The alarming volume of hate-speech during Australia’s ballot over whether to legalize same-sex marriage spurred parliament to pass emergency legislation on Wednesday to outlaw opponents spewing their vitriol while the vote was in progress.
Australia began a non-compulsory postal vote on Tuesday that will determine whether it becomes the 25th country to legalize same-sex marriage. But with an emotionally charged campaign raising concerns about the welfare of vulnerable Australians, the government moved to strengthen laws preventing hate-speech. The opposition Labor Party supported the amendment, though it had rejected the need for a ballot on the issue.
Until voting ends on November 7, anyone found guilty of intimidation, or threats to cause harm on the basis of the sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status – that is people who believe themselves to be neither male or female – or the religious convictions of someone will be liable to fines of A$12,500 (over $10,000) and a court injunction.
More from the BBC:
The legislation was introduced because the survey is not covered by the usual safeguards governing elections in Australia. “We want this process to be fair and for Australians to get the opportunity to have their say in an appropriate environment,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said.
More than 16 million Australians are eligible for the survey, which asks one question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” People have until 7 November to cast their vote by mail with the results expected on 15 November. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said parliament will debate changing the law if it is supported by a majority of Australians.