Last week, the Senate officially voted against the enabling legislation for a national plebiscite on marriage. It has been 15 months since the Coalition government under then- Prime Minister Tony Abbott outlined its intention to allow all Australians a vote in the proposed change to this most fundamental institution, and so the concept of a plebiscite has been part of the marriage debate for at least that long, and perhaps even longer.
What happens next?
The answer is not really that simple because, if one thing is certain, it is that there are always surprises in Australian politics.
There are at least a few options:
- Nothing could happen. The Coalition government could keep its promise to only make a change to the Marriage Act following a plebiscite, and so the Parliament could just return to the business of running the country.
- A plebiscite could go ahead. The plebiscite legislation only went down 29-33 in the Senate. If three senators change their mind, then plebiscite legislation can go through.
- A parliamentary vote could happen. The cabinet of the Liberal Party could change its mind and policy and present a bill to Parliament for a free vote. This is unlikely, though, given that a plebiscite is part of the Coalition agreement with the Nationals, and Andrew Broad MP threatened to resign if the Liberals change their mind. A government which enjoys only a razor-thin majority cannot afford such instability.
- Something else could happen. Same-sex marriage advocate Rodney Croome last week penned a piece outlining their strategy. He suggested introducing co-sponsored legislation into the Senate, because it will likely pass in that House. There would then be unprecedented pressure on Coalition MPs to cross the floor in the Lower House. He says there will be simultaneous pressure to change the minds of specific Coalition MPs, and to target Catholic Labor MPs to change their mind. This is not a misprint, he said that Catholic politicians would be purposefully targeted. If their tactics are successful, then a vote to change the Marriage Act could be pushed through.
But while the next step in the political process is largely unknown, there is one thing we know for certain: the battle for marriage will continue.
We know for certain that those campaigning for the redefinition of marriage will continue their relentless campaign, and will likely increase their efforts given that the supposedly “inevitable” introduction of same-sex marriage does not now have a clear way forward. And I would not be surprised if their tactics became a little more desperate and disruptive. For example, the director of the Sydney Mardi Gras suggested that advocates might like to park their cars on the Harbour Bridge, demonstrating their frustration at the delay on a vote by causing frustrating delays for Sydney motorists. [Part of me is hoping they do this, because stopping traffic is not really the best way to make friends and influence people.]
Instead of preparing to defend marriage in a plebiscite, those of us who understand that marriage is and can only ever be between a man and a woman will need to be fighting on several different battlegrounds simultaneously.
Now is not a time for rest; it is a time to work. It is a time to become engaged (if we haven’t been already) and see the defeat of this legislation as being a gift to us, giving us the time and space to equip ourselves to defend marriage, not only for ourselves but for generations to come.
We also need to remember that this is not simply about marriage. catholicTalk has been running a series on the consequences for every Australian in changing the definition of marriage, and it includes things like personal freedoms, the education of children and the removal of gender from society.
Keep an eye on catholicTalk for more information. Also, I strongly encourage you to sign up to Marriage Alliance for current information and opportunities to volunteer, and to make use of the Marriage Equals and Marriage Info resources provided by the Archdiocese of Sydney.
It matters not what the political landscape may be and following it all too closely could be a distraction from our primary task, which is to witness to the beauty of marriage and family life with our words and actions at all times.
Monica Doumit, Catholic Talk contributor