Same-sex marriage bill passes in Australian Senate
The Australian Senate has passed a same-sex marriage bill, the first marriage equality bill to pass either house of federal parliament, succeeding where more than 20 previous attempts have failed.
Two weeks after the announcement that 61.6% of those who participated in the unprecedented national postal survey voted in favour of same-sex marriage, the Senate passed the cross-party bill unamended.
The cross-party bill passed by 43 votes to 12 as almost all Labor senators, the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team, Derryn Hinch and members of the ruling Liberal-National Coalition voted in favour.
The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass easily next week, fulfilling the Turnbull government’s promise to facilitate a marriage equality bill in the event of a yes vote and legislate the historic social reform before Christmas.
In her third reading speech before the final vote the Labor leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, said Australians had voted in the postal survey to “reject discrimination not to extend it”.
Wong said marriage equality sent a message to LGBTI people: “Your love is not lesser, and nor are you. It says - you are one of us.”
After the result the co-chair of the Equality Campaign, Anna Brown, said: “Today is a huge victory for love, for equality and fairness, for the yes campaign and indeed all Australians who voted yes in support of [LGBTI] Australians, our equality and our dignity.”
Twelve no votes were recorded in the Senate: six members of the Coalition, Labor’s Helen Polley and Chris Ketter, One Nation’s Brian Burston, Australian Conservative Cory Bernardi and independents Fraser Anning and Lucy Gichuhi.
Liberal senators Eric Abetz and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells explained their no votes by the desire to represent the 38.4% of Australians who voted no in the survey, while Nationals senator Matt Canavan said he believed there were inadequate protections for conscientious objectors to same-sex marriage.
Throughout debate on Tuesday and again on Wednesday senators moved a series of amendments to prevent supposed unintended consequences for freedom of speech, religion and parental choice, and to allow civil celebrants to refuse weddings. All were defeated by the crossparty group.
Wong urged the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead, to vote for a bill that reflected Australians’ desire for equality.
Earlier, at a doorstop on Wednesday the attorney general, George Brandis, said the Senate debate had been “very thorough” but his defeated amendments to declare that religious freedom was not harmed by the bill and to allow civil celebrants to refuse weddings should be considered in the lower house.
Tony Abbott told 2GB Radio he expected amendments in the lower house and said it was “very disappointing” the government had not done more on religious freedom given Malcolm Turnbull has said he is in favour of protecting it.
The cross-party bill was authored by Liberal senator, Dean Smith, who Brandis has credited for his “abundant tenacity and conspicuous moral courage” in championing marriage equality.
In his speech Smith – the first openly gay federal parliamentarian in Liberal party history – credited the death of gay man Tori Johnson in the Lindt cafe siege for changing his views on same-sex marriage.
Smith thanked colleagues for a respectful debate which he said showed the “soul” of Brandis, the “lived experience” of Wong, Labor’s Louise Pratt and the Greens’ Janet Rice, and the “conscience” of opponents of same-sex marriage.
He urged Australians to be kind to those with a contrary view and said the reform was not the triumph of one side over another but an advancement for all Australians.
The lack of amendments demonstrated the bill had got the balance between equality and religious freedom right, Smith said.
After the vote the Equality Campaign co-chair, Alex Greenwich, thanked Smith “as one gay man to another”.
“This would not have been possible without you, this would not have been possible without someone from your side of politics taking the leadership that you have to get us where we are today,” he said.
In an emotional speech on Tuesday, Brandis declared that marriage equality would be the “imperishable legacy” of the Turnbull government, trumpeting the reform as the “final act of acceptance and embrace” for LGBTI Australians.
Brandis said that, particularly for young gay Australians who had lived with fear “silently and alone”, the bill would send the message: “There is nothing wrong with you. You are not unusual … There is nothing to hide.
“You are a normal person and, like every other normal person, you have a need to love … Whom you love is for you to decide and others to respect.”
When Malcolm Turnbull took the prime ministership from his conservative predecessor, Tony Abbott, in September 2015, he retained the Coalition’s commitment to hold a national plebiscite on same-sex marriage before changing the law.
After the plebiscite was blocked by the Senate, the Turnbull government launched a voluntary national postal survey to fulfil its election commitment to give Australians a say. The postal survey returned a 61.6% yes vote with a turnout of 79.5%.
On Wednesday the education minister, Simon Birmingham, said Turnbull had demonstrated “very strong leadership” by “showing a pathway through” and delivering marriage equality.
Conservatives, including the Nationals MP Andrew Broad, have criticised Turnbull for not doing more to accommodate their demands, but Brandis said the government had decided not to “micro-manage” the process but rather let parliament consider a private member’s bill and amendments.