Australia says Yes to same-sex marriage but work to do yet

Plenty of political horse-trading ahead before same-sex marriage becomes legal

Australians celebrated as the country voted overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage, paving the way for legislation by the end of 2017. Australia will become the 26th nation to formalise the unions if the legislation is passed. Video: Reuters

 

Prominent Australian economist Greg Jericho spoke for many with his tweet about Australia’s same-sex marriage survey: “So the Newspoll [polling company] had it at 63 per cent, ends up being 61.6 per cent, which is basically within the margin of error. What a waste of $100 million.”

On Wednesday many in the country were celebrating an overwhelming vote in favour of same-sex marriage in the national postal survey, in which almost 80 per cent of eligible voters took part. But the $100 million (€64 million) cost of carrying out the postal vote appeared unnecessary – unlike in Ireland, the definition of marriage is not part of Australia’s constitution and therefore it is solely up to the government to change the law.

The same-sex marriage poll is also nonbinding, and there is much horse-trading yet to be done on “protections” in the legislation for groups opposed to it.

Yes supporters listen to advocates at Taylor Square in the heart of Sydney’s gay precinct. Photograph: James Alcock/Getty Images
Yes supporters listen to advocates at Taylor Square in the heart of Sydney’s gay precinct. Photograph: James Alcock/Getty Images

Taking a leaf from the infamous Ashers Bakery case in Northern Ireland, some Australian conservatives believe that nobody should be forced to bake a gay wedding cake.

But if the poll basically took a long time and a lot of money to tell people what they already knew – that most Australians support marriage equality – it did produce some interesting results at the local level. Out of the country’s 150 electorates, 133 voted Yes to same-sex marriage. Of the 17 No-voting electorates, 12 were in western Sydney, where there is a high concentration of people from the Middle East, China and India.

While Sydney proved itself to be the most socially conservative major city in Australia, the Queensland capital Brisbane emerged as the most progressive, with every electorate in the city voting Yes.

Opposition turns physical

Dublin man Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas airline, personally donated $1 million to the Yes campaign. He and other business supporters of same-sex marriage faced a lot of criticism for their advocacy in the past six months. It became physical as well as verbal when Joyce was assaulted while giving a speech in Perth in May.

But Joyce believes his money was well spent. “This is an amazing outcome and we should all be very proud of this amazing country,” he told a gathering of Yes supporters in Sydney after the result was announced.

Joyce later said he had no regrets about his high profile in the campaign and the corporate support from Qantas. “We’re part of the community, we’re in a democracy. Business reputation has taken a bit of a hit because people look like they’re only focused on profitability, but you have to have a passion for something and actually a bigger cause.”

The biggest donation to the No side was $1 million from Sydney’s Anglican diocese. Having lost the vote so comprehensively, many in the Anglican community are openly questioning if that money would have been better spent on helping the poor.

Common good

Sydney’s Catholic archbishop, Anthony Fisher, said he was “deeply disappointed that the likely result [of the vote] will be legislation to further deconstruct marriage”. But Frank Brennan, who is both a Jesuit priest and university law lecturer, voted Yes, saying the increasing number of same-sex couples with children was an argument in favour of marriage equality, not against it. “We’ve got to factor that into the common-good argument about what’s necessary,” he said.

As for the bakers, Tony Smith of the Baking Association of Australia said: “What baker in their right mind would not bake someone a cake?”

Despite the best efforts of conservatives in parliament to delay it, same-sex marriage is almost certain to be legal in Australia before Christmas – and the country’s bakers should do a roaring trade over the summer.

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