Warren Entsch has become a hero to all sorts of people for his relentless championing of a vote on same-sex marriage. When Tony Abbott diverted this push into a plebiscite, Entsch championed that as part of whatever it takes to get the issue to a vote.

Abbott is gone, but his commitment to bad governance lingers on in Eric Abetz, who is now attempting to make a ludicrous separation between the plebiscite and a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage, as if the former might be regarded as just some sort of very expensive opinion poll.

Entsch has proposed instead that the Parliament pass legislation now that would trigger a change in the Marriage Act if the plebiscite results in a majority “yes” vote after the next election.

While this might seem like an attractive solution to many — as a way of overcoming the desperate tactics of those opposed to same-sex marriage — supporters of such move should think carefully about structures and processes this would put in place.

There are all sorts of ways to make parliamentary democracy better, and more representative, but establishing a principle of easy override is not the way to do it. Those who would welcome it on same-sex marriage might not like the results it would achieve on matters of refugees, taxes, overseas aid, the death penalty and much more.

A plebiscite may be a problematic way to win the struggle for same-sex marriage — as Crikey has argued before, Parliament should just pass the damn thing — but when the yes vote comes in, the win will be legitimised beyond argument. And MPs who continue to vote against same-sex marriage even when the desire for it is overwhelming will be setting themselves up for a nasty divorce from power at the next election.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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