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Australia’s Same-sex Marriage Debate Off to Divisive Start

Supporters of same-sex marriage carry banners and shout slogans as they march in Sydney, Australia, Aug. 6, 2017.

Australia plans to hold a non-binding postal survey this month to gauge support for changing its Marriage Act to include same-sex couples. Campaigning on the change has started, and is already divisive and controversial, while a case challenging the survey is scheduled to be heard in Australia’s High Court.

Opponents of marriage reform in Australia are making their case in online ads and on television. In them, they claim that should same-sex couples be allowed to marry, there would be serious consequences for children, who would then be exposed to ‘radical’ views on homosexuality in schools.

Lyle Sheldon from the Coalition for Marriage says that parents’ rights would suffer.

“We want Australians to see the consequences that occur when the law around marriage is changed. This is what has occurred overseas. Parents had rights before the law was changed. After the law was changed, their rights to have their children free from compulsory radical LGBTQI sex education was taken away,” Sheldon said.

Advocates of same-sex marriages are countering this argument in one of their ad campaigns.

“The only young people affected by marriage equality are young gay people who, for the first time, will have the same dignity as everyone else in our country and they deserve that,” said a campaign commercial.

The Equality Campaign is urging Australians to support marriage reform. It believes the majority of voters believe same-sex couples should be allowed to wed.

Spokesperson Kerryn Phelps says the ‘No’ campaign ads are hurtful.

“The Australian community is now seeing these crazy messages about the implications of marriage equality and, to be honest, I think that the ads are dishonest. I think that they are victimizing vulnerable children and I think that the Australian community deserves a response,” Phelps said.

Advocates for reform say the proposed postal survey is a demonstration of weakness of the center-right Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who supports same-sex marriage, but has been forced to placate powerful right wing factions in his government.

Next week Australia’s High Court will hear a case arguing that the postal vote is illegal. The complainants say that Australia’s Bureau of Statistics, and not the government, is responsible for collecting statistical data. They also question whether the government is allowed to spend US$97 million on the postal survey without the approval of the federal parliament.

If the survey goes ahead, the final result is expected in mid-November.