Australia votes in favour of legalising same-sex marriage

Result of postal survey 61.6% in favour to 38.4% against

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

 

A solid majority of Australians voted in favor of same-sex marriage in a historic survey that, while not binding, paves the way for Parliament to legally recognise the unions of gay and lesbian couples.

Of 12.7 million Australians who took part in the survey, 61.6 per cent voted yes and 38.4 per cent voted no, officials announced Wednesday morning.

Participation was high, with 79.5 per cent of voting-age Australians taking part.

“We must respect the voice of the people,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in Canberra on Wednesday. “It is unequivocal. It is overwhelming.”

Mr Turnbull’s call to have the legislation passed by Christmas is supported by business, including Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., which says

marriage equality would add A$650 million ($496 million) to the economy in the first year alone.

But the right-leaning coalition government remains divided on the issue, with MPs arguing whether to let celebrants and other service providers opt out of marrying gay couples on religious grounds.

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The results were announced as proponents of gay rights gathered at public events in cities around the country to watch the news. The largest crowd, in Prince Alfred Park in Sydney, broke into cheers as the news became clear.

“This is our proudest moment as gay and lesbian Australians,” said Chris Lewis (60), an artist from Sydney, who waved a large rainbow flag he bought in San Francisco about 30 years ago. “Finally I can be proud of my country.”

“It shows that Australians have truly come together in support of their gay and lesbian mates and have said that everybody should be able to have the freedom to marry,” said Alex Greenwich, a politician from New South Wales and the co-chairman of Australian Marriage Equality, an advocacy group.

In calling for the national survey, Mr Turnbull sought public backing for a shift in social policy that was opposed by many members of his centre-right Liberal Party.

Mr Turnbull voted yes and urged other Australians to do so as a matter of fairness, seeking to blunt opposition from far-right members of his party. Dean Smith, a federal senator from the right-leaning Liberal Party, who is gay, said that he would immediately introduce a bill to legalise same-sex marriage.

He said on Tuesday that he believed he had the votes to pass the legislation in the Senate and send it to Parliament’s lower house for approval.

Opponents of same-sex marriage, who had campaigned vigorously, acknowledged defeat.

Lyle Shelton, a Christian lobbyist who was the “no” campaign’s most outspoken advocate, said he would begrudgingly “accept the democratic decision.”

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone s welcomed Australia’s decision. The vote demonstrates that the international march to marriage equality is unstoppable and is a boost to campaigners worldwide, she said.

“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.

“Despite the huge steps forward of recent years it is a sad reality that one in five young LGBTI+ people in Ireland continue to report discrimination and bullying.”

Amnesty International Ireland’s executive director, Colm O’Gorman, also welcomed the news and said he was “struck by how similar the Yes v No overall vote in the Australia same-sex marriage vote was to Ireland.”

The same-sex-marriage campaigner Rory O’Neill, also known as Panti Bliss, said Australia had voted “yes to equality” and “yes to fairness”.