The decision, an inevitability since Labor pledged to oppose the referendum – known in Australia as a “plebiscite” – four weeks ago, will force a new conversation about marriage equality that will divide the Coalition and threatens to destabilise the Turnbull government.
Conservatives will resist any attempt to shift away from the policy, demanding no action on same-sex marriage until at least the next election. Most observers expect any change on that front would blow up Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.
In a final defence of the policy he once opposed, Attorney-General George Brandis warned that a plebiscite was the only foreseeable way to achieve same-sex marriage and that if defeated, “the cause of marriage equality will be delayed for years”.
Brandis, a supporter of marriage equality, said Labor’s decision to block the plebiscite was “one of the more cynical exercises in politics that I have ever seen”. He implored the Senate to “stop playing politics with gay people’s lives” and “get out of the way”.
But senators had already made up their minds, voting 29-33 against the plebiscite just after 9.30pm on Monday.
Such a pity that party politics have got in the way of something which most Australians want. My personal preference is for a vote in Parliament as happened in NZ. But the Coalition got elected on a policy of a referendum and that should have been allowed to occur.