The Australian plebiscite on gay marriage is finally over

It took a couple of months and was filled with charges and countercharges of dirty tricks and the suppression of free speech, but the Australian plebiscite on gay marriage is finally finished. The people responded in large numbers and in the end, the tally ran fairly close to what the current polling had indicated. More than sixty percent of respondents voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage and now the Parliament is vowing to bring it to a vote before Christmas. (Associated Press)

Australians supported gay marriage in a postal survey that ensures Parliament will consider legalizing same-sex weddings this year.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday 62 percent of registered voters who responded in the unprecedented survey favored reform.

The conservative government promised to allow a bill creating marriage equality to be considered in Parliament in the final two-week session that is due to end on Dec. 7.

So that’s it, right? We’re all done with this food fight? Well… not quite. There are a few more logistical hurdles and the political fallout will no doubt last for much longer.

First of all, this was a non-binding referendum. It didn’t change the laws in any way, but was billed as an official tally of the public opinion. The Parliament still has to craft an actual bill (and there’s already one ready to go), debate it, vote on it and send it to Malcolm Turnbull for his signature. Some of the most conservative members are still vowing to vote against it, but now that they all have the results from each of their districts in hand it sounds like the vote will go through.

Turnbull remains in something of a tricky situation, though he’s navigated through this minefield fairly cleverly so far. He’s publicly stated his support for gay marriage in the past, but he hasn’t been very aggressive about it. His ruling coalition still only holds the slimmest of margins (a single seat) to hang on to their majority. That coalition includes some of the aforementioned very conservative members and if he ticks any of them off too much he might find himself out of the Prime Minister’s office.

So rather than sticking it in the faces of his conservative partners, Turnbull will likely wind up signing the bill with more of a resigned, vox populi, vox dei type of message and quietly call it a day. That’s a relatively easy case for him to make since he’s supposed to represent all of the people, not a single region, and 133 of the 150 districts in Australia delivered majority support for the measure.

One interesting side note here is the turnout for this plebiscite. In Australia, voting in the regular, scheduled elections is mandatory, but since this was a non-binding referendum it was optional. Still, more than 80% of citizens participated. The idea of mandatory voting in the United States is almost entirely verboten, but the Aussies do manage to turn out an impressive amount of people to participate in their democracy. If we could get national turnout up near the 80% level, how much do you imagine things would change in America?