It has turned into a complex political and legal issue that has divided public opinion, but the Australian government says it is confident it has found a way forward.
The ruling conservatives say they will make a second attempt this week to get the support of the Senate for a compulsory plebiscite on whether to allow same-sex marriage.
But if it fails again, as many expect, the government says it will hold a non-compulsory ‘postal vote’ on the issue in November.
Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Prime Minister, made the announcement in a news conference.
“All Australians will have their say,” he insisted. “They will get the opportunity to express their opinion on the issue of whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, fulfilling the commitment we made at the election.”
The Senate, the upper house of the Australian parliament, rejected the government’s plebiscite plan last November and experts say unless there is a major upset it is likely to reject the government’s second attempt.
Turnbull says the compulsory national vote is the government’s favoured option but the voluntary postal ballot would be used if that fails.
But critics, including gay rights groups, have been urging the government to simply organise a conscience vote in parliament and let MPs decide on the issue themselves, to avoid divisive campaigning.
Supporters of a plebiscite, however, argue that it is important that everyone has a right to have a say on the issue.
It is estimated the cost of holding ‘postal ballot’ would be 122 million Australian dollars.