How Australia’s same-sex marriage vote will work

Photo: Charles McQuillan / Getty Images.

The Turnbull government announced plans to hold a plebiscite vote into same-sex marriage on February 11 next year today, after the proposal was backed by the Coalition party room.

The plebiscite question is: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”, and voting will be compulsory, with the result determined by a national majority.

However, the proposal still needs to be signed off by parliament, including the Senate, where Labor has hinted it may block the plebiscite because the government is proposing giving $7.5 million for campaigning to both the “yes” and “no” campaigns – a total of $15 million in taxpayer funds on top of the $160 million it will cost to run the vote.

The yes and no sides will be allowed to run tax deductible campaigns, however the plan is to cap individual donations to $1500.

Attorney-general George Brandis said opposition leader Bill Shorten should pass the plebiscite plan and “stop playing politics with the lives of gay people and put the interests of a cause he claims to believe in first”.

Because The Greens and a number of crossbench senators, including three from the Nick Xenophon Team, plus Derryn Hinch, have already said they will vote against the proposal, the Coalition needs the support of Labor for the plebiscite to proceed.

The legislation for the plebiscite will be introduced to the House of Representatives this week, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

The government wants a 10-member committee — five each from the yes and no cases – to determine who gets the money. The committee will be made up of MPs from both the government, Labor and the crossbench, along with five advocates from outside the parliament.

The vote will be held like an election and include an electronic advertising blackout from three days before the February 11 poll. Pre-polling will be allowed. The same rules on robocalls and SMS messages which apply during general elections will be used for the plebiscite.

While the verdict will be non-binding, meaning MPs don’t have to back the majority verdict when they vote in parliament, senator Brandis said that if the result is yes, he will introduce changes to the Marriage Act to allow same-sex weddings after the vote.