Aus­tralia's PM wants mar­riage equal­ity by Christ­mas af­ter 'over­whelm­ing' vote

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Paul Karp in Can­berra, Michael McGowan in Syd­ney and Melissa Davey in Mel­bourne

The Aus­tralian par­lia­ment must com­mit to de­liver mar­riage equal­ity by Christ­mas, the prime min­is­ter, Mal­colm Turn­bull, has said af­ter an “un­equiv­o­cal, over­whelm­ing” vote of 61.6% in favour of same-sex mar­riage in an un­prece­dented na­tional postal sur­vey.

As na­tion­wide cel­e­bra­tions her­alded a re­sult that will give enor­mous mo­men­tum to a fi­nal push to achieve the his­toric so­cial re­form, Turn­bull moved to head off at­tempts from con­ser­va­tives in his rul­ing Lib­eral-Na­tional Coali­tion to frus­trate or de­lay the leg­isla­tive process.

Turn­bull said the sur­vey – which had a par­tic­i­pa­tion rate of 79.5% – meant Aus­tralians had “spo­ken in their mil­lions and they have voted over­whelm­ingly yes for mar­riage equal­ity”.

“They voted yes for fair­ness, yes for com­mit­ment, yes for love. And 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 asked us to do and get this done,” he said.

Af­ter a na­tional vote that was re­sisted at ev­ery turn by mar­riage equal­ity ad­vo­cates who viewed it as an af­front be­cause it de­ter­mined the right to equal­ity be­fore the law by a ma­jori­tar­ian vote, prom­i­nent LGBTI Aus­tralians cel­e­brated that the Aus­tralian val­ues of fair­ness and equal­ity were re­flected in the out­come.

Large pub­lic gath­er­ings in ma­jor cities, in­clud­ing Syd­ney and Mel­bourne, saw mar­riage pro­pos­als, tears and the pop­ping of cham­pagne corks as Aus­tralia’s chief statis­ti­cian, David Kalisch, an­nounced the re­sult in the cap­i­tal, Can­berra.

In Mel­bourne 5,000 peo­ple out­side the State Li­brary of Vic­to­ria cheered and danced to Kylie Minogue. In Syd­ney’s Prince Al­fred Park, John Paul Young sang Love Is in the Air.

The swim­ming cham­pion Ian Thorpe, the ac­tor Magda Szuban­ski, the Qan­tas chief ex­ec­u­tive, Alan Joyce, and the La­bor leader in the Se­nate, Penny Wong, were among those over­come with emo­tion and keen to share their joy with fel­low Aus­tralians. Celebri­ties in­clud­ing Minogue, Ellen DeGeneres – mar­ried to Aus­tralian-Amer­i­can Por­tia de Rossi – the Ap­ple boss, Tim Cook, the Cana­dian leader, Justin Trudeau, and for­mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter David Cameron tweeted con­grat­u­la­tions.

For Han­nah Collins and Heather Ford, there was no time to waste. When Kalisch fi­nally an­nounced that the yes cam­paign had se­cured 61.6% of the vote in Aus­tralia’s vol­un­tary same-sex mar­riage postal sur­vey, Ford pro­posed. “Heather got down on her knee, mate, and the date is 4 April,” Collins said.

Chris­tine Forster, the sis­ter of the for­mer prime min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott – she is in a same-sex re­la­tion­ship and is a long-term sup­porter of mar­riage equal­ity, while he is an op­po­nent – punched the air. Szuban­ski said the re­sult was for “all of us”.

“No mat­ter how we want to live our life, we must live as equal peo­ple in this coun­try,” she told the crowd in Syd­ney.

In Mel­bourne An­drew Do­herty said he could fi­nally plan the beach wed­ding he’s al­ways dreamed of. He pro­posed to his part­ner of three years be­fore the postal vote re­sult an­nounce­ment on Wed­nes­day.

“I’m not happy we had to have this vote but I’m happy we have the op­por­tu­nity to change things,” he said. “I’m con­fi­dent Aus­tralia has wo­ken up but I’m not con­fi­dent the politi­cians have, es­pe­cially given these bills pro­posed to em­bed dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Ev­ery state and ter­ri­tory voted for mar­riage equal­ity, with the na­tional vote 7,817,247 in favour and 4,873,947 against. The con­stituen­cies of cen­tral Syd­ney and Mel­bourne saw the largest ma­jori­ties in favour, at 83.7% each. Seven­teen of the fed­eral par­lia­ment’s 150 seats had a ma­jor­ity of no vot­ers, in­clud­ing a con­spic­u­ous swath of west­ern Syd­ney, a so­cially con­ser­va­tive and eth­ni­cally di­verse area.

Crowds gath­ered in cities across Aus­tralia – at 7am in Perth, and in the rain in Ade­laide. “Ab­so­lute ela­tion” was re­ported in Bris­bane.

At a press con­fer­ence in Can­berra, Wong said: “Thank you Aus­tralia, thank you for stand­ing up for fair­ness, thank you for stand­ing up for equal­ity … for the LGBTI com­mu­nity ev­ery­where … for the sort of Aus­tralia we be­lieve in, that is de­cent, that is fair, which is ac­cept­ing, which turns its back on ex­clu­sion and di­vi­sion.”

