In the lead-up to a vote on legalizing same-sex marriage in Australia, vitriolic campaign materials, including fliers calling homosexuality “a tragedy of a family,” circulated this week in Melbourne and Sydney. The fliers, the latest salvo in a heated national debate that has involved politicians and religious leaders, were denounced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday.
People will “often say things that are hurtful and unfair and sometimes cruel, but that is part of a debate,” Mr. Turnbull said after same-sex marriage activists called on him to condemn what they described as “vilification.”
“I deplore disrespectful, abusive language whether it is directed at young gay people, or other religions or other races,” he said.
The Catholic Church, also this week, threatened to fire any lay employee who married his or her same-sex partner if gay marriage were legalized.
Proponents for same-sex marriage say the vote, which is being challenged in the High Court and whose outcome is not legally binding, exposes gays and lesbians to a bruising campaign for no good reason.
“This $122 million exercise is an amazing waste of money,” Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said on Monday, referring to the cost of the postal vote in Australian dollars. “And it will trigger and give license to some really horrible things to be said.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage, including Tony Abbott, the former prime minister, have said that legalization threatens religious freedom.
The national vote, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, is not considered a formal election, so most normal campaign rules do not apply. Provisions in the electoral act, for example, would govern the publication of material during an election campaign.