Aussies vote 'I do' to marriage equality
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Australians overwhelmingly said they support same-sex marriage, becoming just the second country to do so through the ballot box, when results of a mail survey showed 61.1 percent in favor and 38.4 percent against.
The results of the two-month vote, known as a survey, were released Tuesday, November 14 (Wednesday in Australia).
The survey, however, was nonbinding, and the issue now moves to Parliament. The lopsided results mean it's likely that same-sex marriage will be legal by the end of the year, observers said.
The mood was joyous in the country, where negative campaigning at times cast an ugly pall over the vote.
"If this were a general election, it would be the biggest landslide in Australian history," said Tiernan Brady, director of Australians for Equality, reported the Independent.
Australia is about the same size land-wise as the United States with 23,232,413 citizens, most living on the east coast, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Ireland was the first country in the world to win same-sex marriage through a postal plebiscite when more than a 60 percent voted in favor in 2015. The country has since legalized same-sex marriage.
Similar to Ireland, the campaign for marriage equality was divisive, bringing out opponents of same-sex marriage in a brutal attempt to push the no vote.
Australians were also frustrated by their elected officials, because it was already clear that Aussies wanted same-sex marriage. Lawmakers continued to be indecisive, rather than vote on same-sex marriage bills already put forward in Parliament. Putting same-sex marriage to public vote was expensive, costing an estimated $97 million (122 million Australian dollars).
Australian politicians addressed crowds around the country after the results were announced at 10 a.m. local time.
William "Bill" Shorten, a marriage equality supporter who heads the opposition in Parliament, cheerfully greeted the crowds in Melbourne.
"Yes, yes, yes! What a fabulous day to be an Australian," Shorten said. "Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow we legislate."
Lawmakers will now review several draft same-sex marriage bills to see which one will move forward.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who publicly voted in favor of same-sex marriage with his wife, Lucy Turnbull, told reporters that he wants to have legislation passed by Christmas.
The law would make Australia the 26th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
"This is our proudest moment as gay and lesbian Australians," Chris Lewis, 60, an artist from Sydney, told the New York Times as he celebrated, waving a large rainbow flag he bought in San Francisco about 30 years ago. "Finally, I can be proud of my country."
Annika Lowry, 42, who brought her 4-year-old daughter to the celebration, told the newspaper the vote "was not just about us - it's for our kids, so that they know equality is important."
On Monday, Turnbull stated that he favored gay Liberal Party Senator Dean Smith's marriage amendment bill, as opposed to conservative liberal Senator James Paterson's bill, but it's up to members of Parliament to draft a bill according to Australians' desire for marriage equality.
Paterson's bill would override state and territory anti-discrimination and free speech laws to protect anyone who holds a "conscientious belief" in traditional marriage," wrote the Australian in an editorial. Additionally, the bill includes a "safe schools" clause allowing parents to remove students from classrooms where non-traditional marriage values are taught.
The bill has been criticized in the media by some politicians as "encroaching on anti-discrimination laws," reported the Guardian.
Turnbull told the Times that he believed Paterson's bill could not pass Parliament.
"I don't believe Australians would welcome, and certainly the government would not countenance, making legal discrimination that is illegal, that is unlawful today," he said.
Smith's bill provides for some religious protections, including clergy to refuse to solemnize marriages that conflict with their beliefs.
"My commitment was to give every Australian their say - that has been done," said Turnbull, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. "They have said 'yes.' It is our job to do that."
Lyle Shelton, a Christian lobbyist who was the no campaign's most outspoken advocate, told the Times he would begrudgingly "accept the democratic decision."
"Millions of Australians will always believe the truth about marriage, that it's between one man and one woman," said Shelton. "It could take years, if not decades, to win that back."
At least seven members of Australia's Parliament have publicly stated they will vote against legalizing same-sex marriage, according to a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. However, most lawmakers said they would support a marriage equality bill.
Members of Parliament immediately went to work following the poll results to review and vote on debating Smith's proposed bill to legalize same-sex marriage, lesbian Labor Senator Penny Wong told the crowds.
"Thank you, Australia. Now Australians have done their part, it's time for Parliament to do its part," said Wong. "I think Australians would look very unkindly on any amendments that are an attempt to sink the bill."
Long-time marriage equality campaigner Alex Greenwich pointed out that 133 of the 150 federal electorates returned yes votes.
"This day has delivered an unequivocal mandate to our federal government to get on and get this done," said Greenwich, a state lawmaker from New South Wales and the co-chairman of Australian Marriage Equality.
The bill is expected to be introduced Thursday, November 16, and the work to hash out amendments will begin November 27, when parliament convenes again, Wong said.
The battle for same-sex marriage in Australia started in 2004. The movement experienced ups and downs, with numerous attempts at multiple levels of government, ending in defeat. The tide began to change in recent years as support for LGBT people and marriage equality grew.
Leading up to the mail-in ballot, polls showed 70 percent support for same-sex marriage.
Greenwich noted the long difficult struggle toward same-sex marriage in Australia.
"There's no denying that this has been tough for many people. This has been a campaign which has gone on for more than 10 years," Greenwich told the Times. "This result is a reflection of the leadership that's been shown by everyday Australians during this campaign. It shows that Australians truly did have the opportunity to shape our nation as a fairer and more equal place."
Anna Brown, co-chair of the Marriage Equality campaign and director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, agreed.
"The nation has put its heart into winning this survey," she told the Guardian. "LGBTI Australians, their friends and families, will be celebrating. All Australians should have the same opportunities for love, commitment and happiness. This result confirms that the majority of Australians absolutely agree."
Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or firstname.lastname@example.org.