australia's laws on same sex relationships evolved out of British legislation. Homosexuality was punishable by death until 1899, when the penalty was lowered to life imprisonment. Over the years, laws regarding same-sex relationships evolved to be more accommodative of people's sexual orientation and personal choices. However, same-sex marriages remain illegal in Australia, even though same-sex civil unions are recognized.
Australia's Marriage Act defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and makes no mention or exception toward same-sex couples. This has caused considerable controversy because same-sex couples, though recognized, do not enjoy any of the entitlement laws and civil protection offered to heterosexual couples. Australia's Catholic Bishops strongly opposed same-sex marriages and have even issued pastoral letters regarding the same.
Even though the UK, France and Ireland took steps to recognize same-sex partnerships, Australia's former PM Abbott remained non-supportive of the cause. Officially, the Liberal Party's stance has been to avoid the issue of same-sex marriage, while the Labor Party has done little to raise the issue in Parliament. As of June 2015, there are 3 bills in Parliament in support of same-sex marriages.
Australia's former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was staunchly critical and vocal about his views on same-sex marriages. His opponents have called him a hypocrite because his own sister Christine Forster is in a same-sex partnership.
Australian MP Warren Entsch made a formal proposal to table a cross-party private members bill in parliament seeking to legalize same-sex marriages. The move is one of the first towards granting same-sex couples the same constitutional protections offered to heterosexual couples. Entsch said private polls suggested that 70% of Australians support gay marriage. However, Australia's former PM Abbott remained against amending the Marriage Act.
Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull proposed to hold a plebiscite to determine if same-sex marriages should be allowed. However, Australia's Senate has dismissed the idea stating that the cost of holding a plebiscite and its social rammifications are too far reaching. In addition, the Senate reminded Mr Turnbull that under Australian law, a plebiscite is not legally binding over parliament.