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Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite

BREAKING NEWS: On 11 October, the Labor Caucus met and voted to block the Plebiscite (Same Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 (“the Bill”) in both Houses of Parliament.  Therefore, at the current time, it does not appear that a plebiscite will be held.

We have arrived at this position following a series of events.

In September 2016 the federal government introduced the Bill to Parliament. The Bill proposed that Australians vote on the question “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”.

In the event of a majority “Yes” vote, the government would have to have introduced legislation into parliament with the proposed amendment to the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth).  The Bill included provision for both the “Yes” and “No” campaigns to be allocated $7.5 million in funding to promote their respective causes.  

Some of the organisations that were expected to be most vocal in a campaign leading up to the plebiscite, such as the Australian Christian Lobby and Australian Marriage Equality, are registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) and are bound by a strict set of guidelines regarding their political activity.  These organisations can face deregistration if they act in breach of anti-discrimination legislation.

The current guidelines do not allow these charitable organisations to campaign for a particular political candidate, although, they do not specifically address the restrictions on the activities of these organisations in the case of votes on legislation and policy issues like the plebiscite.  A spokeswoman for the ACNC said that the event of a plebiscite “additional specific guidelines for charities would be released”.

Concerns have been raised that the ACNC’s restrictions would not be sufficient to prevent the plebiscite inciting vilification and discrimination against the LGBTI community.  There were concerns about the possibility of a plebiscite only serving to engender divisiveness and discrimination within the wider Australian community.

Katherine Driscoll, Solicitor

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