Wed, Aug 10, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Advocate defies Australian vote on gay marriage

SETBACK:If the appeal to allow same-sex marriage is defeated in a referendum, it could delay the reform for years, former High Court judge Michael Kirby said

AP, CANBERRA

A former judge yesterday urged the Australian parliament to prevent a popular referendum on legalizing gay marriage.

Michael Kirby, a former Australian High Court judge who headed a UN inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea in 2014, wrote in the Australian newspaper that a popular vote against gay marriage would likely set back the cause for decades.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull went to elections on July 2 promising to hold a referendum by the end of this year on whether Australia should recognize same-sex marriages.

The opposition Labor Party promised to allow parliament to decide the issue if it won power and avoid the divisive public debate that would surround a vote.

Kirby urged the Australian Senate to reject legislation that would allow the plebiscite when it sits for the first time this month.

“Defeat in a plebiscite on same-sex marriage would kill the reform, probably for decades,” Kirby wrote. “A defeat in parliament alone would do no more than delay the inevitable for a short time.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said he agreed with Kirby that a plebiscite “is a second-best option for marriage equality.”

Shorten has not committed Labor to blocking the referendum in the Senate, where the government holds a minority of seats.

Kirby said the government proposed a referendum in the hope that it would fail.

The Brexit referendum in which Britain voted in June to leave the EU and the high failure rate of referendums in Australia served as warnings, he said.

“Brexit is an illustration of what can happen where a popular vote is chosen contrary to a nation’s democratic and parliamentary tradition and launched for internal political reasons,” Kirby said.

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