Finance Minister Penny Wong has joined other Labor MPs in rejecting the idea of a referendum or plebiscite on marriage equality. The possibility was first raised by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last week as an option for Labor to move forward on marriage equality if Tony Abbott refused to allow the Coalition a conscience vote on the issue.
Wong, who has been named Leader of the Government in the Senate in Rudd’s new cabinet, said a referendum is not the way to achieve marriage equality.
“I believe marriage equality will only be achieved when all parliamentarians are able to vote on their conscience,” Wong told News Ltd.
“While an increasing majority of the public support marriage equality, a referendum would not be without risk. Remember the referendum on the republic: although the majority of Australians supported it, John Howard and Tony Abbott ran a very good fear campaign, and the referendum was lost in every state.”
Openly gay Labor Senator and co-convener of Rainbow Labor Louise Pratt also criticised the prospect of a referendum, but praised Rudd’s show of support for marriage equality.
Equal Love convener Ali Hogg told Star Observer she agreed with Wong’s concern a referendum could provide a platform for homophobic rhetoric from marriage equality activists, but was not so sure a referendum was a bad idea.
“I’m not as afraid of the referendum as some of the other marriage equality advocates,” she said.
“Of course, we would prefer to see it passed through Parliament and as soon as possible, but if it looks like it’s going to be unachievable through Parliament, I think a referendum could be a way we can win equality in Australia, particularly since we know the majority of Australians do support marriage equality.”
The comments from Labor parliamentarians follow a statement from Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier this week on youth radio station Triple J that the new government would be able to make marriage equality happen in Australia.
“While marriage equality is a matter for a conscience vote, history has shown that the removal of discrimination in Australia has been led by Labor,” Albanese said later to News Ltd.