AT 10am on Wednesday, the head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, David Kalisch, will draw a line under months of often heated debate when he announces the result of the federal government’s same-sex marriage postal survey.
As numerous polls before this official survey had shown majority support for same-sex marriage in Australia, there is a solid, but cautious, belief that the “yes” vote will carry the day.
A strong turnout for a voluntary process – the ABS said last week that almost 80 per cent of the forms it sent out had been returned – appears to indicate a determination on the public’s behalf to have the issue dealt with.
A “no” vote will kill political support for same-sex marriage dead in its tracks. Having gone to the people, our elected representatives could hardly turn their back on the result, were it to be a negative.
But if, as most pundits expect, the “yes” vote carries the day, there is still uncertainty as to whether Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be able to deliver on the promise he made in August to have same-sex marriage legal by the end of the year.
To start with, the citizenship debate has stripped the Coalition of two of its lower house members, Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander, and much of the year’s precious remaining parliamentary time may well be taken up with Labor testing a minority government’s strength on the floor of the house.
On top of this, Victorian Liberal Senator James Paterson has put forward a second private member’s bill on the subject – arguing for more religious freedoms – in competition with the one prepared by Western Australian Liberal Senator Dean Smith and supported by the Labor opposition.
The situation, then, looks decidedly uncertain, even if the survey result is a “yes”.
In this space on September 27 we wrote: The Newcastle Herald respects the right of all to have an opinion but it stands up for human rights and is proud to support marriage equality.”
Even accepting the complexities within the debate, this is first and foremost about bringing a once-excluded minority into the broader fold of society. It empowers this minority to partake of a distinctly conservative institution – formal marriage – without taking anything from the majority of the population who take that right for granted.