Australia’s citizenry has voted in a public referendum over same-sex marriage, with over 61 percent voting in favor of it and just over 38 percent voting against it.
The referendum asked all eligible voters, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Eighty percent of those polled voted.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who announced he voted “yes,” said Australians have “spoken in their millions and they have voted overwhelmingly 'yes' for marriage equality.” He said the people are “our masters,” alluding to Parliament’s responsibility to continue with a fair same-sex marriage bill he said should be made law before Christmas.
“They voted 'yes' for fairness, 'yes' for commitment, 'yes' for love. And now it is up to us here in the Parliament of Australia to get on with it, to get on with the job the Australian people asked us to do and get this done,” Turnbull added.
The referendum came to fruition after years of advocating and lobbying by same-sex marriage activists and politicians. In 2004, former Prime Minister John Howard changed the 1961 Marriage Act to explicitly declare marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.”
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s conservative agenda stymied aspirations to legalize gay marriage, but by 2015, pressured by the public and politicians, Abbott announced a forthcoming public plebiscite regarding legalizing marriage for LGBT people.
It took until Sept. 7 of this year to pass the legislation permitting yesterday’s referendum.
Some same-sex marriage activists resisted the referendum. Tiernan Brady, executive director at the Equality Campaign, told CNN, "This is a debate in the public sphere about (LGBT people's) worth in society, their value and that's a hard debate to be a part of,” adding “this (vote) should be done … the way all issues pertaining to people's rights are dealt with, by Parliament."
Sydney Mayor Clover Moore, who supported the “yes” vote, criticizes the process and politicians, saying, "Let’s be clear — this waste of US$122 million (to conduct the postal referendum) did not need to happen if our elected representatives were prepared to do their jobs."
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Senator Dean Smith introduced a marriage equality bill that explicitly protects same-sex couples against discrimination.
Senator James Paterson proposed a bill version that would legalize same-sex marriage but with caveats allowing inequality in the name of religion, particularly for LGBT weddings. Paterson explained in Parliament that bakers and religious service providers should be allowed to refuse service to same sex weddings, just as an Islamic baker should be able to refuse service to Jewish customers.
“In relation to marriage, that’s what we’re talking about,” he said. “This goes to fundamental religious beliefs and beliefs of conscience.”
The Senate is set to debate the floating same-sex marriage bill tomorrow during session. The approved bill is expected to be voted on in the Australian Parliament by Dec. 7.
An estimated 133 of 150 federal legislators voted for legalizing gay marriage as the plebiscite took place.
Should Australia nationally legalize same-sex unions, it will join 25 other countries, including Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, New Zealand and several European countries.