The Australian government spent $100 million (€64 million) on a non-binding survey that confirmed what it already knew: that Australians are overwhelmingly in favour of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. Legally pointless though it may have been, however, the national postal vote has delivered a resounding public declaration in favour of a long-overdue change. That should make it more difficult for obstructionist conservative voices in government to delay or dilute legislation. Just two decades after the last Australian states removed legal bans on homosexual activity, marriage equality is set to be on the statute books by the end of the year.
The outcome – an emphatic 62 per cent yes vote – is a tribute to those gay rights campaigners who fought hard for an entitlement that should have been theirs long before now. That 80 per cent of eligible voters cast a voluntary ballot is in itself an achievement worth celebrating. It would have been preferable had the government used its prerogative and simply enacted the laws required for same-sex marriage, but prime minister Malcolm Turnbull deserves credit nonetheless for out-manoeuvring his party's right flank and securing a decisive victory for a cause he has championed. Australia has a mixed record on civil rights, as the halting journey towards indigenous rights shows, but this is a moment in which the country can take pride.
When the forthcoming legislation takes effect, Australia will become the 26th country to allow same-sex couples to marry, joining a list that includes Ireland, France and the United States. But in much of the world the struggle goes on: homosexual acts remain illegal in almost 80 countries, and in many places the situation is getting worse. Even where marriage is available to all, anti-gay discrimination and prejudice remain real problems.
The Australian poll is a declaration of solidarity and inclusion – one that will be heard across the world. But the global struggle for equality continues.