At a rally in Mel­bourne the op­po­si­tion leader, Bill Shorten, promised: “To­day we cel­e­brate, to­mor­row we leg­is­late.

“It may have been 61% who voted yes in the sur­vey, but I want to say to all LGBTQI Aus­tralians, you are 100% loved, 100% val­ued and, af­ter the next two weeks of par­lia­ment, 100% able to marry the per­son you love,” he said.

In a speech af­ter the re­sult an Equal­ity Cam­paign spokesman, Alex Green­wich, said: “To­day love has had a land­slide vic­tory. To­gether we have achieved some­thing truly re­mark­able, a win for fair­ness and equal­ity, not only for the LGBTI com­mu­nity and our fam­i­lies, but for all Aus­tralians.”

Green­wich said the cam­paign had made more than 1m phone calls and knocked on 100,000 doors, an “un­prece­dented” level of sup­port that had ex­ceeded “any cam­paign in our his­tory”.

“In do­ing so it has de­liv­ered an un­equiv­o­cal man­date to fed­eral par­lia­ment to vote this through by the end of the year,” he said.

Turn­bull, same-sex mar­riage sup­port­ers in Aus­tralia’s rul­ing Coali­tion, the La­bor op­po­si­tion, the Greens and other cross­bench par­ties have reached a con­sen­sus around a cross-party bill that makes min­i­mal­ist changes to pro­tect re­li­gious free­dom with­out le­gal­is­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion by com­mer­cial ser­vice providers, such as cake mak­ers – as some con­ser­va­tives in the Coali­tion gov­ern­ment have de­manded.

On Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon the cross-party group cap­i­talised on the man­date in the sur­vey by in­tro­duc­ing the bill and a mo­tion that will lead to it be­ing de­bated un­til it is passed in the sit­ting week be­gin­ning 27 Novem­ber.

Con­ser­va­tives in­clud­ing Ab­bott and the fi­nance min­is­ter, Mathias Cor­mann, have fore­shad­owed that they will back amend­ments in par­lia­ment while other gov­ern­ment MPs have said they will ab­stain if they don’t get their way on re­li­gious pro­tec­tions.

But the cross-party group has suf­fi­cient num­bers to leg­is­late mar­riage equal­ity, pro­vided that Turn­bull’s po­si­tion that par­lia­ment will de­ter­mine which bill to use and amend­ments to make holds. The cross-party group were boosted when an al­ter­na­tive bill, by the Lib­eral sen­a­tor James Pater­son, was with­drawn, with Pater­son con­ced­ing it had no chance of be­com­ing law.

Same-sex mar­riage has been banned in Aus­tralia since 2004 when the Howard gov­ern­ment changed the Mar­riage Act to de­fine mar­riage as be­tween a man and a woman. As many com­pa­ra­ble coun­tries such as the US and Bri­tain al­lowed or leg­is­lated for same-sex mar­riage, Aus­tralia looked in­creas­ingly out of step.

Af­ter the suc­cess­ful mar­riage equal­ity ref­er­en­dum in Ire­land in May 2015, pres­sure grew on the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment to leg­is­late but the Coali­tion party room agreed on a na­tional plebiscite in­stead.

When Turn­bull took the prime min­is­ter­ship from Ab­bott in Septem­ber 2015, he re­tained the Coali­tion’s com­mit­ment to hold a na­tional plebiscite on same-sex mar­riage be­fore chang­ing the law. Op­po­si­tion par­ties blocked an com­pul­sory at­ten­dance plebiscite, lead­ing the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment to launch a $122m vol­un­tary na­tional postal sur­vey to ful­fil its elec­tion com­mit­ment to give Aus­tralians a say.

In a bruis­ing three-month cam­paign, op­po­nents of mar­riage equal­ity claimed same-sex mar­riage would have far-reach­ing neg­a­tive con­se­quences for gen­der ed­u­ca­tion, re­li­gious free­dom and free­dom of speech.

The yes camp’s Equal­ity Cam­paign com­bined with mod­er­ate Lib­er­als, La­bor, the Greens, unions and the pro­gres­sive cam­paign or­gan­i­sa­tion GetUp to ar­gue that same­sex mar­riage was a mat­ter of equal­ity, fair­ness and al­low­ing LGBTI Aus­tralians to marry the one they love.

De­spite as­ser­tions from Turn­bull that the sur­vey would be over­whel-

mingly re­spect­ful, the cam­paign has been marred by ho­mo­pho­bic in­ci­dents and cam­paign ma­te­rial, which con­tin­ued largely un­abated de­spite a spe­cial law passed to ap­ply elec­toral law safe­guards to the sur­vey.

The no cam­paign took in­creas­ingly bizarre turns, with Ab­bott us­ing an as­sault that even his at­tacker said had noth­ing to do with mar­riage to rally Aus­tralians to his cause, and con­ser­va­tives at­tempt­ing to use the US rap­per Mack­le­more’s per­for­mance of his hit Same Love at the rugby league grand fi­nal to claim the na­tional cam­paign they called for had in­ap­pro­pri­ately politi­cised Aus­tralian in­sti­tu­tions.

Pho­to­graph: Scott Bar­bour/Getty Images

Aus­tralians cel­e­brate re­sult of the mar­riage equal­ity sur­vey in Mel­bourne.

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