Australian Marriage Equality could be preparing to run a campaign supporting same-sex marriage in the looming plebiscite, but the group is far from giving up the fight for a free vote in Parliament.

It’s not the only one. As Crikey reported this week that Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is currently polling LGBTI Australians on whether it should switch focus. Crikey has heard rumours from multiple sources that Australian Marriage Equality might also be shifting its approach away from the free vote to the plebiscite.

The rumours suggested the switch might be linked to alleged donations to AME from the owners of Canberra Airport, the Snow family. Canberra Airport last year lit up its lights in favour of marriage equality. Canberra Airport’s media department referred questions on the matter to AME.

Australian Marriage Equality strongly denied the rumours. AME co-chair Alex Greenwich told Crikey that AME’s funding situation hadn’t changed, and there were no big donors to AME.

“There has not been one big donor at all.”

Greenwich also declared AME was not backing down from its position against the plebiscite.

“We were in 30 electorates in the lead-up to the election campaigning against the plebiscite, for marriage equality supporters,” he said. “We had about 100 stories in different regional and rural papers. A lot of the stuff we were doing was outside of the bubble and in the key constituencies.”

AME’s actions over the past few months suggest that while high-profile Ireland Yes campaigner Tiernan Brady has been brought over to make the yes case in the event the plebiscite goes ahead, the group has not abandoned its commitment to a parliamentary vote. AME’s Rodney Croome and Brady have both penned op-ed pieces recently arguing against a plebiscite, and Greenwich recently debated the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton on Sky News against it.

[How Coalition homophobes could set marriage plebiscite up to fail]

“The focus of AME’s attention is on advocating for marriage equality. Every opportunity in every interview, and every meeting with an MP, we stress that a plebiscite is unnecessary and the Parliament should resolve this,” Greenwich said.

“It’s going to be a little difficult to continue it, but we’re going to keep doing it. And prepare for a plebiscite if one’s imposed on it. That continues to be our game plan. I think it’s the most responsible thing we could do.”

To prepare for the plebiscite, AME is connecting with organisations in communities like unions, small businesses, Country Women Associations and other pro-equality groups to ensure that there are resources at the ready. So far, AME has close to 1000 organisations signed up to not only push for a parliamentary vote, but also help campaign for the “yes” side if necessary.

“Not being ready and losing would be the worst possible thing for the LGBTI community,” Greenwich said.

Brandis is already attempting to get Labor on board with the plebiscite and has flagged that marriage equality could be delayed if Parliament (i.e. Labor and the Greens) fails to pass the supporting legislation.

[Penny Wong is right: plebiscite hate speech will hurt good parents]

Legislation is not actually required for a plebiscite — but it would be in this case in order to make the vote compulsory. The attorney-general’s advice to Malcolm Fraser for the 1977 national anthem plebiscite was that there was no need for legislation. The department suggested that the plebiscite result was not legally binding and warned that legislation to support it could lead to “protracted debate”.

Legislation to make voting in the marriage equality plebiscite compulsory is likely to be controversial because it would make it harder for MPs who are opposed to marriage equality, such as Scott Morrison, to then vote against it.

Labor appears to be sticking to its guns on a free vote in Parliament, where it is believed the numbers would easily pass marriage equality in both the House of Representatives and Senate. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in an opinion piece in The Guardian that Labor would introduce a private member’s bill in the first few weeks of the 45th Parliament.

Peter Fray

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