Same-sex mar­riage bill passes in Aus­tralian Se­nate

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Paul Karp

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.

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