Later this year, Australia will be asked to take part in a survey to gauge the public sentiment on same-sex marriage. The vote is voluntary and non-binding, and will be run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, not the Electoral Commission. Ultimately, the result can not change the law, or even commit the government to doing anything.
This is the main issue presented by opponents to the plebiscite, who say all it will do is stir up hatred, bigotry and vitriol without any potential upside. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the same Coalition, under John Howard, spent half an hour debating a change to the law to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Before we jump on the Coalition-bashing bandwagon, though - it should also be noted that while in government, Labor wheeled out Penny Wong - a gay woman - to sell its position at the time that the marriage laws should not be changed - so there is cowardice on both sides.
So why even bother? The optimist in me says that the Coalition leadership wants to change the law, but is being hamstrung by conservative elements within the LNP. A positive public vote may be the tool they need to shame the rest into passing the law.
Lets take a look at the plebiscite By the Numbers:
$122,000,000: The official estimated cost of the ABS-run Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey (PwC estimates the actual cost, including lost productivity, to top $522 million).
15,700,000: The number of eligible voters in Australia
Approx. 500,000: The number of people self identifying as gay, lesbian or "other" sexual orientation, and currently unable to legally marry.
33,700: The number of same-sex couples reported in the 2011 census, who are currently unable to legally marry.
0: The number of straight people who will be forced to marry someone of their own gender should the government legalise same-sex marriage.