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40th anniversary of song plebiscite a frame for fight over same-sex marriage vote

May 21, 2017 - AUSTRALIA

The contest to choose a national song 40 years ago might be Australia's last plebiscite for the foreseeable future following the defeat in October 2016 of a plan for a public vote on same-sex marriage.

On May 21, 1977, in the country's third plebiscite, Australia picked Advance Australia Fair as its national song. The other songs on the ballot were God Save the Queen, Song Of Australia and Waltzing Matilda. The country's other two plebiscites - both relating to conscription - were held during World War I.

The decision on marriage equality won't be as painless. The fight over the plebiscite that was planned for Feb 11, 2017, amplifies the fierce dispute over allowing gay couples to wed in a country as divided as many others on the issue. In the plebiscite, the conservative governing coalition of the Liberal and National parties saw a way around its own divisions on gay marriage. The opposition Labour Party wanted nothing to do with the plebiscite, arguing against it on the basis of cost and necessity. Labour wants Parliament to decide, and it mustered just enough parliamentary votes in October to defeat the plebiscite plan. The coalition refuses to hold the parliamentary vote, leaving the issue in limbo until any change of government. The next election is in 2019.

Explained: The same-sex marriage plebiscite (ABC 28 Aug 2016)

Same-sex marriage: Is a plebiscite a sure thing? (ABC 12Sep 2016)

Australian parliament gets bill to set up controversial gay marriage plebiscite (Telegraph 14 Sep 2016)

Date written/update: 2016-11-02