Child marriages and polygamy could be allowed under the Marriage Act unless marriage equality is defined in the constitution, according to One Nation senator-elect Pauline Hanson.
The re-election of the Coalition government means that Australians might go back to the polls before the end of the year to vote on whether to legalise same-sex marriage in a plebiscite estimated to cost at least $160 million (that’s just for the AEC to run the poll, not including potential costs for the yes and no cases).
Before that happens, Parliament will need to pass legislation to enable the plebiscite to happen. Labor and the Greens have not ruled out passing the legislation, but it remains a very real possibility that the Coalition could need crossbench support for the plebiscite in the Senate.
In such an event, Hanson and any other One Nation senators would be crucial. But the party is not in favour of a plebiscite; One Nation policy favours a referendum, despite the High Court finding that no change to the constitution is needed to change the Marriage Act.
A spokesperson for Hanson told Crikey that a referendum would “provide a fresh and clear definition of marriage” that could not be altered by future governments without another referendum.
“A plebiscite simply gives the green light for legislative change to include same-sex marriage. However, that legislation could run the risk of being revoked or further altered to pave the way for reducing the marriageable age or the introduction of polygamy,” the spokesperson said.
The statement suggests one particular argument that could be advanced during the plebiscite debate could be that of “creeping sharia law”. That is, if gay people are allowed to get married, then Muslims will push to be allowed child brides. One Nation candidates are already on the record as warning of the “Islamic culture” of child marriages coming to Australia.
A referendum would be a much larger hurdle for marriage equality because it would require a majority of the population and a majority in the states to approve the change in order to pass.
While Turnbull said before the election that the plebiscite could be held before the end of this year, there is already a push from the hard right of politics to delay the plebiscite. There is speculation the Nationals may seek to delay the plebiscite in the party’s new — secret — Coalition agreement with the Liberal Party. Senator Cory Bernardi has also suggested the issue could be put on the backburner while the Coalition heals after its poor election performance.
The Australian Christian Lobby, in a statement that shocks no one, has also suggested a plebiscite before the end of the year is looking “shaky” and said it should be delayed because the group, which is quoted in most TV and radio interviews on the subject, feels its side of the debate hadn’t gotten enough of a hearing yet.
Australian Marriage Equality has estimated that, while the make-up of the new Parliament has yet to be finalised, the numbers are now there to pass marriage equality into law if a free vote on the matter were held.