Results from today’s vote on marriage equality in Australia’s House of Representatives officially signal that the country has legalized same-sex marriage, making it the 25th country to do so. The cross-party bill was passed in the Senate last week with no amendment.
After the parliamentary vote, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addressed representatives, saying, “We’ve voted today for equality, for love, it’s time for more marriages, more commitment, more love, more respect. This is Australia: fair, diverse, loving, and filled with respect.”
In a press conference, Alex Greenwich, co-chair of the Equality Campaign, told the press, “We came, we saw, and love finally conquered. Marriage equality is finally the law of the land.”
This new legislation is a sharp departure from the 2004 amendment that changed Australia’s legal definition of marriage to this: “Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” Change did not come quickly or easily, but for Australian couples who have longed for the right to marry, that day has finally come.
On November 15, it was announced that the Australian public had voted in favor of same-sex marriage. The Australian Statistician had mailed a voluntary survey to the 16 million eligible citizens in late August, asking just one question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
With a nearly 80 percent response rate, 61 percent said yes to taking legal action to legalize same-sex marriage. This came after Germany legalized same-sex marriage this June, with a bill that gave same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.
In the two months after the survey was announced, the 'Yes' and 'No' camps ran fierce campaigns for and against marriage equality. Unfortunately, this led to scrutiny of same-sex couples that was often painful and, according to many on the 'Yes' side, dishonest.
“Truth is the first casualty in war, and the 'No' campaign wanted to run a holy war for the soul of the nation,” wrote Rob Stott, a very active 'Yes' advocate. “The lies were egregious and harmful. They called same-sex parents child abusers and said their children were a new Stolen Generation. They called us 'fascists' and said we were 'disordered.'”
Even while celebrations erupted across Australia, rejoicing this long-awaited, long-predicted outcome, many felt it was bittersweet; the mudslinging that came in the midst of this landmark vote was an unnecessary evil for progress. Ahead of the results, MP Jenny Mikakos tweeted, “My thoughts with our LGBTI community this morning. It’s been a terrible & unnecessary postal survey but fingers crossed #MarriageEquality.”
Once the Australian public made their beliefs and expectations clear, legal action was expected to be swift. Some politicians predicted this would be signed into law by Christmas, according to reports from The Guardian—and they were right. After the results were announced, Australian senator James Paterson took to Facebook to express his plans for a speedy process, writing in part, “The parliament must now quickly pass a bill to legalize same sex marriage. It is clear the majority of senators believe my colleague Senator Dean Smith's bill is where we should start.”
Although he originally announced plans to introduce a rival bill, Paterson endorsed a bill by fellow senator Dean Smith. That bill was introduced in the Senate within hours of the 'Yes' announcement. According to Facebook posts this week from Smith, the bill aimed to “amend the law relating to the definition of marriage and protect religious freedoms.”
As Australian legislators debated the details of the bill, citizens across the country breathed a sigh of relief—and started making plans for the future. According to The Guardian, couples can “lodge a notice of intended marriage” starting December 9, meaning same-sex wedding ceremonies could happen as early as January 6.
Penny Wong, the country’s first openly gay female politician, burst into tears as the voluntary survey results came in back in November. “Thank you, Australia,” she said later, to reporters. “Thank you for standing up for the sort of Australia we believe in. An Australia that is decent, that is fair, is accepting and an Australia that turns its back on exclusion and division. Now Australians have done their part, it is time for the parliament to do our part, and together we will.”
Today, as the bill passed in the House, the public gallery broke out into song—“I Am Australian,” an unofficial national anthem that seemed perfectly appropriate for the moment.