Macquarie University
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It's plebiscite or nothing: cultural and symbolic strategies of the religious right in Australia’s same-sex marriage debate

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posted on 2022-03-28, 21:18 authored by Daniel J. Comensoli
In 2004, the Howard Government amended the Marriage Act 1961 to explicitly state that “marriage was the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others…” in order to ban same-sex marriages being performed in Australia and overseas same-sex marriages being officially recognised under Australian law. With reputable polls consistently showing a majority of voters supporting same-sex marriage since 2007, the issue has come to dominate much of Australian public and political discourse in recent years. Despite this, same-sex marriage is still illegal in Australia with a number of failed attempts to legislate it at the federal level. However, capitalising on renewed momentum following the successful Irish constitutional referendum on 22 May 2015 and the US Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on 26 June 2015, a cross party bill to legalise same-sex marriage was introduced to the federal Parliament in early August 2015. In response, the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott called for a special joint party room meeting of the Liberal and National parties, with 66 MPs voting against a conscience vote being held on same-sex marriage legislation and 33 voting for a conscience vote. Following the meeting, Mr Abbott announced his strong disposition to hold a national vote on the issue after the 2016 federal election, in the form of a compulsory plebiscite. Considering the unprecedented nature o holding national plebiscites in Australia, and the Coalition historically affording its members a conscience vote on issues surrounding marriage and family relationships, an examination of the religious right’s social and political lobbying power in shaping the policy agenda on this issue is warranted. Thus, through utilising the theoretical framework of agenda denial, it is the purpose of this thesis to critically analyse the religious right’s cultural and symbolic strategies of choice and their overall effectiveness in denying proponents of same-sex marriage access to the overall policy agenda. A detailed thematic and framing analysis of content including speeches, interviews, press releases, social media posts and parliamentary submissions was conducted from when a plebiscite was first postulated by the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott on 12 August 2015 up until the defeat of the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 in the Senate on 7 November 2016. Whilst considering Australia’s increasing political engagement marked by secular traditions, falling church attendance and overall religious affiliation, it will be argued that the Christian right enjoyed disproportionate power and influence in successfully delaying and preventing the implementation of same-sex marriage in Australia. This research is critical in contributing to the limited scholarly research regarding the religious right’s influence on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) policy outcomes.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Methodology and methods -- 3. Literature review -- 4. Opponents in the agenda conflict : the Christian right -- 5. Low cost strategies -- 6. Medium cost strategies -- 7. Discussion -- 8. Conclusion -- References.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 73-90

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Marion Maddox


Copyright Daniel J. Comensoli 2017. Copyright disclaimer:






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