CANBERRA -- The Turnbull Government's proposed February 11 same-sex marriage plebiscite is now dead, with Labor's caucus voting Tuesday to block the enabling legislation in the Senate.
Federal Labor MPs and Senators voted in Parliament House to follow a direction from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to join Greens and Nick Xenophon Team Senators in blocking the legislation.
Although expected, the move is a blow to the Coalition which now does not have the numbers in the Senate to make the planned $170 million plebiscite a reality.
"The experts have unequivocally explained to Labor that the plebiscite would cause harm to gay and lesbian people particularly but not exclusively young people," Shorten said at a press conference following the vote.
"Having met these families, having listened to their stories t I could not in good conscience recommend to the Labor Party that we support the plebiscite about marriage equality. I could not in good conscience do this because the evidence became overwhelming of the harm it would cause."
Despite Government warnings that marriage equality could be delayed for years, the opposition parties are united in concern about the plebiscite's cost, non-binding nature and the potential harm of a divisive and heated "yes" and "no" campaign.
"Children do not need to go to school in the climate of a plebiscite and have the integrity of their parents' relationship challenged," Shorten said.
" We could make marriage equality a reality today by having a free vote in the Parliament and that is what should be done. The Prime Minister and I both support marriage equality. The majority of the Parliament supports marriage equality. The people of Australia, I think, significantly support marriage equality. So the message that thousands of Australians have given to me I now relay to Malcolm Turnbull. Marriage equality, let's make it a reality, let's just get on with it."
Earlier, one of the Australian parliament's most prominent proponents of marriage equality, Liberal MP Warren Entsch, pleaded with the Opposition to reverse course and back the plebiscite.
"I am pleading with the Labor Party ... for once, put aside the politics, "Mr Entsch told HuffPost Australia.
"We are right on the cusp of winning, of making this happen."
More to come.