CANBERRA – Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds has tackled head-on one of the strongest arguments against the proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite, by insisting it could reduce hate speech against the gay and lesbian community rather than elevate it.
Marriage equality advocates, Labor and the Greens are concerned any "yes" and "no" campaigning associated with a public vote will be divisive and damaging for members of the LGBTIQ community, possibly even lead to self-harm and suicides.
The February 11 date has only just been set by the Federal Government and the enabling legislation for the $170 million plebiscite has not passed parliament and there have already been public threats despite the Prime Minister's urging of a "respectful" debate.
In a blog for The Huffington Post Australia, the West Australian Senator -- who supports marriage equality -- said hate speech already exists and it is better to take it on rather than shy away from it.
"Critics of the plebiscite have argued that debate would lead to hate speech. Sadly this is already a reality," Senator Reynolds wrote for HuffPost Australia.
"I believe by having a robust and factual debate we will reduce hate, not elevate it.
"Where there is hate we should counter it to ensure the good ideas – such as full legal equality – rise to the top."
Senator Reynolds backs the plebiscite over a free vote in parliament as it was a position of the Liberal/National parties -- after a marathon seven-hour joint party room meeting last August -- and had been taken by the Turnbull Government to the July 2 election.
"I have great faith in Australians' ability to have a sensible discussion, particularly after seeing my own party's robust and respectful debate I am astounded by this view," she wrote.
"What we must not do is disengage from those who don't share our views simply because those views might make us feel uncomfortable."
The plebiscite was originally proposed last year by the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and has been since championed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, despite his previous support for a free vote in parliament.
Critics of the plebiscite say it is being used by the same-sex marriage opponents within the Coalition to kill off or at least delay the introduction of marriage equality in Australia.
But, Senator Reynolds said it is the plebiscite's critics who are risking all.
"Unfortunately, by resisting the plebiscite, these critics are putting their own cause in jeopardy," she said.
"They risk winning the fight against a plebiscite only to lose the fight for full legal recognition for every Australian."
Senator Reynolds said compromise will "achieve outcomes."
"What is more important -- achieving full legal rights for all Australians or fighting over whose proposal is adopted?" she wrote.
"My party has put forward a way to achieve legal equality. Let's not quibble about the process – because if we do we all lose.'
"Let's have faith in Australians that they are up for the discussion and decision. I have no doubt they are."