The marriage equality plebiscite has finally been officially introduced into the House of Representatives, the same day it appeared that the legislation would officially be shot down by the Labor opposition.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull himself brought the legislation to the parliament, a rare step for a PM. He began speaking to a largely empty bench behind him, with only a few scattered government members sitting, as others slowly filed in during his address. The details of the poll were outlined on Tuesday, with the question to be "should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?" in a vote on February 11.
The plebiscite legislation was quickly made available online (see it here). Included was extra information including a $20 fine for failing to vote at the plebiscite, and a peek at what the ballot paper would look like:
"It is thoroughly democratic. Every Australian will have their say, and if the Opposition support the plebiscite in the Senate, the plebiscite can be held on 11th of February, which is the soonest practicable date," Turnbull said in introducing the legislation.
"We have to respect that it is a very big moral issue. It is an issue of conscience, it is an issue of conscience for millions of Australians who have different views on it. And sincerely held views."
You can read the plebiscite legislation here.
Turnbull took aim at Labor and anti-plebiscite voices, who claim that such a national vote -- which will be accompanied by fervent national debate, and $15 million in public funding for the respective "yes" and "no" campaigns -- would be damaging to vulnerable LGBTI people.
"It is vital that we respect all of those views in this debate... it is utterly wrong and it shows dreadful leadership on the part of Parliamentarians to characterise those people who do not believe the Parliament should change the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to be married, to characterise them as being homophobic, as hating homosexuals," Turnbull railed.
"We have to respect there are sincerely held views on this issue. They are views very often informed by deeply felt conscience, informed by religious commitment very often, informed by faith."
The Huffington Post Australia understands the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will instruct the Labor caucus to vote against the plebiscite. While the bill may pass the House of Representatives, with the government holding a one-seat majority in the lower house, Labor's opposition will doom the legislation in the Senate.
Mr Shorten has said in a statement:
"The fact the Liberals announced public funding to give a platform to bigotry shows no interest from the government work with Labor on this. He is deliberately sabotaging the process to make it difficult for even the most ardent supporters of marriage equality to back it.
It's clear the extreme right wing of the Liberal party are setting marriage equality up to fail."
Turnbull also said he would support those people who voted no in the plebiscite.
"There are many other Australians who are equally filled with love, equally respectful of gay couples, equally respectful of the families, of gay couples, of same-sex couples, who will, in thoroughly good conscience, vote no," he said.
"They will do so not because they disrespect gay couples... they will do so because of a deeply felt conscience. It is a matter of conscience, and we should respect it."