Australia is in the middle of a colour war, but it has nothing to do with race. The rainbow has been making its appearance on city flagpoles and Facebook walls, signalling that the same-sex marriage debate has well and truly begun.

After a year of heated political debate, the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced on August 8 the federal government’s decision to hold a voluntary postal plebiscite, fulfilling an election promise that will allow Australians to have their say on whether the Marriage Act (2004) should be amended to enable same-sex couples to get married.

In the lead-up, Australians are being asked to line up: Yes or No.

The Yes campaign, spearheaded by Australian Marriage Equality, has a strong array of supporters. This includes a network of more than 1,500 businesses; local government (Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra have each spent taxpayers’ money on the Yes campaign); professional bodies (the Australian Medical Association and the NSW Law Society controversially released statements of support without the consent of their members); and even Catholic institutions, notably the Edmund Rice Centre and two prestigious Jesuit schools, St Ignatius (Sydney) and Xavier College (Melbourne).

The biggest allies are the mainstream media which, despite internal memos reminding journalists to remain objective, have had trouble doing so.

Last week the Australian media giant Fairfax ran a front-page graphic of a Catholic priest’s Roman collar bleeding from white to rainbow. It ran across the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age. But the gold star of reporting bias goes to Channel Ten, which last month admitted to doctoring an image to vilify the No campaign. A spokesperson for the network said that it was an “oversight in briefing”, and no formal apology was issued.

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