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Turnbull Says You’ll Get a Vote on Australian Same-Sex Marriage in 2016

The Prime Minister has laid down a timeline for a public vote, which could cost anywhere between $160 million and $525 million.

The marriage equality plebiscite that you probably didn't ask for will likely be held this year, according to Malcolm Turnbull. The Prime Minister promised a public vote on same-sex marriage will be held "as soon as possible" after the July 2 election, "probably" by the end of 2016.

This is, of course, assumes a Liberal Party victory; the Labor party have pledged to legalise same-sex marriage within 100 days if they take office. The Greens have also committed to a parliamentary vote on the matter.


Discussing the plebiscite Monday, Turnbull said the early election would leave plenty of time to organise a marriage equality vote. "Given that the election is on 2 July, we do have ample time between then and the end of the year. So I would expect it to be held this calendar year," he said.

This is the first time the Prime Minister has publicly committed to a 2016 plebiscite, although Attorney-General George Brandis made similar comments in March.

There's little detail about the actual plebiscite right now—we do know it will be non-binding (i.e. the government doesn't have to legalise same-sex marriage even if Australia votes "yes"). Officials have also said it will ask a "straightforward question" about support for the definition of marriage to be changed to include same-sex couples.

Gay marriage activists and groups such as Australian Marriage Equality are opposed to a popular vote on the issue, citing the mental harm a plebiscite campaign would cause to LGBT citizens. In 2015, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) submitted a report to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee urging them to reconsider the move.

"While the APS fully supports marriage equality, the APS believes that the process for achieving equality should not be by means of a popular vote," the report reads.

"Firstly, a public vote is likely to present significant risks to the psychological health and wellbeing of those most affected. Second, marriage equality is a human rights and equal opportunity issue and therefore on principle, should be a matter for Australian law and our parliamentary system, not a popular vote."


Attorney-General Brandis has previously said that the government will not suspend anti-discrimination law for the duration of the same-sex marriage plebiscite campaign.

The federal government has estimated that a plebiscite campaign and vote would cost the Australian public around $160 million. However, in March this year PricewaterhouseCoopers calculated the "real cost" of the plebiscite to be around $525 million. This is based on estimates of $281 million for the time cost of voting, $158 million for the voting itself, $66 million for campaigning, and $20 million for mental health harms to 50,000 LGBTI Australians.

Fifteen countries around the world—including the United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand—already legally recognise same sex marriage. Currently, the Australian government does not recognise same-sex marriages certificates obtained overseas or allow same-sex marriages ceremonies to be performed here.

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