AUSTRALIANS will be asked to vote on legalising same-sex marriage in February next year, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expected to announce the pushed-back plebiscite in a party room meeting next month.

Turnbull had previously said the government hoped to hold the public vote by the end of this year.

However, a spokesperson for Turnbull told Fairfax that the government had been advised to push the plebiscite back by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

“The government has always said that a decision on same-sex marriage will be made by a vote of all Australians in a national plebiscite to be held as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.

“That commitment hasn’t changed… late last week the AEC provided advice that strongly recommended against the conduct of a plebiscite this calendar year.”

The question expected to be asked during the plebiscite next year is: “Do you approve of a law to permit people of the same sex to marry?”

The wording of this question has led activists in the LGBTI community to question how inclusive it is.

Lobby group Just.Equal’s spokesperson Brian Greig believes the wording of the question opens the door to exclusion and segregation.

“Many trans and intersex people are not legally or medically recognised as being either male or female,” he said.

“This is why the federal government allows the use of the ‘X’ category on passports in relation to gender, rather than the ‘M’ or ‘F’ choice.

“The wording is also deeply concerning because it suggests the government wants to create a separate area of marriage law only for same-sex couples, rather than include them in existing laws.”

Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby believes the plebiscite will create a dangerous precedent where MPs avoid making decisions on controversial issues, and opt for unnecessary public votes instead.

“Our Parliament, our parliamentary institutions in Australia and elsewhere are really not working all that well at the moment and what we should be doing is strengthening parliament and ensuring it gets on with the job,” Justice Kirby told ABC radio.

For the plebiscite to go ahead, a bill enabling it will still need to pass parliament, by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The AEC has previously estimated a plebiscite will cost taxpayers around $160 million.

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