EMOTIONAL CELEBRATIONS ERUPTED across Australia today as voters emphatically endorsed same-sex marriage after more than a decade of divisive debate, and political leaders immediately took the first steps to enshrine the historic shift in the law.
Thousands of marriage equality supporters took to parks and squares across the vast continent, hugging, dancing and singing under clouds of glitter when the results of the two-month-long postal survey were announced.
“This means everything, this means everything,” shouted Chris at a huge rally in Sydney, fighting back tears and hugging his partner Victor.
“It has been fantastic. I have been with my partner for 35 years and he was so joyed up that he burst into tears,” added another reveller, Gerry Boller.
61% of the 12.7 million people who participated voted Yes to the question “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”.
38.4% voted No, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which carried out the poll.
Irish-born Qantas Airlines chief Alan Joyce, who is openly gay and campaigned strongly for the Yes campaign, also fought back tears as he spoke of his delight.
I was so proud of Ireland in May 2015 when they became the first nation in the world to vote for marriage equality… But today I am even more proud of Australia, the country of my selection.
Nearly 80% of eligible voters took part in the poll, with the Yes vote winning a majority in all of Australia’s states and territories.
‘Yes for love’
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a moderate conservative who backed the Yes camp, hailed the result of the non-binding vote and vowed to move a bill in favour of marriage equality by Christmas.
Australians “voted yes for fairness, yes for commitment, yes for love,” Turnbull said at a press conference in Canberra.
“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 have tasked us to do and get this done, this year, before Christmas. That must be our commitment.”
Within hours of the vote result, Dean Smith, a Senator from Turnbull’s Liberal Party who is gay, introduced a bill that would legalise gay marriage while allowing religious institutions and clergy to refuse to celebrate same-sex unions if it conflicts with their beliefs.
Hardline opponents in Turnbull’s party have pressed for more extensive religious protections to allow commercial service providers to reject same-sex weddings and let parents pull their children from school programmes they feel undermine heterosexual traditions.
They have support notably from Muslim and some conservative Christian communities which returned a high percentage of No votes in the survey.
But Turnbull rejected those calls this week and he and the opposition Labor Party are expected to back a bill based on Smith’s proposal when it comes to a “conscience vote” in the two houses of parliament.
A survey of federal politicians by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation published Tuesday found that 72% of House members and 69% of Senators would support the change to marriage laws.
Ireland’s Independent Minister Katherine Zappone, who along with her late wife Ann Louise Gilligan campaigned for marriage equality in Ireland, said of tonight’s result:
The YES result shows that when given a chance people across our world will speak out and demand equality for all. The outcome will boost marriage equality campaigners in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. It will also send a message of solidarity to those who cannot express their love because of threats of discrimination, prosecution and even violence.
“All who campaigned in Australia are to be congratulated. This is their moment, as it was ours in May 2015.”
- © AFP 2017 with reporting by Hayley Halpin