(AFP) – Australia’s parliament late Monday rejected the government’s proposal for a national vote on whether to legalise same-sex marriage.
The upper house Senate voted 33-29 against the coalition government’s bid to hold a plebiscite on the issue.
Attorney-General George Brandis introduced the bill into the Senate, where the government does not hold an outright majority, despite expectation the opposition Labor and Greens parties would scupper it.
The government has repeatedly warned that a defeat would delay same-sex marriage in Australia for years.
Brandis urged the upper house to “stop playing politics with gay people’s lives”.
“Get out of the way,” he said in a fiery debate.
The opposition said the plebiscite would have sparked harmful debate against the gay and lesbian community and demanded a direct vote in parliament instead.
Debate on gay marriage in Australia has gone on for more than a decade and conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hoped to resolve the issue via a plebiscite on February 11.
But Labor said the proposed plebiscite of 15 million voters would be expensive and divisive, and also potentially harmful to those in same-sex relationships and their families.
Despite strong popular support for marriage equality, Australia is seen as lagging behind other nations which allow homosexual couples the right to wed.
Same-sex couples can have civil unions or register their relationships in most Australian states, but the government does not consider them married under national law.
Turnbull, a long-time supporter of gay marriage, had argued that a plebiscite, costing some Aus$170 million (US$128.8 million), would allow all Australians to express their view.
He had insisted that if the vote was carried the lower house would ensure gay marriage became law even though the plebiscite would not be binding.
Labour leader Bill Shorten in October vowed to block the plebiscite, saying: “This country does not have the right in a plebiscite to pass judgement on the marriages and relationships of some of our fellow Australians.
“It is not what Australia is about. We could make marriage equality a reality today by having a free vote in the parliament and that is what should be done.”