Australians prepare to vote in controversial marriage equality plebiscite

Australia's politicians are ramping up campaigning efforts as a plebiscite on legalizing same-sex marriage looms large.

The plebiscite, which will be conducted using postal ballots over the next several months, has beomce a hot-button issue in Australian politics.  The country's conservative government has resisted calls to allow MPs to vote on extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, with right-wing hardliners in the governing Liberal and National parties preferring to hold a national vote on the issue first.

However, moderates in the governing coalition, as well as critics in the centre-left opposition parties, have raised concerns that the plebiscite's results will not be binding, meaning MPs could still vote down marriage equality in parliament even if the public endorses the measure.  

In addition, participation in the postal vote will not be compulsory, as is the case for most elections in the country, which has left some advocates worried the result will not actually be reflective of popular opinion in the country.  Most opinion polls have shown that marriage equality is favoured by the overwhelming majority of the Australian public.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who favours marriage equality, urged voters to participate in the plebiscite, even though they wouldn't face a traditional fine for failing to participate.  In particular, he urged LGBT+ people to not participate in a planned boycott of the vote, saying it would probably backfire.

“I can understand an LGBTI person receiving a survey with the Australian coat of arms on the envelope, I wouldn’t blame you if you just wanted to chuck it in the bin," he told The Australian newspaper this morning.  "But let me say it to you. That is what they want you to do. The strongest support of this survey have been the vocal opponents against marriage equality, they have stacked the deck. The opponents of marriage equality have set this process up to fail.

Many Australian MPs, such as senior Labor Party Senator Penny Wong, have also expressed concerns that campaigning in the plebiscite vote will be divisive and expose LGBT+ people to vitriol.  In an emotional speech to the country's upper house yesterday, the openly gay Senator said, "This is not a unifying moment.  It's exposing our children to that kind of hatred." She urged conservatives who plan to campaign for a "No" vote to call out disrespectful rhetoric during the campaign.