A contentious postal survey on same-sex marriage began in Australia on Tuesday, with ballots delivered across the vast continent ahead of an expected fractious campaign between the “yes” and “no” sides.
While there has been growing support for marriage equality, with 70 per cent of those surveyed in a Fairfax Media poll on Tuesday backing the “yes” campaign, Australia is yet to legalise such unions despite more than a decade of political wrangling.
The conservative government chose an unusual approach — a voluntary and non-binding postal vote — after an election promise of a national plebiscite was twice rejected by parliament’s upper house, the Senate.
If most Australians vote “yes” to same-sex marriage, the government will move to hold a parliamentary free vote on changing the marriage laws. It will not do so if there is a “no” outcome.
“I encourage everyone to fill in the survey and return it. I’ll be voting ‘yes’ as will (my wife) Lucy,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told commercial radio this week.
Turnbull, a moderate, is opposed by some members of his conservative ruling Liberal-National coalition on the issue and the postal vote is seen as a compromise.
The start of the ballot process followed weekend rallies for and against changing marriage laws, with thousands of people dressed in rainbow colours packing central Sydney on Sunday to back the “yes” vote.
Hundreds of “no” campaigners marched on Saturday, arguing that changes would infringe religious freedom and children’s rights.
Up to 15 million Australians will be asked: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” on the ballot paper and given the option of marking “yes” or “no” boxes.
But “yes” campaigners have said this method of collecting votes, via the postal system, could be less effective at engaging younger tech-savvy Australians, who are seen as more supportive of changing the laws.
National Party MPs have also voiced concern about Australia Post’s abilities to deliver the ballots to rural areas across the vast country.